Garo Yepremian died this past week. For anyone who grew up watching National Football League (NFL) games in the late 1960s or 1970s; this was a name quite familiar to you even if you had trouble pronouncing it. Yepremian was a left-footed field goal kicker who went from the heights of glory such as once kicking six field goals in one game and ending the NFL’s longest game; the Miami Dolphins-Kansas City Chiefs 1971 playoff game which he won with a field goal in the second sudden death overtime. Unfortunately it is not these achievements that he is best known for. That rather ignominious distinction was when he had a field goal blocked in the 1973 Super Bowl against the Washington football team; then picked it up and tried to pass it only to have it slip from his hands into the arms of Mike Bass who ran it in for a touchdown. The score changed a one-sided game from 14-0 Dolphins to 14-7 and put their undefeated season on the line for the remainder of the game. Fortunately for posterity and Yepremian, the Dolphins held on to complete the NFL’s only undefeated season.
I thought about Yepremian, his gaffe and the fact he grew up in Cyprus playing soccer when I read a recent article in the Financial Times (FT), entitled “Game of talents: management lessons from top football coaches”, where Mike Forde and Simon Kuper wrote about how “football [soccer for you Yanks reading this blog] coaches grapple with egos, tantrums and rivalry. Business could learn a lot from them.” This is because talent management is a key component of any successful organization and none more so than on a soccer team where “Football managers are, above all, talent managers.” The article had some interesting insights for the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner which I believe could be helpful when dealing with large egos found in any business organization.
- Big talent usually comes with a big ego. Accept it. I grew up professionally in the private practices world of a law firm where big egos not only existed but also thrived and were perhaps even cultivated. This is not always true in the corporate world. The authors believe that “managing difficult people is the best test of a good manager.”
- Look for big egos that have ‘gotten over themselves’. At some point we all grow up. In the business world, just as in sports, “some players underperform early in their careers because they are immature.” Maturity can lead to players “accept their limits and become coachable.”
- Single out and praise those who make sacrifices for the organization. Reward those who might be willing to make a personal sacrifice. If you do, you behavior as a leader will be noticed and others in the business may well do the same.
- The manager shouldn’t aspire to dominate the talent. In soccer “Talent wins matches…Successful managers accept this. They don’t try to emphasise their leadership by dominating talent.” As a CCO, you should not only work to help the business folks succeed but let them take the glory if a big deal is closed.
- Ask talent for advice – but only for advice. While it seems self-evident, it always bears repeating if you take someone’s advice to craft a solution, that person will then be personally invested in the success of that solution. The authors quoted David Brailsford, general manager of the Team Sky cycling team, for the following, “We all perform better if we have a degree of ownership of what we do.”
- The manager’s job isn’t to motivate. “Great talent motivates itself.” The converse of this means that if you have top-notch sales talent, part of your job as a CCO or compliance practitioner is “not to demotivate them”. But more than simply not ‘demotivating’ your job should be to encourage “long-term commitment: sustained motivation over time.”
- Talent needs to trust each other more than it needs to trust the manager. This directly relates to the culture you set. If the only way for employees to succeed is to steal and cheat from their co-workers, you will have a toxic environment. Think of this in the context of your Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigation protocol; if your goal is to skin some employee to save the company, you will not have much credibility left with your other employees.
- Improve the talent. Unfortunately, most managers spend most of their time managing incompetent employees. The authors believe this is a wasted opportunity as most top talent “have a gift for learning and a desire to improve. That desire often drives their career choices.” For a CCO this means you need to provide such opportunities to those on your compliance team. But think about taking this concept out into the workforce. What if you could offer a top sales person or executive a chance to not only learn something but also advance their career by a rotation through the compliance department or a signature project they could lead?
- 99% per cent of recruitment is about who you don’t sign. Here the message is to use your background due diligence to make sure that that ‘someone’ is the right person in the right situation because “Introducing a weak or undisciplined player [employee] can damage the standards and culture.”
- Accept that talent will eventually leave. “Few talented people are looking for a job for life.” Indeed in the compliance arena, since there are no trade secrets around anti-corruption compliance, the skills a compliance practitioner uses can be easily translated into another company. I often think about Jay Martin, the CCO of BakerHughes Inc. (BHI) in Houston. He is now on his third generation of compliance practitioners who work under him. While they are at BHI they have the chance to work under and for one of the top in-house compliance practitioners around and for a company that has a robust compliance program. They work very hard while they are at BHI but they get great experience, a great resume entry and a great reference from one of the top compliance practitioners around. If you are a CCO you might consider the BHI model.
- Gauge the moment when talent reaches its peak. In the sports world, the only person who wins every time (eventually) is Father Time. While that may not be as true in the corporate world, burnout is true. I went through it in my 40s as a trial lawyer and many others do as well. If you are a CCO and see reduced enthusiasm or commitment in an employee this may be the reason. Would you consider a sabbatical for the employee? How about a plumb overseas role to rekindle the passion? As a leader, you need to recognize this issue and use your leadership skills to address the situation.
The authors note, “Talent management has been a business obsession at least since 1997, when the consultancy McKinsey identified a “war for talent.”” As a CCO you should certainly consider these issues in managing your compliance function. However I believe the concepts laid out by Forde and Kuper work for the broader corporate world as well. If you are going to use you influence throughout the organization, you should consider incorporating these techniques into your skill set.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2015