NFL Front Office Management – Dez, Dallas & new rules

Media reaction to the Dallas Cowboys putting WR Dez Bryant under his own set of team rules has been to put it bluntly “comical” at best.  The past few days you can’t seem to avoid the headlines in Twitter, Facebook or the Internet that question the action from its inherent fairness to being just plain frivolous.  The two trains of thought appear to be that to build a better team you have to treat everyone the same, and that any out of the ordinary handling of player issues isn’t worth the effort.  I’d say to these folks, “You’ve never built a team of any sort, or haven’t done it in over 30 years.”  Times have changed, so has today’s generation of athlete.

NFL Clubs have an investment

Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have an investment in the former Oklahoma State star that should go beyond just the playing field.  Business leaders are being forced to alter time laden traditions in dealing with today’s workforce.  Why shouldn’t NFL Front Offices as well?  Dez Bryant entered the National Football League with a very large asterisk next to his name involving CHARACTER.  Any team willing to take this risk/reward draft selection should have known beforehand that a new style of management technique was necessary to maximize Bryant’s potential and been ready for it.

I’m sorry, but you don’t treat everyone the same, you can’t treat everyone the same.  Those of you that are parents realize this simple rule of fact.  The sense of entitlement that appears to drive football fans crazy when following the on and off the field antics of their gridiron heroes can only be curbed by giving these players a strong sense of “context”.  That is clearly laying down the roles and responsibilities as they relate to the overall mission of the team.

A new generation of NFL player

Regarding player conduct I’m going to continue quoting Gen Y expert and best-selling author Bruce Tulgan until I’m blue in the face, and he addresses this very issue in his book Not Everyone Gets A Trophy.  I would highly recommend it as mandatory reading for any up and coming coach or personnel man that aspires to put himself in a leadership position in the National Football League.

The NFL likes to think that it has all the programs to attack these various issues built into Rookie Orientation and Player Development, but until each and every club decides to make it part of their own internal culture, players like Bryant will let the top down approach go in one ear and out the other.  Enforcement by fines will not get their attention.

Cowboys giving Bryant context

That’s why I applaud Dallas for finally taking the internal initiative to protect their investment.  Simply telling a player he’s responsible for upholding the long standing traditions of the Club isn’t going to accomplish squat.  Tulgan writes of encouraging Gen Y’s to ask themselves;

  • Where am I? What is this place?
  • What is going on here?  What is the mission of the group?
  • Why is everybody here? What is at stake for the group and for each person in the group?
  • When did they all get here?
  • Who are all these people? What role does each person play?
  • How are they accustomed to doing things around here?  What is standard operating procedure for them?
  • Why am I here?
  • What is at stake for me?
  • When did I get here?
  • What is my appropriate role in relation to the other people in the group?
  • What is my appropriate role in relation to the mission?  Who am I in this context?

Deep? True, but not that tough to figure out.  Put yourself in the position of an NFL player and answer each of the above.  Clubs would be mindful to also have in place integrated cultural systems that “teach players how to manage themselves”.  Teaching, not telling, the values of good workplace “citizenship” and its definition within your own organization.

Player Management a full-time job

Bruce feels you can’t teach good judgment, but you can teach habits of critical thinking through exposing players to new experiences, helping them understand strategic thinking, and looking at past experiences – their own & others.

Tulgan also emphasizes the extreme importance of “how to be managed by the organization”, setting clear ground rules up front, ground rules on the intangibles, and ground rules that matter.  Then you must establish consistent one-on-one feedback and CUSTOMIZE the process with the individual.

This is “high maintenance” management and something the NFL, especially the individual Clubs abhor.  Players find it intrusive and patronizing.  But somewhere the two have to meet in the middle and agree that the investment is well worth the effort, on both sides.

Dallas and Dez appear to be half way there.

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