By James Haak

On Sunday, the New England Patriots clinched their 3rd consecutive Super Bowl appearance in the National Football League (NFL) under head coach Bill Belichick.  It is his 9th appearance as the Head Coach, with 5 Superbowl wins, both NFL records.  As we witness one of the greatest coaching careers of all time, let’s examine 3 key elements of his approach to team and personnel management that can relate to talent development in any organization.

Lesson 1: Finding ‘system fit’ value in the talent pool.  From a talent perspective, Belichick may be most notable for drafting Tom Brady, Patriots QB and future Hall of Fame (HOF) inductee, in the 6th round of the 2000 NFL draft.  Brady played for Michigan University, but was not a star and therefore overlooked by many teams in the draft.  Belichick acquired Brady at a low talent cost, selecting him for his accuracy and quick decision-making skills perfectly suited for Belichick’s offensive system.  This ‘skill based’ approach allowed Belichick to quickly insert Brady into his system and deliver exponential rewards the investment.   Through his tenure with the Patriots, Belichick has drafted and developed several other HOF caliber players that also did not come with high draft cost.  As talent developers, consider what skills are best suited for our ‘system’.  Whether it includes traditional skills to support productivity and results, or softer skills to promote creativity and innovation we must find opportunities to add value to the recruitment function by identifying these success factors critical to our organizational strategy.  This provides the best opportunity to selects candidates that have capability for current roles, and potential for future opportunities.

Lesson 2: Cultivate Talent to Apply Specific Qualities.    Belichick has also demonstrated his ability to insert undervalued talent (relative to the market) at other positions on the field in addition to the crucial role of quarterback.  At Running Back, he resurrected careers of veterans Corey Dillon and LaGarrette Blount at below market cost from the Free Agent pool.  Both Dillon and Blount were featured in a specialized role as a ‘Goal Line’ back for ability to power into the endzone, but also demonstrated all-around capability as a featured runner and overall value to the team results.   At Wide Receiver, Belichick finds consistent value from the ‘slot receiver’ despite turnover at the position.  He has employed Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, and Chris Hogan (a converted professional lacrosse player!) while sustaining high productivity in this specialized role.  All the players mentioned are similar in size/weight/speed and conjure the football equivalent of Eli Whitney’s ‘Interchangeable Parts’ model.   As Human Resource professionals we would never consider our employees this way, however turnover is a reality in all organizations.  At both running back and wide receiver we see Belichick identifying a specific set of competencies or qualities and committing to his strategy rather than a single individual.  This approach increases the probability for sustained success, rather than relying on a single individual to deliver consistent, long-term results.

Lesson 3:   Every role on the team is important to its success.  In professional football, Offense and Defense are the two most visible and respected units, with Special Teams (Punting and Kicking) seen as a distant third.  Belichick is notable for devoting an exceptional amount of attention to his special team units and reaping big rewards.  Adam Vinatieri, his kicker during 4 Superbowl victories, is renowned for his accuracy and poise under pressure which is critical when you expect to play in the biggest games each year!  Matthew Slater, who does not start on offense or defense, has been selected to 7 Pro Bowls due only to his efforts on Special Teams.  Belichick is even known for his exclusive use of left-footed punters, who make up less than one third of current players at the position in the rest of the league.  In business, we can’t ‘play favorites’ with business unit teams that are traditionally connected to the bottom line.  Sales and Operations may be the ‘bread-winners’ but developing talent in other business units are key to overall organizational success.

Belichick’s resume has certainly demonstrated long term value for his team and ownership, but it is not without stains.  He has been disciplined for his involvement in ‘SpyGate’ and ‘DeflateGate’, two scandals that accuse him of employing dubious tactics to gain an edge over the competition.   As a fan of a team that is a rival to the Patriots, it is certainly frustrating to observe an opponent enjoy such sustained success coupled with questionable character.  However, it is fascinating to examine the application of Talent Development concepts outside of a traditional office setting.  Whether you are a sports fan, casual watcher, or not interested, most Americans tune in to watch the Superbowl.  This year take a moment to consider how the lessons of this legendary coach and personnel manager can apply to your own team’s talent goals.

-James D. Haak, APTD   @JHaakLearn

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