We talk a lot about how teams need top talent. “Top talent” this, “A player” that. The brilliant Steve Boese wrote here just a few weeks ago about the need for superstar talent in the NBA. His point was that most championship teams had a star. No star, no championship. The workplace reality, however, is that most teams don’t have a lot of superstars—they have a bunch of average performers. Some organizations consistently tolerate the ordinary players but hope for extraordinary results.
Yeah, I guess that sometimes happens. More often, though, you get average performances out of folks you always knew were average. But tolerating average for a long time, rewarding it, and then later demanding more? That can get bad.
Stick with me through the sports example for this one, ok? The Jacksonville Jaguars decided last week to cut their longtime starting QB, David Garrard, just five days before the season started. From espn.com:
(Head Coach Jack) Del Rio acknowledged that the timing wasn’t ideal. Garrard was released five days before the opener and just a couple of hours after he was introduced as the starting quarterback at a chamber of commerce luncheon put together to help promote the team…”I don’t like the idea that the timing went down the way it did, but it did,” Del Rio said. “Ultimately as an organization we’ve got to make decisions when they’re not comfortable and make the best decision for the football team.
So, let’s make sure we know what went down. One week prior, Del Rio, the coach, named Garrard the starter. Not second string, not third string–the starter. They announced it to the team, fans and media, and then they took him to the local Chamber of Commerce to show him off as the face of the franchise. Then, as soon as dessert was done, they cut him.
Del Rio’s right—this was uncomfortable, but it’s because for too long the organization put up with a player’s average performances and rewarded him.
It’s good they finally got the guts to admit he was not the answer, but that call should have been made much earlier. Now they are disingenuous, and here’s the result: no one on the team will believe them when they talk about performance. Check out Hugh Douglas on nfl.com, former Jaguar and teammate of Garrard’s:
If there was ever a coach who needs to be punched in the face for not being truthful to his players, it has to be Jack Del Rio.” Douglas…suggested the coach is burning bridges. “If I’m a Jacksonville Jaguar right now,” said Douglas, “I’m looking at Jack Del Rio right now like … first and foremost, ‘You’re not trustworthy.’ “I can’t believe that those guys in Jacksonville believe what Jack Del Rio is selling.”
Yep, that about sums it up. You can’t preach that you are a high performance organization and then tolerate average performance. It just doesn’t work. Similarly, you can’t play around with people’s perceptions of where their performance ranks. In this example, management finally got the guts to cut an average guy, but it was late, and they tolerated it too long. When a former teammate says you need to get punched in the face for not being truthful, it’s a good hint that your credibility is shot.