Leadership and Communication: 3 Lessons from College Football

Like many people who grew up in the south, I am somewhat obsessed with college football. This year, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system is being replaced by the College Football Playoff, which means the top four teams will play each other to see which two will progress to the national championship game. There’s a big caveat to this system, however: the top four teams are selected by an official committee instead of automatically qualifying based on their ranking in the national polls. In fact, the committee did not select one team ranked nationally in the top four because this team did not meet their criteria. This has sparked a fair amount of debate among college football fans, who feel that the committee hasn’t given enough insight into the criteria and decision-making process they used to choose the four teams progressing to the playoffs. After reading many fan grievances, I’ve come up with a list of three things that leaders can learn from the College Football Playoff committee’s first annual selection:

Establish expectations up front

At the beginning of the season, the committee did say that national rankings wouldn’t necessarily guarantee a spot in the playoffs. They hinted at some of the things they’d be looking for when making their playoff selections, but failed to provide enough specific direction. The key takeaway for managers is to create clear expectations for how you want people to perform to ensure that they work towards your desired goals. At the start of a new project or quarter, take time to meet with your staff and let them know the specific tasks they need to achieve. Explain what success looks like for the team and how individuals can contribute. Establishing your expectations up front will ensure your team knows what they’re driving towards, and will save you time in the long run.

Make sure your metrics can be measured

After selecting the top four teams, the College Football Playoff committee provided a bit more insight into how they reached their decision. One of the things they looked at was strength of schedule- how well each team’s opponents performed during the season. This metric can be a bit vague, however, since there’s no real way to compare all teams equally. Managers should strive to work with metrics that are easily measured, since this leaves less opportunity for uncertainty and confusion among staff. When people know exactly how they’re going to be measured and can track their performance, they’re better able to concentrate on making progress. It also ensures that there are no surprises during review time, and gives people confidence in the system. Clear, measurable metrics are a surefire way to help empower your team to achieve success.

Communicate often to allow for course correction

The committee waited until the end of the season to provide insight on how they selected the top four teams. While this timeframe was a bit frustrating in that it didn’t allow for mid-season adjustments, it makes sense given the cycle of college football. Teams can’t add more difficult opponents to their schedules once the season has started, and conferences can’t suddenly add a championship game at the last second. Course correcting takes years for football programs, but managers don’t need to wait so long. Once you’ve established clear metrics, check in periodically with your team to make sure that no one is falling short for long periods of time. Waiting until the end of the project or review period to let staff know how they’re doing allows potential problems to persist longer than necessary. Work out a timeframe for informal check-ins with your staff to let them know that you’re invested in their success. It also allows you to address any issues as they arise rather than waiting until something big goes awry.

With those three tips in mind, you and your team are on the way to success! What other methods do you use to keep things on track?