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The Chicago Bears & Other Soul Crushers: Mistakes Every Manufacturer Should Avoid

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FootballFor over 40 years, my father was a Chicago Bears season ticket holder. He was in the stands at Wrigley Field when the Bears beat the New York Giants to win the 1963 championship. He saw Gale Sayers race up and down a muddy field, scoring six touchdowns in a single game. He watched Dick Butkus, the greatest middle linebacker in NFL history, brutalize opposing offenses. And he watched ‘Sweetness’ do all things sweet.

Go to YouTube to see highlights of these players. They’re unbelievable.

Of course, my dad was in the stands for the 1985 playoff games when the Bears shutout both the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams on their way to win the 1985 Super Bowl.

I watched my father allow his emotions to be tethered to the fortunes of the Bears. Growing up, I promised I would not allow myself to succumb to similar torture. Unfortunately, whether it’s nurture or nature, the only thing that brings me happiness (not my family, my faith, my life’s work) is the Chicago Bears.

And I’m hurting.

As I lamented how this poorly-run organization has disappointed me year after year —always finding new inventive ways to lose — I realized that maybe there was a silver lining: by virtue of their own failures, the Chicago Bears could provide lessons that other businesses could learn to avoid making similar business decisions.

I write about Arena’s innovative suite of product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions. But it dawned upon me that companies — even when they purchase the best product design and supply chain solutions — will be unable to achieve success if the organization is dysfunctional.

Here are two lessons that all companies can learn from the Bears’ failures.

Lesson number one: Do you have the right organizational structure?

An organizational structure defines how business activities are allocated, coordinated and supervised in a hierarchical system to achieve corporate objectives. Who rings the bell at the IPO? Who waters the plants? And everything in between.

In case of the Chicago Bears, structural misalignment in the relationship of authority and accountability occurred in 1999 after matriarch Virginia McCaskey, the 90 year-old daughter of George Halas, fired her son Michael McCaskey from the football operations side of the business. McCaskey had been reviled for firing Mike Ditka, dumping the team’s only Pro Bowl quarterback Jim McMahon (following the punky QB’s scathing depiction of the bumbling executive) and holding a press conference to announce the hiring of a coach who never agreed to the position.

After young McCaskey was stripped of his duties, team accountant Ted Philips became the executive face of the organization. One of his first responsibilities was hiring a general manager. Without the requisite football knowledge, Philips made the grave mistake of hiring a football strength coach Phil Emery to become general manager. One can only reason he presumed that if Emery made any critical errors, at least he would feel strongly about his errant behavior.

A recent survey by Robert Half showed that one-third (36%) of 1,400 executives surveyed felt the top factor leading to a failed hire, aside from performance issues, is a poor skills match. In the case of the Bears, Philips did not have the skill set necessary to accurately determine Emery did not have the skill set needed to succeed in the job.

Why do companies allow organizational misalignment to continue for years?

The most common reason for misalignment in any business – whether it’s a football team or a medical device product company — is simply inertia. The Chicago Bears got stuck in an archaic way of doing things and were afraid to break free of the past. Perhaps it’s repeating the same old mistakes ad nauseum or making spectacular new ones repeatedly before things finally change.

How did it get this way? It’s possible that Philips was a good accountant and loyal to the organization, so mother McCaskey expanded the scope of his responsibilities instead of focusing on the core business functions and hiring someone qualified to perform those tasks. Besides — he was a good boy.

Lesson number two: “A’s hire A’s, B’s hire C’s”.

Donald Rumsfeld may be a polarizing figure but he perfectly articulated this universal truth that “A people hire A people. B people hire C people…and sometimes even D people.”

It’s understood that great employees are not easily threatened and thrive on professional competition and the camaraderie of others; in fact, smart leaders actually attempt to actively hire people smarter than themselves.

Mediocre employees are haunted by the deep-seated insecurity that they are far from the best and they don’t wish to joust for their very position in the future. That fear drives them to make cowardly choices. Rumsfeld points out that less talented “B’s” will not hire candidates that “outshine” or threaten them; thus, they hire C’s and sometimes D’s with even less competence with the ulterior motive of keeping their mediocrity hidden.

I also love this quote by French philosopher and poet Arsène Houssaye, “Tell me who you love and I will tell you who you are.” Combining this beautiful phrase with Rumsfeld’s philosophy and you have John Papageorge’s business axiom, “Show me who you hire and I’ll tell you about your company.”

In the case of the Chicago Bears, Philips (B) hired new general manager Emery (C) to interview a new head coach. The Bears were blessed to have interest from reigning coach of the year Bruce Arians. You would think the hire would be a slam dunk, correct? But no. Threatened by Arians success, Emery was determined to show the world how smart he was by hiring Marc Trestman (D), a failed NFL assistant coach who long since retreated to the mediocrity of the Canadian football league. After the Chicago Bears rejected Arians, he went on to win coach of the year again with the Arizona Cardinals while Emery and Trestman were fired after eking out two miserable years together in Chicago.

“Companies can’t afford executive hiring mistakes, which are costly and erode morale,” said Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half International and author of the “Human Resources Kit For Dummies”. “Finding the right match requires time and attention, and it’s something even busy managers need to make time for.”

If the Chicago Bears were a high tech product company, the organizational dysfunction could potentially minimize the impact a PLM solution would have on the company’s new product introduction NPI process.

I know now there are many people like me who have had their heart broken by sports teams that tease and play with their emotions, promising success. These teams never succeed; they flounder year after year because of poor business decisions ineffective systems, or inferior leadership that have compromised their ability to deliver a good product on the field. For these brave fans who have suffered, I am writing a book titled, “People Who Love Sports Teams That Aren’t Good for Them.” It promises to be validating and somewhat consoling.