LMSM 33 | Business Lessons

 

Frank and Ian gave up on the Detroit Lions or Miami Dolphins winning a Super Bowl long ago. Instead, we revel in the pomp and circumstance of the NFL Draft, when hope springs eternal and our teams make highly questionable decisions on personnel. In this episode, we break down our top lessons from decades of watching this bloated spectacle that has done little to change the fortune of our favorite football teams.

In this episode:

  • Why game film matters
  • Looks can be deceiving when hiring
  • How Bill Polian looked at character flaws
  • Pedigree is important, but not that important
  • When to take a chance on a “project”
  • Hire for need, but don’t pass on an unusual talent
  • Even the best companies regularly missing on hiring
  • Hire slow and fire fast
  • Why culture still trumps talent

Watch the episode here:

Listen to the podcast here:

Business Lessons From The NFL Draft

It is the 2021 NFL Draft time. For a Detroit Lions fan and a Miami Dolphins fan, this is our Super Bowl. Every year, the NFL Draft where all 30 NFL teams choose from the best and brightest college athletes to fill out their rosters. Frank and I have always been fascinated by the Draft and believe that there are many lessons that companies can take away from mistakes, positives and negatives that NFL teams go through in this detailed hiring process. We had a blast making this one hope you like it. If you haven’t subscribed, please do and share with your friends. We have a crappy marketing budget.

Frankie.

Ian, you son of a bitch.

Pellegrino is the coffee of the day.

There’s no doubt. I don’t want to have to get up suddenly and go pee. I figured I would have a little bit of water.

I can appreciate that.

I’m on a prison diet over here.

It’s NFL Draft time, Frankie. Is there a more exciting time of the year for Lions and Dolphins fans than the NFL Draft?

The day before the Draft, they haven’t screwed up yet.

The months leading up to it, it’s the only time of the NFL season where Browns, Jaguars, Dolphins and Lions fans are the talk of the league because everyone wants to know about our top picks. No one talks about the Patriots. No one talks about the Buccaneers.

In 2020 and it was COVID. Everything was going sideways. Everything was getting canceled. The NFL came out and said, “We’re having our Draft.” It was a lot of back and forth. Should they do it or should they not do it? The Zoom technology and all that stuff were pretty new. What was fascinating was the people who were supportive of it said, “The Draft is exactly what we need. The Draft is hope. It’s encouraging. It’s fun.” The bad news starts on the field. You break an ankle, you blow an ACL, you lose, a player doesn’t turn out great but the Draft is full of excitement.

There are seven rounds in the NFL Draft. There’s the first round, which is where all the pomp and circumstances. Every year, it’s a little bit different. There are 260 picks and then there’s Mr. Irrelevant, which is the last person selected. Almost half of the NFL is made up of people who are never drafted. The Draft is incredibly important. These are people who went to big schools but people make the Hall of Fame who weren’t drafted and we’re going to talk about that as well. Don’t be fooled by it. It’s an exciting time and it’s a cool thing. There’s a lot of parallels between the NFL Draft and business.

That’s why we want to do this. Frank and I have talked about the NFL Draft and we’ve talked about the teams that tend to get it right with selecting people and the ones that tend to get it wrong. We also talk about the role of culture. There are teams that get it right with the players but then they get into their locker room and they quickly devolve with the culture that they’ve been brought into. The parallels are all over the place. We’ve got eleven specific ones in this outline that we’re going to talk about that are parallels of the NFL game and the Draft to hiring from small startups to big fortune 500 companies. Frank, take a guess, how many different countries have our shows been downloaded in?

Twenty-five?

It's hard to evaluate talent. People who are great at it are paid millions and millions of dollars. Click To Tweet

Wrong. Thirty-three countries.

Has anyone from America downloaded this?

We’re not big yet in Iraq but we are big in Iran. We’ve got over eleven downloads in Iran. Because we talk about football too much, we’re not making Canada. We should do an NHL Draft after this. Canada has not picked up on our vibe yet but they will, for sure.

Canadian Football League. One other thing before we dive into this, I’ve always been a Draft nut. I was a Draft nut up back in college. I remember it used to be on a Sunday and then they moved it to Saturday and Sunday and then it went to Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They turned it into a TV spectacle. It’s a pretty cool thing that they do. Before I even knew Ian, I had a friend that I went and watched the Draft with. I remember one year, there was this big thing in Virginia. It’s the end of April and the weather is starting to get nice. I sat on the couch for two days and watched the Draft instead of going to a drinking festival with a bunch of friends. They all thought I was nuts. The Draft is cool.

If you pay attention to it, the Draft also teaches you that the organizations that are always good, the Patriots, the Steelers. The Cowboys have been a hot mess for a while. Teams that are smart. The Packers is a perfect one to bring up. I remember being in my late twenties and they drafted Aaron Rodgers and you’re like, “Why the hell did they draft Aaron Rodgers? They got Brett Favre.” What it teaches you if you aren’t a sophisticated business person yet, this is high stakes, big business, multibillion-dollar companies. They’re thinking about things in the future. It’s got more complicated with the salary cap. You have to look at what you are going to be able to retain 3 and 5 years from now.

If you pay attention to it, it teaches you things that you can implement in your career and you can implement into a business if you’re a business owner or a hiring manager because they’re doing it with the highest possible stakes. People’s careers in real life are in the 40-year range. You start in the workforce at 22 and you retire at 65. That’s 43 years. The NFL’s average career length is under four years. It’s a crucible. If you pay attention to this, it can teach you incredible lessons.

These NFL teams are also paying entry-level employees multimillion-dollar contracts. The stakes are much higher than hiring a salesperson or hiring an inside staff. Part of the reason why I mentioned that we have 33 different countries that have downloaded it of which 30 don’t understand the American game of football, it’s worth explaining what the NFL Draft is to understand. In American football, there are 30 professional football teams. Based on your record at any given year, it goes from the worst team to the best. The worst team will get the number one draft next year.

The idea of the NFL, the American football, they believe that the league is better when there’s parity. Their motto is any given Sunday and the NFL likes it that way. They don’t like blowouts. They know that you’ll stay tuned and you’ll watch through the fourth quarter if it’s a close game rather than one team beating another 35 to 0. The NFL loves parity. They try to make teams like my favorite team, the Detroit Lions and Frank’s favorite team, the Miami Dolphins, more competitive. As hard as they try, they’ve not been capable of doing this for years. That’s the Draft.

In that year, there were seven rounds. If there are no trades, if you haven’t traded away your picks, which you can do, you will get seven different players. Your ranking is based on how crappy or how good you were the year before. That’s the way the NFL Draft works. It happens every April. Presumably, if you’ve been bad for a while, you’re getting one of the best players in the Draft every year and it should make your team better. Absent the terrible coaching, terrible culture and all the other things we talked about.

The number one thing we talked about is the teams that focus on actual game film versus those that focus on the combine. The combine, for those who don’t understand what that is, is a two-day event that happens a few months before the Draft where all of these college players come and show their athleticism. They are measured on their height, weight, how high they can jump, how strong they are, their bench press, their speed. All of those numbers are then tracked against historical players. There’s a lot of data on each player as an athlete. They take IQ tests. It’s pretty in-depth. No one skips the Draft. You have to be a pretty incredible player to say, “I am out. I’m not going.” The data is all there.

Some teams are crazy about the data. Other teams look at it as a data point but care about the game film and there’s a couple of players as an example. Terrell Suggs is one of my all-time favorite players. The two players I’m going to bring up happen to be players that are close to him. I remember he set the NCAA record for sacks. The dude sacked quarterbacks 24 times in a season and there are only twelve games. He’s averaging two sacks a game. If you’ve never played football, sacking a quarterback is an incredibly difficult thing to do. When you’re a player like Terrell Suggs, they’re blocking you with two people and running away from you and finding ways to not let you do it.

Most importantly, they’re running in the opposite direction of where you line up to prevent you from getting a sack and he still did it 24 times.

He’s one of the most productive defensive players in the history of college football. He had 66 tackles for a loss in his career. He was a game wrecker on a strong team in a strong division. He then went to the combine. All of the buzzes was he was going to go top 3 or 4. He could have gone number one based on his playing. He went to the combine and he ran an incredibly slow 40-yard dash. He ran a 4.8 440-yard dash.

It’s incredibly fast if your name is Ian or Frank.

LMSM 33 | Business Lessons

Business Lessons: Employee referrals tend to stick, that’s why companies love them.

 

In an elite defensive end, it’s not fast. It’s pretty slow for his position. He only bench-pressed 225 eighteen times only. I say only because I’m not benching that. Versus other people, that was low from a yardstick. He had about as bad of a combine as you can have. Word started getting around that he’s might be lazy. He might be slow. He might have stacked up his numbers against inferior talent. The Lions had the number two pick that year. They took a guy by the name of Charles Rogers who ended up smoking so much weed that he was out of the league two years later and we couldn’t even recoup our signing bonus on him.

The Saints and the Jets desperately needed defensive help that year. Instead of Suggs, they took a couple of defensive tackles that never made a Pro Bowl and never made an impact. Both of them were out of the league within a couple of years. Multiple great that needed defense passed on Suggs. The long and short of it, T-Sizzle ended up going to Baltimore. He was an animal. He won two Super Bowls, Hall of Fame career. His quote was great when asked about his combine, he said, “There’s a difference between track speed and football speed. Watch my tape.” I love, “Watch my tape,” because once he got in the league, his tape was the same. He terrorized. He did it on a different level. He sacked quarterbacks. One of the most valuable things you can do in the NFL is sack quarterbacks.

Let me have a little fun with this. Two-time Super Bowl champ. Defensive Player of the Year 2011. NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year 2003. First-Team All-Pro, which you’re the best at your position, 2011. Second-team All-Pro 2008. Seven-time Pro Bowler and he’s in the 100 sack club, which only has a handful of members. He crushed it.

He ran a slow 40-yard dash, Frank. The lesson here is to pay attention to what people have done. As I hear that, there’s a lot of people that don’t interview that well. They’re awkward or maybe they’re not. That’s not what you’re hiring them for. It happens all the time.

Let’s talk about this a little bit. When you’re hiring somebody, most of us use behavioral interviewing. The tape is the résumé. The tape is the stories they’re telling you. It is different things that are in the interview process. It’s not as well-publicized. You can’t go to CBS or YouTube and see these things. It’s like, “What did you do with your TPS reports?” What you can do is you can get it in stories and find out if there were recipes. Have they uncovered the recipe? The recipe is I identify the problem, I do research, I talk to people, I implement, I adjust and I did it. You do that over and over. That’s the equivalent of getting 24 sacks in college. That’s the stuff that you need to pull out of someone in an interview. Let’s move to Drew Brees because you don’t know this but I have a story about him, too.

Frank, do you know who the all-time NFL passing leader is?

Drew Brees.

That’s right. Drew Brees has fifteen different NFL passing records. He’s one of the most prolific passers ever. Twenty years in the league. He’s a surefire Hall of Famer. He won a Super Bowl, the first one ever for New Orleans. He’s the savior of the town. Drew Brees is only 6’0″ tall in cleats. When I say in cleats, I’ve stood next to Drew Brees at a college party and he’s about my height and I am not 6’0” feet tall even though I try to make people believe I’m close.

Memorialized by the fact that at an annual meeting in circa 2006, our regional president at the time got a ladder out and gave it to Ian while he was in the middle of his speech. He goes, “Stay on this so people could see you.” That was incredible.

It was hard to recover from that. I had to give a fifteen-minute presentation afterward. People thought, “Drew Brees can’t throw hard enough. He’s not big. He doesn’t look the part.” All Drew Brees did in college was break every NCAA record like he did in the NFL and took Purdue to the first Rose Bowl in 50 years. You’re single-handedly throwing the ball 50, 60 times a game. One of the most accurate guys ever. Teams like the Browns, Bears, Lions, Redskins, are franchises that have never had a good quarterback. The Bears have had 30 quarterbacks in the last 30 years. It’s bad. They all passed on him in the first round. He didn’t go until the first pick of the second round because his measurables didn’t look good. No one was looking at the game tape. What is this guy accomplished?

Do you know who the Dolphins selected in round one of the 2001 NFL Draft?

I’d like to know.

Jamar Fletcher. Do you know who they didn’t pick? Drew fucking Brees. Not only that, Drew Brees went to the Chargers and he was great. The Dolphins didn’t sign him a second time. They picked Daunte Culpepper, who blew out his freaking knee and then he was out of the league two years later and Drew Brees ended up playing for the Saints.

The Dolphins had two chances of Drew Brees. He lit it up in San Diego. He got himself hurt but he lit it up a second time.

Business Lessons: Read a company’s core values and understand what those core values are. Figure out what the company likes and give it to them.

 

The Dolphins’ doctors wouldn’t clear him because of his shoulder. He went to New Orleans after the Dolphins and Sean Payton sat him down. They were together for four hours. The last thing Drew Brees asked, “You’re not going to talk to me about my shoulder?” He goes, “No. He can play football. You’ll be fine. All I care about is the football.” He ended up being a fifteen-year player there. It’s incredible. The Dolphins have been looking for a quarterback since I was eleven years old. They have not found him since Dan Marino has retired. They had their opportunity one year after Dan Marino retired and they drafted Jamar Fletcher. Combine Charles Rogers and Jamar Fletcher played in the NFL for six years.

That’s awful. You can understand a little bit why the Lions passed on him because they had Joey Harrington. They had a future Hall of Famer already in their stable, so you can understand why they would pass.

They had a future college football announcer.

It’s understandable.

Some guys still joke about that. We’re like, “Freaking Jamar Fletcher.”

The point we’re probably pounding home here is it’s easy to get caught up in the bias. Someone looks the part. Someone’s tall, they’re handsome, out of Central Casting when they come in, polished, they’re smooth. Their résumé looks great. They’ve written it perfectly. An interviewer has to ask specific questions. We don’t have game tape on people but what we do have is an ability to ask questions to put people on the spot to prove to us that they’ve been in situations where they’ve displayed behaviors that we value in our employees. Tell me about a time where you failed and you had to overcome something. Tell me about a time where something fell through the cracks and you had to put a system in place. Those are behavioral questions and a great interviewer can spend an hour and learn someone’s game tape through their questions.

There’s another side of this that we’ll get into later. This is also an imperfect process. There are other people who are the opposite of Terell Suggs and Drew Brees that were perfect in every statistical category. The tape was great and they flopped. It’s hard to evaluate talent. People who are great at it are paid millions of dollars. We get to sit back and play Monday morning quarterback and tell them they’re morons. The truth of the matter is it’s hard.

There are other things you can do other than behavioral interviewing. You can check references. You can get referrals. That’s why employee referrals tend to stick in companies. I bet you love employee referrals as about every company does. When someone refers someone, they’re pretty good because they know them and they don’t want to put their name on it unless they’re good.

We hire almost 25% of our staff through referrals.

It makes sense. Number two, looks can be deceiving. Those are some misses that we looked at where someone should have looked at their game tape. A couple of other examples that are striking where someone had an incredible combine. Let’s look at the other side of this. A guy by the name of Dontari Poe got written up before his junior year as one of the ten strongest men in college football. The buzz was already moving on his athletic prowess. He played for a small Memphis School. He had a total of five sacks in three years. Terrell Suggs had 24 in one year, 66 tackles for a loss in his career. This dude had five sacks but he was strong. He played against subpar competition.

They thought this guy might go in the 3rd or 4th round because he was a big body but the buzz picked back up when he went to the combine. He went to the combine and he ran a sub-5 40-yard dash weighing 330 pounds. He pretty much ran the same 40-yard dash that Terrell Suggs did but he was about 100 pounds heavier, which is incredible. He bench-pressed 225 44 times. If you’re doing the math, that’s 26 more times than Terrell Suggs could do it.

As an athlete, he was an absolute freak. That buzz got louder and louder even though the guy hadn’t produced anything in college that was that impressive. He went from being mid-4th, 5th rounder to a 1st rounder. In his career, he averaged two sacks per season and never made a Pro Bowl. A pretty good example on the other side of it is the game tape didn’t match but he had the measurables so everyone got excited.

The other one that’s like this is Darrius Heyward-Bey. He’s a guy that was incredibly fast but he averaged 3.5 catches per game in college playing for Maryland. He had a few long catches every year that would make a highlight reel so people knew about him. He ran a 4.3 40-yard dash, which is insanely fast, one of the fastest ever of all the people to ever run it. He jumped 40 inches at the combine. He went from being a third-rounder to Oakland being excited about the athletic talents that they took him seventh overall. In four seasons, he scored a total of eleven touchdowns. In six more seasons, he never scored more than two in a year. The guy sucked as a receiver and that’s what he was in Maryland. His NFL game tape matched his college game tape.

In fairness with that one, he was drafted by the Raiders when Al Davis was fairly senile. Al Davis is the owner. Al Davis was a cutting-edge pioneer in football 60 years earlier but he was way past his prime. He got excited by this and he drafted him. They’ve moved to a different city. They were terrible for a long time because they made emotional picks like that.

Don't be lazy and just answer a bunch of questions. Ask what's important. Click To Tweet

That’s good. Managers have preferences. They have their pet peeves and things that they like. Al Davis always wanted speed. He hired James Jed. He’s hired former Olympic guys that never even played football and tried to put them on the field. Largely, it’s failed for him most of the time but he always puts speed ahead of everything.

Let’s talk about this for a second. You go into a company and you do real research. You figure out what that company likes and you give them what they like in an interview. You can’t fake speed but you can highlight in an interview what’s important to different companies. The core value of the Raiders was win and speed. Those are the two things. You come in as a winner and you come in fast. They’ll draft you 3, 4 rounds ahead, which in the course of your life means tens of millions of dollars.

If you’re an interview candidate and you’re thinking, “How do I get into this company?” Position yourself. Don’t use the same cover letter over and over again. Use a cover letter that’s specific to that company. Use examples in your story that are relevant to that company. Do your research and be prepared. Make yourself seem incredible while you’re answering those questions and you’ll put yourself in a positive light and you might get selected where if you hadn’t done those things, you won’t.

I love what Frank is saying here. If you are in an interview situation, you’re not going to interview one manager. You’re going to interview on a panel, 2 or 3 usually. Your first interview is with someone junior. When I interview, I’m not the first interview. If someone’s going to waste their time, it’s not going to be me. Everyone’s been stuck in an interview. We’re like, “That’s not going to work.” I’d rather be the lowest paid person who’s on the interview panel that wasted their time.

In your first interview, you should ask as many questions as you can about the type of criteria that the company values. Ask questions like, “People who get promoted around here, what are the attributes that they have? When you hire, what are the things that you look for in a great hire? Who around here are some of your highest-paid people? What is it that they do differently?” You’re gaining insight so that in each subsequent interview, you can be a little smarter about how you position yourself, about the stories you tell and about the things that you do. Frankie, you got a good example of a guy who figured out the test grades and what the testers were looking for and gamed the system.

Before I get into him, I’ll say one more thing to build on what Ian said. In most companies, you do a phone interview first. You then might do a Zoom interview in the 21st century and then you’ll do an in-person interview. Get smarter. Learn in the first interview. Don’t be lazy and answer a bunch of questions. Ask what’s important. Do that stuff. When you get to the second interview, you built your talk track around what was important in the first one and asked more questions. When you get brought into the office, keep getting better.

If you come here to work, you’re probably going to review a minimum of three people and most likely six. You can get better in each interview. If you finish with me and you blow me away with an understanding and great examples, I could come into the room and then you could have been a no and you blew me away, there will be a strong conversation about considering you. It’s because you did such a great job. You peaked at the combine and you’re going to be considered.

Speaking of peaking at the combine, my favorite story is when I was in college. Mike Mamula is the guy’s name. This guy was a good player. Similar to Dontari Poe, he was a 2nd, 3rd rounder most likely. He goes to the combine and he kills it. Ultimately, he gets drafted seventh overall by the Eagles. He ended up being a six-sack-a-year guy. He ends up having a fairly decent career but he wasn’t incredible. He was decent.

What he did, which was brilliant, is he focused on something different than everybody else that was a contemporary of his. He’s a smart guy. It’s hard to get into Boston College. It’s an academic school. What he did is he looked at it and said, “You can distinguish yourself if you do great at the combine.”
What he focused on was combine-specific stuff. He worked on his bench press, his 40-yard dash, his testing that they call the Wonderlic is an IQ score. He got the second-best Wonderlic in the history of the combine.

He was prepping for it as you would in LSAT, taking prep tests.

He was smart to begin with, which helps but then he was smart in how he positioned his efforts. What ultimately happened is he got drafted seventh overall. I’ll tell you a quick story. The seventh pick belonged to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They traded out, so they got more picks because they didn’t like Mamula. They liked a couple of other players better. One of the players they loved was a guy named Warren Sapp, who had character issues. It turns out that he was positive for a marijuana test. He was the number one overall talent and he went twelve to Tampa. Tampa also traded that pick into a later-round pick. They used a fifth-round pick on a guy that they thought graded better. His name was Derrick Brooks.

The summary of this story is that Mamula came up on stage seventh overall. Paul Tagliabue, who’s the NFL commissioner, mispronounced his name. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the laughingstock of football for three decades, ultimately won a Super Bowl with those two guys who both ended up in the Hall of Fame. They were smart. They were a bad business for years. They finally had new leadership and new management and said, “We’re not going to fall for the fool’s gold. We’re not going to put too much priority on this one event. We’re going to look at the game film. We’re going to take a character guy who’s fallen back a bit but is incredibly talented and we’re going to take an incredibly talented guy that fits our system built around them.” That’s how you can do it. You can replicate that business.

There’s a couple of things that could relate to someone who’s a business owner or a manager who’s hiring. One of them is a just-like-me bias where we meet someone and they’ve got a lot of things. For Frank, it might be someone from southern Florida or someone who played high school football. There are 2 or 3 data points that pop in there that are similar to Frank’s background. Maybe they worked for a big builder or they did something else. Maybe they’re Italian. It doesn’t matter. You see them and you’re like, “This person is a lot like me, so they’ll be great.” It’s a dangerous bias because it rarely works out the way you think it is because you don’t have enough information.

LMSM 33 | Business Lessons

Business Lessons: Gain insight into your first interview so that you can be a little smarter about how you position yourself and the stories you tell about the things you do in each subsequent interview.

 

The other thing I think about right away are managers that put way too much weight on GPA. Mike Mamula ran a fast 40-yard dash and that’s one data point. Some people are crazy about GPA. You’ve got to be over a 3.6 or 3.7. Keep, our car alarm company. David is big on GPA, way bigger than I am. He’s crazy about it. He’s hiring some engineers that are inventing some pretty thorny things and thinking them through, so I understand that but some of it is the just-like-me. David had an amazing GPA in college. I did not. I don’t value it the same way as he because I know someone with a lower GPA is capable of and that’s what he knows. Those are a few things that I took away from that second point.

The way that you brought those up is a good way to do it. I texted Ian and this is how the show starts with us, “The Draft is coming up.” I was reading a couple of episodes. I read an episode that led me to an episode by Bill Polian. Bill Polian is a Hall of Famer. He has worked with some of the best teams. He was in the back office for the Bills Team that went to four straight Super Bowls. They lost all four but they were good. He was the architect of the Peyton Manning lead Indianapolis Colts. He’s looked at as a brilliant Insider. If you’re a football geek, you should listen to it. It’s cool. It’s from the beginning of April 2020. It’s fascinating.

If you’re not a football geek, this is what he did that I thought was incredible. He would tell you every position inside of a football team and he would tell you the measurables that you needed to have. Height, weight, speed, agility, all these different things are all measured. He would know your height to the fraction of an inch. He would use it in decimal points. It was from 6.12 to 6.42. For those of us in America, we do not measure in points. We measure in inches. It was decimalized. It was precise. What was fascinating was he talked about red marks. If you are too fat, too heavy, too short, too tall, too slow, your vertical stunk, you get a red mark. What it was is you wouldn’t pick somebody that had more than two red marks. If you didn’t pick them, you’d want to use it in a later round or you try something but you knew that it wouldn’t work.

To Ian’s point about Poe, the defensive tackle, he talked about people that were too fat, too heavy. They played against inferior competition and how it wouldn’t translate. What I think in my business, I’m not nearly as sophisticated as the NFL. The hardest thing for us to hire for is sales. We now use four psychological tests. With those four psychological tests, we look at four things. What is your PI, your predictive index? What makeup are you? What is your cognitive? Your cognitive is how big your sponge is. Your IQ is how much water is in the sponge? How much can you comprehend?

I care about two other things from this nineteen-page test. Do you take responsibility and are you coachable? You’ve got to be moderately intelligent. You need to show some aptitude for the job. If you’ve got those four things, I can turn you into a salesman. It’s no different than if I showed up on an NFL report. No way in hell, they’re going to draft me. I wasn’t invited by the way to the Draft or the combine because I don’t have any of those tangibles. What are the things in your life as a manager or as a business owner that you need to focus on?

Have you run into situations where someone kills it with the whole interview panel and they blow all four of your check marks on that test?

In the old days, we used to bring them into the office. Now, we don’t. They never make it to me.

You test them first. For everyone reading this that wants to think of testing, this is incredibly important because what I found with testing was this, if you tested after people had already interviewed, you want to try to explain the test away. They’ve already met the person. Sometimes the test was wrong. Tests aren’t perfect. More often than not, you regretted it because they were a good actor. We did the same thing. You tested, we looked at it and we decided whether we’re going to invest time in you or not. You can think that’s fair or you could think that’s unfair. I don’t care because it’s my money and I’m spending it on the people. When you start spending your own money on hiring employees, you can test them after if you’d like.

This is a funny story. There was a kid and he was 3 or 4 years older than me. His mom is friends with my mom and I got a text or a phone call, like, “So and so applied for a job.” It’s also in the back of my head that this kid was always older than me and he always was a dick. He could have been nice and he wasn’t. He was a dick. My mom called me up and she said, “So and so applied for a job.” I told my mom straight face, “Had the guy been nice, maybe I would have bent the rules.”

I told my mom straight face, I said, “With my job ad is a link to two tests. The first one is the PI, the Predictive Index. The second is cognitive. If it makes it to me, he passed those two tests. If he didn’t, he’s not the right job fit, so it’ll never make it to me. Tell the lady that you know that we’ve got a pretty rigorous hurdle program. If he doesn’t make me, it’s no offense, he’s not the right fit for that particular job and it weeds him out.” It’s two things, it prevents you from wasting a lot of steps and if someone who’s friends with your mom ever applies, you blame the test. It’s fantastic.

It’s not just a test that you need. The test could have too many red marks. I’m big on reading your application. On an application, I love to see how you write about your previous employer. I always put a question on there, which is why did you leave your last job? It’s one of the most important things that I read on any job application. I love to see, is there a pattern of you destroying the manager from previous places? Why in the hell would I think I would be any different?

I’m also looking for grammar. Do you write? Did you take your time? You’re submitting something to a company asking for a job. If you can’t take the time to get your grammar right on an application and you’re in a position where you’re going to interact with customers, how sloppy are you going to be when you interact with my customers? That denotes a lot for me. It’s a pooled risk. I’m looking at an application, your résumé, your interview, your test.

When you go do a background check, someone has a DUI on their background check. It’s not enough for me to bounce them. If you have three, there’s no way in hell you’re getting a job with me. If you have a DUI and I was in financial services, I’d pull their credit. If your credit was a disaster and you had an offense on your background, how in the world am I going to have you managing other people’s finances? I love Polian’s too many red marks. A manager has to evaluate risk. When we evaluate risk, we’re looking at multiple data points. If there are too many in the wrong direction, we’re going to go a different direction.

Let me say two things here. I want to do them in order. The application. When I applied to NVR, most of the applications were computerized. NVR wasn’t. In my company, I don’t read as much as others. I read enough but I’ve got people that are the readers. If Ian worked here, he’d be one of the readers. If Ian worked here, he’d be one of the readers. He gets a lot of stuff for reading. He’d be the one who screens it. I’m not the reader but I got someone who does that.

LMSM 33 | Business Lessons

Business Lessons: Do you take responsibility? Are you coachable and moderately intelligent? Do you show some aptitude for the job? If you’ve got those things, you can be a salesman.

 

Let me go back to the NVR application. It wasn’t computerized. I am a god-awful speller. I know that. I had to handwrite this freaking thing. I answered every single question on my laptop. I typed it, spell-checked it and then I went back and rewrote it by hand into the document. It took me forever. It’s the job I wanted and I knew someone was going to read it. I didn’t want to look like an idiot who couldn’t spell and get kicked out. I did it.

Frank is a smart guy but he doesn’t enjoy writing. It’s not a talent of his or a skill of his or it could be if you enjoyed it more. You were smart enough to know that you wouldn’t even get a chance to explain to someone that writing isn’t your thing if you didn’t write it well because it would get bounced out of the pile. If I had to evaluate 100 applications, the twenty with grammar and spelling errors are out first. I’m sorry. That’s not my job to send it back to you and say, “You might want to look at a few of these things. Get your shit together if you want a job from me.”

We talked about this in a previous episode. I communicated with my wife first through text in a dating app. I didn’t misspell it because I spell-checked it. I used the wrong grammar. I used the wrong word. She blew me off.

“Look at this Neanderthal.”

She’s partially right but I’m a great salesman. Here’s the other thing that I want to talk about here before we move on to something else, a DUI. I come across them all the time. If you’ve got three, you’ve got an uphill battle. That’s a decision-making problem. I’m not going to throw you out because of it but you better have some damn good answers.

I would. I wouldn’t even blink, “You’re out.”

Ian and I have different criteria for this. I’ll tell you this. I don’t care if it’s one or if it’s three. You’re allowed to make a mistake. I and I have made mistakes. I have a DUI on my record. I admitted it in an interview. I remember telling my dad that and he goes, “Frank, what the eff were you thinking? Stop letting that follow you around.” In the ‘90s, it wasn’t as easy to track. What I found and took it head-on is I didn’t lie about it. What I did is I said this, “I have one.” One of the worst days of my life.

Let me tell you why it was a terrible day. Let me tell you the next twelve months after that day, what I did, how I did it, how it’s fundamentally rewired me, how I realized I was this close to getting yanked out of school. These are the things that happened and I turned them into something positive. If you got three negatives, you might need to lie. If you have a negative and you can talk about what you did with it to turn into a positive and how you became a better person, that is critical.

We’re going to find out anyway. You might as well bring it out.

I’ve asked people, “Is there anything else you want to talk about in the interview?” “Five years ago, I had a DUI. That’s the only thing on my record. You’re going to see it. Do you have any questions about it?” That is heroic. I trust you so much more because you told me that and let’s talk about it. “Did you have fun the night you got a DUI? Now let’s talk about the serious part. Let’s go through it and have a real dialogue.” That is what separates you in an interview, making a mistake.

Frank, I’ve told people we’re going to do a background check and ask them, “Is there anything you’d like to share with me?” They’ll say, “No.” There’s a DUI in their report and you’re like, “Did you think I was bluffing? That was your chance, say it. I’m no saint myself.” The reason why I say three is you haven’t learned a damn thing?

That’s a character problem.

You can tell me three stories. Do you have a problem or you’re irresponsible? You can tell me three stories all you want. You’re irresponsible.

The only caveat to that is there were three of them years ago, you’ve done something about it and there’s been nothing there since. I’ve seen that and I’ve looked the other way on it. I’ve looked the other way on things on a record that I probably shouldn’t have because I gave someone a shot. More likely than not, it bit me in the ass. In some instances, it’s made a lot of sense. You’ve got to weigh those things. As a hiring manager, you’d have to make decisions and you have to use legal and all kinds of other stuff. If you’re reading this and there’s a wart on your résumé, we all have them. Have a story and a compelling reason and you work around it. That’s the Bill Polian thing. Is it a red mark or is it multiple red marks? You’ve got to be able to put a tourniquet around it.

Tests weed the applicants out. It prevents you from wasting a lot of steps. Click To Tweet

Frank, what’s crazy is I know some people with multiple blemishes on the records that I know well and I would hire them in a second but I know them well. They’re incredible people. If I don’t know anything about you but an interview and your record, I’d move on to the next thing.

We’re getting sidetracked here but it’s worth it. Let’s say you’re reading this and you’re trying to interview for a job. You had a wild decade or you had some major screw-ups over a period of time. A calculated move would be to turn multiple blemishes and sell them as a blemish. Sell it as, “This was a period in my life where I didn’t have a lot of guidance. I went out and did these five things. I had a wild streak. It could be summarized here. This is how I’ve overcome this. This is a body of work. It’s now 5, 8, 10, 20 years in the making.” You take a multiple blemish thing and you sell it as a package of something. If you’re reading this and you had a bad period, you’re going to have an uphill climb to find a job in a good economy with low unemployment. You’ve got to steer your narrative and you got to own your shit. Those are the things that are going to get you a chance.

Number four, pedigree is important but not that important. Rick Mirer and Brady Quinn were both quarterbacks for Notre Dame and they were quarterbacks for a good Notre Dame team. It’s loaded. Rick Mirer went second overall. Brady Quinn went 22nd. They’re both nice quarterbacks on amazing teams with story traditions. They both were way over-drafted for their talent at the next level. Their success had more to do with the program they were in and the talent they were surrounded by. Two other examples, the Bears drafted Cade McNown and Rex Grossman in the first round. Neither of them was solid NFL quarterbacks or had the talent to be elite quarterbacks but they played on ridiculously good teams, which made them look better.

As a Florida Gator, I take offense to the Sexy Rexy because he was a great Gator.

He was a great Gator but can we talk about who he was throwing to? You’ve got Percy Harvin in your backfield.

I’m disappointed you didn’t put Danny Wuerffel on the list.

He tends to look better. Danny Wuerffel, that was another good one on there. Matt Leinart sticks out as another one. He’s on an all-time team. He went 1st or 2nd in that Draft to the Jets. The opposite is Gino Torretta. He won a Heisman Trophy and two national championships. He’s on one of the most dominant college football teams ever, the Miami Team. The teams were smart enough to know it’s because you were surrounded by outrageously good athletes, offensive linemen, your running backs were great, your receivers were great. He didn’t go until the seventh round, which was smart.

At the other end of that spectrum, you’ve got guys like Mean Joe Greene from North Texas, Walter Payton from Jackson State, Jerry Rice from Mississippi Valley State, Michael Strahan from Texas Southern. The takeaway here is a lot of managers get caught up when they see a résumé come across their desks that says Stanford on it or it says Georgia Tech or it says UVA. They get excited. I can tell you, I hired for a decade in Virginia. I hired from Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia and JMU. Out of those three, which one has the biggest reputation as the brainiac school?

It certainly isn’t JMU.

UVA is the hardest to get into by far. It’s the highest-ranked of all of it. I had much more success with JMU students than I did UVA. This is not knocking UVA by any stretch of the imagination. I went one year and I hired eight kids from UVA and I was like, “We’re getting after it. We are raising the bar. We are getting talent.” Most of them didn’t stay. They all wanted to get MBAs. They want jobs with consultants. They were caught up in the pedigree of the school that they went to, whereas in the gym, new kids came in and worked their asses off. We’re appreciative of the job that came from the blue-collar backgrounds. They weren’t recruited by the same big schools coming out of high school, so they had a chip on their shoulder. I’ve personally done better hiring from not small schools but not the top 25.

That makes a lot of sense. At GE, my guess is you’d have a hell of a lot better chance of placing someone and retaining them back when you were there from UVA. Ryan Homes is not that kind of pedigree. It’s more of a blue-collar type of pedigree in person. You got to know that. Like I know here, I don’t go after people with those big degrees or five degrees. I go after people that are workers because it fits the job. Let’s get into projects.

How would you define a project?

If we’re using the NFL, I would say a project was Randy Moss when he was on the Raiders. I would talk about someone who is maybe a character issue, someone who doesn’t have the skill. It can go both ways. You can use Wes Welker, who played for the Dolphins. That was mostly a special teams guy and you find a spot for him. You could do the opposite, which is where you find someone who’s certainly talented but who’s underperforming.

Let’s stick with college at least for now. It’s going to be someone who played on a small team so they played against weak talent. It’s hard to evaluate. Was Tony Romo any good playing for Eastern Michigan and beating up Miami of Ohio instead of playing for Michigan and beating up on Ohio State? Those two things are a different situation when playing gets that talent. These are more projections that people take chances on. There’s an incredible list of Hall of Fame talents like James Harrison, Antonion Gates, Kurt Warner that went undrafted but someone took a chance on them and invited them to camp.

Business Lessons: If you have a negative and can talk about what you did with it to turn it into a positive and how you became a better person, that is critical.

 

What this makes me think about are my favorite Fortune 500 companies. I tend to work with these people now. I love to spot people without a lot of experience that is general in what they bring to you. They bring hustle, work ethic, ability to learn and they’re coachable. They aren’t specifically trained yet but have a lot of upsides. I’ve done much better with these hires and it always surprises me that companies aren’t willing to hire more kids without any experience whatsoever. Frank, do you think they don’t have the organization to train them? They don’t have the wherewithal to teach them the business. They don’t know how to handle a new person. Are they against hiring Millennials and Gen Y? What is it? Do they feel like they need experience or you’re not going to perform?

I’m going to answer your question with a story. I was in a back room with one of the major candidates for Richmond and I got invited there. When you get invited to these, you’re told to also branch check. I was in the room and the mayor ultimately lost. The message was confusing and I looked at her and I was like, “Do you know the difference between a feature and a benefit?” She didn’t have a great answer. I went through the difference between a feature and a benefit. I used it for the city of Richmond and I told this story. It was relevant to Richmond.

The man who put the meeting together is 80. He looks at me and goes, “Where did you go to college?” I’m like, “The University of Florida.” He goes, “Did you learn that there?” I was like, “No.” What was relevant about that is he’s an 80-year-old dinosaur. He thinks you’re getting this from college. People who don’t know how to hire or cultivate talent go back to, “Look at the résumé. Look at where this person’s pedigree is. Look at these things.” I talked about four things that matter. If you’ve got those four things and some experience, I can cultivate you. I’ve got a 30-person company. I don’t have a 1,000-person company. If you went through NVR, NVR would hire English majors and business majors to build houses because they had a good enough program to teach you. It is relevant to the program and the thing around you.

If you’re looking to spot some talent like this, one, it’s affordable. You’re going to get a ton of hustle and you’re going to get someone entry-level to pay a lot of. A rookie contract is not expensive. When I dive into it, if you’ve got weak work experience and you’ve graduated college and maybe not even graduated college, I’m going to ask, what are your earliest jobs? Have you ever worked two jobs at one time? What kind of team experience do you have? Did you work your way through college?

Tell me about a time where you had to balance a lot on your plate. I’m going to dive into sports and extracurricular. What was your role? Have you been a leader before? All of those things translate as much as work experience does to the work world. You can do it in a way and you can spot some good talent. Most of the people I promoted into leadership roles didn’t have any vocational experience when they started with me at either big company I worked for.

Number six, hire for need but make room in your business for special talents. I’ll start with a quick story here. The Lions are always a laughingstock. In 2003, they took Charles Rodgers. He flamed out after 1.5 years of smoking too much weed. One year later in 2004, they took Roy Williams, a wide receiver with their first-round pick out of Texas. He ended up becoming an okay receiver and not great. One year later, they took Mike Williams, another wide receiver out of USC who flamed out. He ate too much. He was fat and didn’t get into good shape.

The Lions were a laughingstock under Matt Millen. All they do is draft receivers that don’t work out. They took 2006 off from wide receivers and they were still this laughingstock. In 2007, with a top draft pick, they took Calvin Johnson, another wide receiver. Four wide receivers in five years. It was not a need to take Megatron at the time. We did have a bunch of receivers. He was a special talent. He’s turned out to be one of the few smart moves they’ve ever made in the Draft because he single-handedly got us to the playoffs a few times by jumping over 2 or 3 different defenders at a time. He’s doing some other-worldly things on that team. It wasn’t a need but they recognized he was the absolute best playmaker in the entire Draft. It was a bold move to take him after they had dropped the ball on a few others.

They took him, hoping that those other players were going to be him. Luckily, they got one of them right. The thing with Mike Williams is he played at USC and he sat out a year. Before, that was popular. Because of COVID, he had a bunch of crap and they still drafted him up top. Why don’t you tell the story about going to NVR and why they hired you and how that whole thing works? That’s a relevant story to use here.

Me getting hired in NVR was similar to the story that we’re telling here. There was already a region manager in Virginia. He was a great guy. He was probably five years from retiring. They were out looking for new region managers that didn’t have mortgage experience. Our CEO wanted to go get a fresh perspective on the finance business. A friend of mine who had joined NVR and worked with me at GE was doing a good job for Ryan Homes at the time. Paul Saville asked him, “Is there anyone else at GE that’s maybe not happy and maybe in the same place you were at that’s got talent?” Max said, “Yeah. I know a guy, Ian Matthews. He’s incredible. He worked with me.”

Saville went after me and liked me but he already had a regional in Virginia and he wanted me locally. He wanted to teach me the business for me to work in McLean at the time. That was our headquarters. He went ahead and hired me anyway and made me co-regional with Mike Fernandez, who’s still a good friend of mine. We worked together for three years but it was not a business need. He knew I would come in and help Mike. I had a different way of looking at things. He knew I would make Virginia better because I would have a different perspective.

It was like, “This is lightning in a bottle. We could get this guy from GE. He seems unhappy.” They hired me and I ended up staying with the company for thirteen years and moved into bigger roles until I was running pretty much the whole company, all of the regions. At the time they hired me, my position was not a need. They went and hired me anyway, knowing there was going to be growth in the company and they would need leadership talent.

When you’re in a big company, you can do this a little bit more than you can with a smaller company. I did it, too. There’s a guy that works for us who’s critical to our success and incredibly important and great. We brought him down in sales but I quickly realized he wasn’t a salesman. He had many other talents that we weren’t tapping into and we found a spot for him. Sometimes what you’ve got to do is to find talented people and bring them in.

I’m meeting somebody who fits this role. I don’t know what the person is going to do or how they’re going to fit in. They’re smart, talented and from a strong referral. Those types of things, you’re like, “I’ll sit down with this person and take a shot.” The big companies, the NFL teams, you can do that. The Packers can draft Aaron Rodgers. The Packers can then turn around a decade and a half later and draft Jordan Love, who they can park on the bench for three years because they’re the freaking Packers. When you’re a smaller business, your window is smaller but you can still do these things and bring in talented people and say, “Let’s see where you shake out.”

At our tech startup we had a couple of incredible résumés fall into our lap that didn’t fit the job postings that we had. One of them is from the Institute of Technology of India, PhD in engineering, a decade of consumer tech business experience and Microsoft launching multiple products. We’re looking at them and we’re saying, “Let’s create job positions for these. We’re growing. We’re going to need this. We’re going to get disorganized.”

LMSM 33 | Business Lessons

Business Lessons: Surprisingly, companies aren’t willing to hire more kids without any experience whatsoever. They bring hustle, work ethic, and the ability to learn.

 

We’ve created a Chief of Staff position. We’ll call it a COO. Similar to what Jeff Bezos does that we talked about, a Chief of Staff. We created a VP of Hardware position for these two people because we were looking at them and we’re saying, “We want to be a billion-dollar company. We have no sales and no revenue. We get that but we think this could be a billion-dollar company. We’re going to need some special talents to get there. Let’s lock them up now while we’re in this crazy growth mode.”

You’ve got to be mindful of where you ultimately want to go. Having a 1, 3, 5 or 10-year plan is critical. In addition to that, it doesn’t seem to me like you’re hiring too many reclamation projects. In my business, we don’t hire many either. When you asked earlier, “What would you call a project?” A project is someone you put on the taxi squad or you say, “They’re not going to play for a couple of years.” That’s a project. A reclamation project is more like, “You have all the talent. Maybe your head isn’t right. You found the wrong team. You’re tired of making a ton of money and you want to backtrack a little bit and make less money but win.” Those can be projects.

In my business, we don’t have a lot of projects because we’re a small business. We can make 1 or 2 exceptions because I got a strong enough team where we can pull them up and we can decide. Most of the time with a reclamation project, you need to go into it thinking, “This could end at any moment. This person’s got all the talent in the world but they might not be a cultural fit. I’m going into it with the caveat of this could end any second.”

There are football teams that do this well. The Patriots have done it incredibly well. Tampa Bay won the 2021 Super Bowl. They did it well. They pulled a bunch of people together and they know it’s a soup that might not last long. Teams do it terribly. We’ve already talked about the Raiders and we’ll get into it already and talk about specific examples there. Another team that’s terrible at it is the Bengals. They constantly draft high-functioning players that are dipshits off the field. What Bill Polian would’ve said is he would have put a red seal on their card. They either want to take him off the board or they said, “This is a character person we’re probably not going to draft.”

What matters on a lot of these and where they work and where they don’t work is where the culture is to start. The Patriots have a strong locker room. They can bring guys in like Randy Moss, Ochocinco, Albert Haynesworth, people that have been a problem to others. If they don’t work, they get them out. Most of those people fall in line whereas the Bengals have a weak locker room. Guys like Pacman Jones, Joe Mixon, Vontaze Burfict, Ray Maualuga, all those guys had checkered past and domestic disputes. They then come into a locker room that’s gross and it gets grosser. That’s it. If you’re going to take a risk, your culture has got to be rock solid. If not, you got to pass. Randy Moss almost went to Florida State first and then Notre Dame or was it Notre Dame then Florida State?

Randy Moss came from a small town in West Virginia and he was the biggest star. He’s incredibly talented. He enrolls at Notre Dame and when he enrolls at Notre Dame, he gets caught doing something stupid. He was smoking weed. The coach of the time goes and goes, “I can’t have you but you’re incredible and I’m going to take care of you.” He called a couple of coaches, one of which was Bobby Bowden. Back then, there wasn’t the portal. You had to sit out a year. He sits out a year. He’s on Florida State’s team on the practice squad. He’s not even playing. He gets kicked off the team again for smoking weed but he played with those guys for a full year.

He downgrades and goes to a Division Two school because he can then transfer again. It’s complicated but he could play. He went to inferior talent. He played for two years. He ends up the best player around. This is unheard of. He’s up for the biggest award, the Heisman Trophy because he was dominating this other town. Nobody from that level is even wanted. He’s the finalist for this award. The same thing happens in the NFL Draft. He ultimately doesn’t get drafted until the 22nd pick.

Minnesota picks him, a team that had incredible culture, incredible coach, great wide receivers. One of the wide receivers is a guy named Chris Carter. He was a problem ten years earlier but he was old enough where, at this point, he was no longer a problem. He took Randy Moss under his wing and Randy Moss became incredible. It was the right place to put a problem. If he had gone right to the Raiders or a shitty team right out of college, it could have blown up.

If he goes to the Lions, maybe he’s Charles Rogers. Maybe it falls apart. Maybe Charles Rodgers does well in the Minnesota locker room. To me, a reclamation project might be someone that you had to let go of years ago in a different time, different situation, they’ve matured a little in their life and you’re thinking about bringing them back. I’ve done this before. You see some of those things where someone’s been fired and they learn something from it.

If you’re going to do it, you need an established team. You need to establish a culture. You need to have leaders underneath you that buy into who you’re hiring and why you’re hiring them. They have to be on board with it. They need to be part of the solution and help make sure that person is going to kick some ass. Number eight out of the lessons is even the best programs swing and miss all the time. The Patriots are thought of as one of the best when it comes to value, picking up free agents and making the best out of the draft picks. They found Tom Brady in the sixth round. There are lots of legends around it. In 2017, they took Derek Rivers, Antonio Garcia, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Conor McDermott.

Ian, household names.

If you’re saying who, it’s because none of them ever played. It was a completely wasted year. They had four Draft picks that year in 2017 and none of the players made the team or did anything. They gave an entire year up in the Draft, which is pretty crazy. It’s also probably why they didn’t make the playoffs. Even if you are incredible at it, something you should come to grips with is the NFL is hard, sure but it’s hard to hire anywhere and have a 100% hit rate. If you’re kicking ass, you’re probably doing 60%, 70% hit rate on recruiting even with an incredible process. If your process sucks, you’re closer to 20% or 30%.

In an interview that I listened to, Bill Polian went all the way back to Vince Lombardi who’s an iconic coach. The Super Bowl trophy was named after him. He was important to the game. He said, “You’ll bring in 25. If you’re lucky, you’ve kept five.” 5 out of 25 is 1 out of 5, which is a 20% retention rate. In Corporate America, we’re better than 20% because you’re looking at free athletics and things like that. What is important is you’ve got to own your mistakes.

In the NFL, there’s a bunch of examples of this. Ryan Leaf came out of college. He was a number two pick behind Peyton Manning and the Chargers, who we talked about also cut bait pretty quick with Drew Brees when he hurt his shoulder. They said, “That’s enough. You’re out.” They gave him two years. The opposite was the Packers, a smaller market team. They held on to Tony Mandarich for 3 or 4 years. Ian, why don’t you talk about that with the differences and why?

Ryan Leaf and Tony Mandarich were both high-profile players. Ryan Leaf went right behind Peyton Manning and there was a big conversation of whether he was better than paid Peyton. Tony Mandarich was an offensive tackle that was another one of these combine monsters. He bench-pressed millions of pounds and pancaked lots of people. He was strong. The hype got big that the Packers took him. It turns out he was on steroids for all that. Once he got to the NFL where the testing was harder, he couldn’t do what he did before when he was on those steroids. From the first practice of training camp, the Packers knew Tony Mandarich wasn’t the guy that they drafted.

Find talented people, bring them in, and figure out how they're going to fit in. Click To Tweet

The crazy part about Tony Mandarich is he went second in that Draft. Right after him, Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders and Deion Sanders, three iconic Hall of Fame NFL players. What the Packers did was they had this sunk cost. Their ego was on the line. They took this lineman ahead of three incredible players. They looked silly. What they did is they tried to play him for three years. For three seasons, they kept running him out there and he kept getting steamrolled by everybody. They lost a lot of games.

They got a bunch of quarterbacks hurt because they kept putting a terrible player on the field to protect their ego, instead of saying, “We missed.” The lesson here is in hiring. Put your ego aside when you get it wrong. Hire slow and fire fast. You normally know pretty early, “This is not the person I interviewed.” There’s something off. They’re not getting along with your team. They’re awkward. They’re pushing back on everything. They’re showing up late. They’re showing signs way too early for someone who’s only been with you a few weeks.

I have two quick stories I’m going to go through on this and we can wrap this thing up. I bought a whole company. It was a small company. That’s a pretty big thing. It’s a high cost. It turns out that the company wasn’t that great. It turns out what I bought was a lead assistant and a process. They had a process better than us. I hired people from this company. I brought them in. It made the paper. Ultimately, what I ended up having to do is I had to say, “This isn’t working out and I got to let you go. I’m going to keep your process. I’m going to keep one employee. I paid you a bunch of money, so I’m going to enforce the non-compete. I’m sorry.”

You pretty much bought IP.

I didn’t think I was buying IP when I bought it. I thought I was buying some talent but it turns out I wasn’t. In my 40s, I made that decision a hell of a lot faster than I would have in my twenties. I would have written Tony Mandarich out there and he has asked me for year over year. Instead, I said, “This isn’t working. We need to let you go.” We talked about DUIs earlier. One of the more harsh things that we ever did is on Christmas Eve, we fired somebody. It turns out, the reason we fired him is he lied. He told us he used to drink and he doesn’t drink anymore. He admitted to one of the people that he had a DUI but he didn’t come clean.

He didn’t have 2 or 3. He had at least three and he had an open misdemeanor where it seems like he might have had a fourth. He lied to us. He said, “I don’t drink anymore.” We caught him at a party sneaking off and doing shots. It was harsh. I was out of town. I call back to the office and I’m like, “You guys got to fire this guy. We got the data. He’s worked for us for four days. He’s got to go.” That’s what we did. It’s harsh but that’s what we had to do. Business hardens you. It’s not great but sometimes it does harden you and you have to make those tough decisions.

I’ve fired someone on their first day of work. We hired them saying, “Your background check still needs to come back. Is there anything you want to tell me? Did you misrepresent anything on this application? Is there anything?” “No.” They start day one. HR calls me, “They’ve got some things on the background. One of them was they lied about going to college.” I confronted the person and they said, “I took some classes.” I said, “You took some classes. You wrote down that you had a bachelor’s degree on this résumé and your application. You told me you did.” “No, I don’t. I only have a few semesters.”

I was like, “You can go ahead and pack up and leave.” She was like, “How could you do this? I already left my other company.” I said, “You knew that you were starting contingent on having told me the truth. How can you and I have a business relationship? If you lied about something this big, what else are you lying about? I can’t trust you.” She tried to pull on my heartstrings, “I left another job. I’m out here.” I wasn’t going for it, “That’s too bad. Next time, don’t lie.” By the way, this was not a position that needed a college degree and yet she chose to lie about it, which I still don’t know. To me, that saved me, her doing that. I had fired someone as quickly as one day when I realized they weren’t who they told me they were going to be.

It’s the 21st century. Information is everywhere. You need to be honest. You’re going to get caught.

Frank, wrapping this up, there are many things you can do to minimize errors. The first rule of hiring is first not harm. I would much rather miss out on a great talent than hire someone who becomes a major problem in my business. Would you agree with that? If you had the choice of two mistakes, I missed a good talent or I hired someone that got into my organization and it started stirring it all up, I can always find other talents. Everyone’s going to remember the bad hire that messed everything up in the business.

I’ve got to the point where one hire is not going to do that. You’ve got to pick the Steady Eddy over the one that could potentially rock the applecart.

If you want to minimize mistakes, first, do no harm. You want to make sure that you measure the right things, you’re asking the right questions, you’re looking at the right game tape and you’re putting the right context on it. You can do all those things. It still comes down to the fact that context and environment matters. If you can’t build a good culture in your organization, hiring great talent won’t change your organization. You’ll be the Jaguars, the Browns, the Dolphins and the Lions. You’ll hire some of the best talents every year. They’ll come in. They’ll quickly start performing lower than their capabilities because of the halo effect. They’ll perform at the same intensity level as the rest of your locker room. Focus on your culture and then bring in great talent and let them bring you up. If you don’t, your culture is going to bring them down.

I agree with everything you said. I’ll reframe it this way. Teams and companies that win a lot have strong ownership. If we’re going to make a questionable hire, I’m on board for it. It’s a conversation. It’s a dialogue. There are decisions that go into it.

You know the risk.

It’s not flipping it. It’s much debated. It isn’t debated by me and nobody else. It’s debated amongst the leadership team that is going to be working with this person that has to deal with it. We did a whole episode about how Urban Meyer made a decision in a vacuum and how we disagreed with it. We are not an NFL franchise but we still don’t do that. If we have something questionable, we talk about it as a group.

Sometimes we bring the future employee in and we talk about it. We make decisions holistically as a group. Sometimes if you get it wrong, you have to look at, “Does this person fit culturally? Will they unwind everything we’ve worked so hard to build?” If the answer to that is a possibility or a yes, you got to be Michael Jordan for me to give you a shot because it doesn’t make sense. It’s taken twelve years for me to get here. I can’t unwrap that with one loose decision and I won’t.

I am thankful that you didn’t make me take that Wonderlic Test that Cava company employees have to go through to be your cohost of this show because you probably have someone different sitting here talking to you.

There’s no doubt. Both of us would have failed. There would be blank microphones.

All four of those would be red checkmarks, “This guy’s an A-hole.”

Judging by the readership, maybe we shouldn’t have done this anyway.

Good talking to you.

Ian, it’s always a pleasure.

Go Lions.

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