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Our Ruminations blog will bring you insights into how we got here and some of the things we consider when trying to help you run your business. We hope it gives you a better understanding of how we strive to better serve your needs.

Eli the Giant

A tale of maximizing the benefits of disruptions

Non-sports fans: If you're not a fan of sports in general, or the NFL specifically, please keep reading anyway. They are just this post’s metaphor; the delivery device of this post's insights. If you are a fan of the NFL don't miss my Of Blinders and Belichick post.

Full disclaimer: Though I am not a NY Giants fan, I do like Eli Manning. He doesn't seek the spotlight. He leads by example on the field. He's cool under pressure. He rises to the occasion. And he's a mensch off the field - his charity work will continue for many years. Alas, father time is undefeated.

I originally wrote this post back in January 2018 (shortly after the 2017 NFL regular season ended) but never sent it to Aimée for editing. Since then I’ve rewritten it several times. First in March (before the 2018 NFL draft), then in May (after the draft), at the beginning of September (before the 2018 season started), at the end of September (after attending a retirement luncheon), at the end of November (when it was clear the Giants would not have a winning record), and now one last time.

Some parts were scrapped, and some were reworked. But the core message has never changed (unlike some of the supporting content). This post is a lot like a project that ends up as a moving target. I’m not sure if it would have been better or worse in any of its previous incarnations, but accuracy and timing can influence things. So, without further ado ...

Systems are everywhere, even in professional football. For those unfamiliar with the finer points of professional football, the offense has a "system". It is this offensive system that we are going to focus on today. The defense has a "system", too. It's often referenced using numeric monikers, such as "Three - Four", "Four - Three" (these are actually very different) and "Cover Two" among others.

An offense's system is an organized, complicated and well thought out collection of plays. These plays implement philosophies that are used to best an opponent's defense. At times it can appear to be a bunch of large men playing human bumper cars. But it is actually a well-choreographed dance of power and misdirection ... often executed by a bunch of large men playing human bumper cars.

A defense's system is more philosophy than choreography. It usually consists of "coverages". It can contain "packages", which may be named "nickel" or "dime". It can have blitzes and stunts and spies. In the end it resembles large, hangry men attacking vending machines ... one of which has the ball.

"At times it can appear to be a bunch of large men playing human bumper cars."

Once There Was A Giant
Eli Manning is the well-accomplished quarterback for the New York Giants football team. He has played for the Giants for 15 seasons (so far), which is longer than most quarterbacks play in the NFL. But at his advanced age of 38, Eli is rather long in the tooth by most football standards. He has perhaps one more season in the NFL.

does your business have a knowledgeable, accomplished and talented employee who is nearing retirement?

As the team's quarterback it is Eli's job to "run the offense". In essence, his goal is to drive his team down the field and score. He does this by executing the plays that are in the offense's system. Doesn't sound that hard, does it? Well, there is one fly in the ointment. His opponents study film of his previous games and devise a plan to stop the things that Eli and his offense are good at.

With two games remaining in the 2017 NFL season the NY Giants fired their head coach for several reasons, culminating in a 3 - 13 season. After the 2017 season the NY Giants hired a new head coach (and a new general manager). When a football team hires a new head coach, they usually hire a new offensive coordinator and/or install a new offense (i.e., a new system). It is not uncommon for a team to take one to two seasons to master a new offense. This period usually results in underperforming seasons.

The last time the NY Giants hired a new offensive coordinator (before the 2016 season), thus installing a new offense, it took them well into the 2nd season before the new offense started to click (even with an experienced quarterback like Eli Manning).

The 2018 season ended with a 5 - 11 record, which isn't much of an improvement over 2017. The new offense had its moments, but it never really caught fire. Next season - this offense's second - it's expected perform better. After that it's all confetti and parades, right?

The Dichotomy
Eli is old (for a professional athlete), and his contract ends after the 2019 season. So, it's reasonable to deduce that he will only play one more season. Any time invested in learning the new offense, along with the rest of his expansive football knowledge, will be lost when Eli retires from the NY Giants. What happens then? Whoever replaces Eli at quarterback will predictably need one to two seasons to get up to speed on the Giant's offense. This depends on when Eli's replacement joins the team, if he's a rookie or has NFL experience, and how many of the other Giants players already know the "new" offense.

Eli's replacement is not on the Giants yet, but most predictions say he will be drafted in 2019. Would you wait this long to hire and train the replacement for your business' most important employee?

So, the possibility exists that the NY Giants' offense will be in the same position in 2020 as they were in 2018 - having a quarterback who needs one to two seasons to learn a new system. This is the same situation the NY Giants were in in 2016 when they replaced their new head coach. If the NY Giants don't make the playoffs in 2019 or 2020 (with Eli or their new quarterback) it is not unrealistic that the NY Giants will hire a new head coach for the 2021 season. That would mean a new offensive coordinator and a new "system". This is the same ... well, you get the idea.

So, what does all of this football talk have to do with us? The predictable disruption of progress. The obstacles of installing a new offense are much like implementing a new (or first) business system. You'll encounter speed bumps, growing pains, disruptions, resistance, mistakes, and even departures. Adequate preparation and training can help mitigate a lot, but there is no substitute for experience.

This is where my football metaphor breaks down a bit. Businesses are not like football. Unlike aging athletes, senior employees who may not adapt to, or embrace, new systems can still make valuable contributions (like a veteran player becoming a coach). In a small business these types of changes should be gradual, which makes transitions smoother and more controlled.

It's important to remember that how you reward loyalty and treat seasoned personnel will be noticed by the rest of your staff. When the situation arises that you need to replace a long-term employee — either due to retirement or due to their inability or lack of desire to learn yet another new system at this stage of their career — don't drop the ball. Morale is always a factor in these situations. How you treat retiring employees will be remembered by those who also see themselves retiring from your company.

Losing knowledge, experience and leadership is especially hard on small businesses. We don't have the luxury of a professional sports team's budget - or their fan base's loyalty - that can absorb too many significant mistakes.

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