Thursday, March 31, 2011

Would Rex Ryan Make a Good BigLaw Managing Partner?

As I emotionally recovered from the heartbreaking news that the NY Jets won’t be competing in this year’s Superbowl, I decided to go back and reread a post I first wrote in September but never published (some of the people here thought that Rex Ryan was controversial so the post would annoy readers).  Aside from the fun I had watching my team prepare for what promised to be an exciting season, I was really surprised to learn about the training camp coaching process as I watched Hard Knocks on HBO.  More to the point, I was incredibly impressed with the communication techniques I saw.  The NY Jets seem to be doing a better job of managing their organization than any law firm I can think of.  What can we all learn from Rex’s management style?  Set clear objectives, provide feedback and constantly measure whether your message is being received.

An organization with a single purpose.
During the first team meeting of the season, coach Rex Ryan’s slide show starts with the objective: Win the Superbowl.  He follows up with the steps to reach this goal: “To have the most wins on offense, to have the most wins on defense and to have the most wins on special teams.”  Well, this might not be a surprise, but it surely is clear.

Do your attorneys know what it means for your organization to “win the Superbowl,” or the steps it takes to get there?  If not, communicating your goals as an organization will allow them to keep focused on what is important, to think strategically and to be motivated by something that is often forgotten these days: Purpose.

Clear communication of individual objectives with honest feedback.
The frankness of Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum in player meetings is noticeable.  He tells one player “I am not sure that you are good enough to make it in the NFL,” and tells another “you played your best but the other guy was just better than you.” The biggest surprise is that the player always appreciates the feedback!

Your attorneys may not respond well to such harsh feedback, but they do want an honest assessment of their work, good or bad.  Well articulated objectives and uncolored feedback are tools that we all need to succeed professionally, and we all value managers that provide them.  On the flip side, failing to let your staff know how they are doing creates frustration and distraction.

Speaking the language of your team.
It seems like Rex Ryan thinks that the language of his team is exclusively four letter words; maybe not a good strategy in a law office.  But I notice that his players, when interviewed, seem to use the same phrases that he does.  In my mind, that is a sign that his message is received and processed by his audience.  Speaking in a vernacular that resonates with the team is just the first step, repeating and measuring the receptiveness of the group is the key.  Scenes showing the coach visiting players in their bedrooms at lights out demonstrated his technique, but there are many ways to get belly to belly with your team and find out if they are clear on their assignment.

How do you suspect it would help your organization if you defined and communicated the company’s goals, clearly articulated each team member’s role and provided critical feedback on their performance and spent more time talking with them to make sure that they were on the same page as you?  Give it a try, who knows, you might just win your Superbowl.
Oh, and don’t throw the ball on 3rd and goal from the one yard line.

David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm.  He can be reached at