Wolf’s philosophy calls for an all-out team effort to win

Sports analogies have long been used in the workplace. So it is seems inevitable that Ron Wolf, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Green Bay Packers, would write a book about building a winning organization. The Packer Way, (St. Martin’s Press), covers the nine steps of leadership like a hard tackle- tough, hard-nosed and straightforward, just like the author himself. In an age where some managers are confused about how much authority to use, skittish about setting tough disciplinary standards and ambivalent about the importance of a strong organizational culture, Ron Wolf’s book will present a new perspective.

The first comment Wolf made when I recently interviewed him was, "I can’t tell business people how to run their business. All I know is football." Well, you be the judge.

JL: The first of nine "stepping stones" you write about is "Identify What Needs to Be Fixed." When you arrived in Green Bay in 1991, the organization needed a turnaround. What needed to be done?

RW: In 1991, there was a malaise surrounding the team. People acted like they were just happy to be in the league and that was enough. I had to refocus the organization on a single purpose: winning. Everyone needed to push aside all distractions- outside committees and excess work. I only wanted them focused on key activities that would achieve our purpose.

JL: What kind of changes did you make?

RW: The more I got into the history of the organization, the more I realized that we had a tremendous tool. We played off of its unique features and minimized its weaknesses. We sold Green Bay to potential recruits by leveraging its strengths. For example, we have a program where we brought in the legendary names that are written on the walls of our stadium. We introduced them to the players so they would feel a part of the history and destiny of the team. We also did some improvements in areas. For example, we created a homey workplace and built a state-of-the-art indoor facility to avoid the weather. For the African American players we brought in ethnic food and services they couldn’t find in Green Bay. We also sold the city by playing up features such as the ten minutes rush hour.

JL: You have a reputation for being demanding and you say that you like to "stir the pot," yet you say you don’t want to manage with fear. How do you walk that fine line?

RW: I suppose some people think I’m intimidating, but I demand that they be honest and stand up for their own opinion. I think you have to listen to people but you can’t tolerate whiners. By forcing people to step up to high expectations they will do their best.

JL: You emphasize high standards in your book. Can you comment on your Four C’s: Expect Certain Devotion, Expect Certain Dedication, Expect Certain Work Ethic, Expect Certain Results?

RW: I was determined to develop each of these so completely that it would eliminate any questions or doubts about how the Packers would function and how each employee was expected to perform. In this business, if one person lets the team down, we all know who it is. We only have 16 weeks to show what we can do. In the case of some old timers, sometimes they become complainers because they can’t keep up or they don’t want to change. In some cases they weren’t held accountable in the past. There is no room for entitlement in this business. If someone isn’t holding up their end, regardless of length of service, they have to go elsewhere. Sometimes you have to make a statement about the changes you want. For example, sometimes I think it’s necessary to get rid of a "safe" person who really needs to go but no one has dared to touch them.

I think there is a certain pride in being a part of a winning team, and we must stay competitive. I believe you have to develop an obsession with winning today, not five years from now. If you have a strategic plan that shows success in five years it shows acceptance. Negatives aren’t excuses for standing still. Years ago, I asked a member of our organization, Red Cochran, who was an assistant coach under Vince Lombardi about Lombardi’s focus. He told me that Vince said, "I have to win now, I’m too old to wait." I’m too old, too.

JL: Many employers are desperate for good employees. In one chapter you talk about "Hiring the Best Before Anyone Else Does" What is your philosophy?

RW: I believe that the Head Coach and Quarterback positions are the key to everything in our business. You have to do whatever it takes to get them and then don’t micromanage them. But I don’t believe in double standards. Treating people like prima donnas is a mistake. They have to be compatible with you and they need to know, "Here are the rules. You must accept them if you are to be a part of this organization."

JL: When a key person leaves, the organization takes a blow. When your star receiver, Sterling Sharpe, left, what did the team do to recover?

RW: We were devastated. He was our best player other than Brett Favre. The other guys had to work harder. Just when we thought the world was ending, they stepped up and we found that we became stronger because we had deeper and broader strength than we had before. Setbacks cause new growth.

JL: You recruited the Packers Head Coach, Mike Holmgren. In the press he presents himself as someone who never bashes his players and who seems to genuinely care about each member of the team. What is his leadership style?

RW: Mike is extremely capable at what he does. He’s committed to whatever he sets his mind to. He’s devoted to detail and is a warm, honest person. Together we make a good team. He has unflinching confidence and is committed to our purpose. People believe in his system. I think using a system makes management predictable. He’s steady and calm and doesn’t panic. He knows a leader’s reactions are studied by his employees. I also think that as long as leaders show fairness and objectivity, employees can better absorb personnel shifts and changes.

JL: "Staying on Top" is your final chapter. The Packers have faced some challenges over the past few years. What are you doing to keep the team focused?

RW: When you win the Super Bowl it gets tougher. It’s hard to keep people from getting sucked into distractions. Those distractions are the fun part of winning. You have to fight against a "big shot attitude" or against getting complacent. It’s all a part of staying a winning organization. 


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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