Football and Business: Are You Building a Culture More Like the Lions or the Patriots?

October 5, 2017

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford recently became the highest-paid player in NFL history, signing a five-year deal worth an average of $27 million annually. Stafford has a 51-58 record, and has never led the Lions to a playoff victory.

Meanwhile, New England Patriots legend Tom Brady doesn’t even rank among the league’s top 10 highest-paid QBs. Brady has won the Super Bowl five times and is widely considered the greatest quarterback of all time.

Why the difference?

The answer has as much to do with different business strategies and corporate cultures as it does with on-field statistics. It’s easy to see parallels between managing football and business.

Zero-Sum Salaries

Despite what it seems with these lucrative NFL contracts, there is not an unlimited supply of money. NFL teams have a salary cap that is mandated by the league. The decision by Lions management to pay one player a large sum of money will have implications for how much is available to pay the other 52 players on their roster.

In football and businesses, organizations operate within similar constraints. Most successful companies manage their finances within a budget. Even those that don’t understand there is only so much cash available. Salary increases for employees are determined based on individual, team and organizational performance.

It’s no secret that high performers make more money and receive larger raises than most personnel. Management wants to retain their stars and motivate them to continue driving the organization forward. Ultimately, giving a significant raise to one may mean there is less of a pool to share with others.

The Lions clearly are investing in Stafford for their future success, even though football is a team sport and one player typically does not win or lose a game by himself.

Brady’s Tenure

Compare that philosophy to the one of the New England Patriots.

Over the last 15 years, few would argue there has been a better quarterback than Tom Brady. He is a future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and has led the Patriots to the Super Bowl seven times. Even at 40, he is still going strong and showing no signs of slowing down.

The Patriots management has a different philosophy than the Lions in football and business. They don’t overpay players, even superstars, and they adopt other strategies and tactics that ultimately enable their success.

Throughout his career, Brady could have demanded to be the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. He could have used free agency to pursue deals with other teams instead of remaining with the Patriots, his team since entering the league in 2000.

Why didn’t he chase the bigger paycheck with a different organization?

It’s easy to assume he didn’t need the money. After all, he’s earned almost $200 million in salary, has multimillion-dollar endorsement deals and is married to one of the world’s highest-earning super-models.

Football and Business: It’s About Purpose

But it’s more likely he stayed because of the winning culture the Patriots created. They build ways to add value for current players, while also appealing to top recruits. They find players that fit within their system, then train them to operate in “The Patriot Way.”

Brady knows that, even though he is their MVP and key to their record, they could not have sustained it without enabling the success of the team around him.

Time will tell whether the Lions overpaid for Stafford. But for most organizations, maybe there’s a better path: aligning the goals of the entire organization and creating a culture in which every person can thrive. It has worked in historic proportions for the Patriots.

What are the cornerstones of any business’s culture? What keeps employees from exploring the market and going to work for the competition? Will paying employees a higher salary drive behavior that results in increased profits?

Or is there something more to creating a thriving environment where everyone wins?

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