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7.4 Simple, Powerful Reinforcement: The Helmet Stickers Story

7.4 Simple, Powerful Reinforcement: The Helmet Stickers Story
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As we have shared, there are many ways to recognize and reward the best performances of team members in our organization. Reinforcing exemplary performance can range from how we greet team members in the morning to bonuses and promotions. When I was on the University of Michigan football team, the practice of coaches awarding helmet stickers for exemplary performance constituted one of the first visible reinforcing systems I had witnessed. Simple in the application, it was a powerful reinforcement of desired behaviors.

Reinforcing Team Core Identity with Helmet Stickers

Reinforcement of the football team’s Core Identity must occur throughout the weeks of practice and preparation, as well as on game day. And while, as in the corporate world, the greatest recognition goes to those who make the greatest contribution, it is important to recognize the contributions of all on the team.

University of Michigan Football Coach Bo Schembechler was the ultimate team coach. He innately understood the right thing to do to enhance the greatness of any team. While we find that a very small percent of all leaders share this understanding naturally, a majority of them can develop it. As you read this account of the system Bo developed, keep in mind these questions: What can you can learn from this concept? How can you adjust and adapt your rewards to fit the culture of the team you desire to build?

Recognition of Team Performance on Game Day

If the team wins, award stickers to:

  • all members of the team who practiced all week in preparation for the game

If the team loses, award stickers to:

  • only those who got into the game and individually performed at a level that graded them out as having a winning individual performance.
  • scout team players who gave exemplary efforts in preparing the team for victory

Offense/Defense/Special Teams Recognition

On football teams, three specialties contribute to a team’s success. Significant weakness in any one of these can cause a defeat, but seldom if ever can any one team alone win a game. Each team sets goals for contributing to the team winning. History has shown us that if some percent of the metrics below are met, the team wins the game. Members of each of these groups receive a helmet sticker if a designated percentage of their goals set are achieved. This focus on the group’s role in the success of the team clarifies responsibility for success for each group.

Individual Recognition

Each team member has a set of goals unique to his position and focused on creating success at the group level. Each player is graded on every play in a game, resulting in his average grade for the game. As in school, you do not have to get an A in every class to graduate, but that is the goal. Only if individual expectations are met or exceeded does the player get a helmet sticker.

Additionally, exceptional individual performances that are game-changing or game-winning receive helmet stickers for that play. Individual goal setting recognizes that an individual’s performance can impact an entire team and warrants appropriate recognition.

Some gifted athletes play on two or three of the teams and thus accumulate more helmet stickers than others if they are successful on game day. At the start of the year, helmets have no stickers on them. By the end of the year, it becomes quite apparent which team members have had the most significant impact on the success of the team. When recognition aligns with your guiding principles, there is no animosity for those with more stickers. There is an appreciation for their contribution to the success of the team.

Application in the Business World

As the leader, and consistent with your team’s guiding principles, you can award your own version of helmet stickers in many ways. How and why you recognize alignment with who you are when at your best is unique to your culture and must be true to your values.

For a reinforcing system to be effective, the recognition must be meaningful to the recipients. We see this time and again with clients who have pins or T-shirts that can be obtained only by earning them through exemplary behavior. It is not the T-shirt in and of itself that is of value, but what it represents that is so very powerful.

As there were team goals for the football team, there are key metrics that make up a Dashboard for a successful organization. As there are group goals for offense, defense, and special teams in football, there are metrics that make up a Scoreboard for a successful department or division. As there are individual goals for each member of the football team, there are performance metrics that make up a Scorecard for each member of the organization, illustrating their contribution to organizational success.

In athletics, if you are honoring your core identity, over the long term you will have a strong win/loss record. In business, the net profits figure is the metric for success. Winning in athletics and net profits in business are the result of individuals performing at their best in service of team success.

Leadership Questions

  1. Is the organization’s performance the priority regarding recognition in your organization?
  2. Do departments compete internally, creating silos for their benefit rather than for the organization?
  3. Are individuals who are recognized for exceptional accomplishment recognized in the context of how it helped the entire organization?

UPCOMING SEMINAR:  February 1-2, 2019
Executing the Foundation of Greatness 2019
Theme: Building a Culture of Responsibility