The Importance of Continuity

I’ve decided to dedicate my first real blog post to something that gets overlooked nearly everywhere you go and in every industry you visit.  Continuity.  And its important to make a distinction here.  Continuity isn’t “the same guy at the top.”  Its a consistent approach, a consistent team of people, and a consistent message to your employees, your customers, and to yourself.  I’ll use sports a lot to provide the most cogent (and verifiable) arguments.  I like to use sports because they translate so well – we are teams trying to accomplish something in sports or business.  While you don’t have “practice” necessarily if you’re running a business (you do, actually, if you plan accordingly), you definitely have a game plan, a coach, a set of teammates, and a goal.

Teams that pride themselves on the goals of the collective over the goals of the individuals often have success.  True.  But what does that matter if the coaches do not practice it – or the GMs, or the owners, or the trainers.  It takes more than just an enigmatic phrase over a locker room or break room door to bring a team together.  To bring a team together is merely a result of continuity.

For a past example in sports I can actually use the Chicago Bulls.  The Bulls hired Phil jackson as the full-time head coach in 1989 but did not win their first title until 1991.  Phil is largely credited with being the greatest coach of all-time.  How come it took him three seasons to win?  Gregg Popovich took over the San Antonio Spurs as coach in 1996 – the first two seasons were disastrous before winning a championship in 1999.  He’s been the coach ever since and they’ve since added three more.  Oh yeah, Phil Jackson won five more with those Bulls and another five more with another team based out of Los Angeles, which is in California.  What was their name…

For opposing examples?  The Oakland Raiders, New York Yankees, New York Knicks, Chicago Cubs… all teams with vast amounts of talent and resources that continually tried and failed year after  year.  The Yankees are a much more recent example of attempting to “buy” championships by acquiring the best talent.  This tactic actually works fairly well in baseball as its largely a sport played without much-needed chemistry but a lack of chemistry still affects the team’s ability to play well together even in a sport that’s mostly a series of one-on-one encounters.  The Raiders are the best example – hiring and firing more coaches than any other team in the league for 15 seasons.  They have only recently attempted to form a basis of continuity and even then are still in turmoil and are still being met with limited or no success.

Think of what the best organizations in sports have in common:  The Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, San Francisco Giants.  Since 2007 none of the above-mentioned teams have fired a single coach.  In fact, only ONE (Dallas) has even hired a new guy in that time frame (after the last coach had been there for 8 years).  The Patriots (2000), and Spurs (1997) haven’t changed coaches in over FIFTEEN years.

Want a more recent, budding, example?  There are a few in basketball unfolding before our eyes.  The Atlanta Hawks hired Mike Budenholzer in 2012 – he of San Antonio Spurs fame.  At the point of this writing they are in first place in the much-improved Eastern Conference and are moving the ball better than anyone in the league and playing spectacular defense.  Mike has committed his team to a type of team-first ball-movement teamwork that has won San Antonio four championships.  Teams like the 76ers, Timberwolves, and even Lakers are looking for lightning in a bottle by drafting the next big thing but the Hawks have only one player in the heavy rotation that’s been a draft pick in the last two years.  Everyone else is smartly signed as role players within a system.

So now that I’ve lost half my audience with a bunch of boring basketball and sports business lingo, let’s get to the crux of my point.

Continuity wins.

Dotcoms and lightning-in-a-bottle and the-next-big-thing fizzles and dies.  Ask TiVo, ask LA Gear, ask the Miami Heat.

Nike has been telling us to “Just Do It” for over 25 years.

In-N-Out Burger hasn’t changed their menu much at all since 1948.

The North Face hasn’t changed their logo since 1971.

These aren’t brands that struggle or that have ever really faced legitimately “tough times.”  They’ve maintained their core ideals, their core message, and in everything they do they have been consistent in relaying that message and in producing that continuity.

For those of you looking for business insight, coaching insight, or leadership insight, this is an invaluable lesson that the old age “you either change people or you change people” is not only false but detrimental to your cause.  You don’t have to change people – you have to provide a framework for everyone to operate in that doesn’t change over time.  The pieces within that framework change, sure (players retire, get injured, leave for more money), but the framework itself never changes.  The companies, teams, and leaders that stick to one philosophy and one way of doing things FOR their people are the ones who meet with success and rarely have “bad years.”

I greatly enjoyed writing on this subject because its something that inspires me to work with the companies I work with without the need to drastically change personnel.  They hired who they hired for a reason and we need to not only make that reason known but we have to let that reason shine and to let that person shine and become who they are meant to become.  This approach is my own continuity – that you hire nice people and you keep them because you desired them working for you on purpose.

Thanks for reading.

-mC

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