Mike's random thoughts and ramblings

The Importance of Turnover

We in North America love our sports metaphors. I was reminded of that recently when I was speaking with the president of a successful and relatively forward-thinking security company, and he was telling me about his management philosophy.

"I want the people on my team to stick around. I mean, look at the New England Patriots - you think they build a dynasty with huge amounts of turnover? Nope - they kept the core of that team intact over the years."

Well, I personally don't agree with his stance. I have always believed that teams that stay together for too long lose the freshness and innovativeness that is required for success in these times. I heard a great quote (attributed to Tom Peters) recently:

"If the rate of change outside your organization is greater than the rate of change inside your organization, then the end is near."

Brilliant. And true (in my experience).

But not in the opinion of my colleague. Nor, in the opinion of the New England Patriots, apparently.

But I'm a football fan as well, and something about that didn't smell right.

So, I put together some research on the matter. And it showed exactly what I'd expect - the New England Patriots are a dynasty not because they keep their core together, but because they have built a system that manages turnover.

To summarize the research: from 2003-2008, the Patriots had approximately 33% turnover among staff and players - that is, the entire team could be expected to be replaced EVERY 3 YEARS. Yet they remained competitive during that time.

In fact, only 13 players TOTAL (3 offensive, 5 defensive, and 5 coaches) were on the team for all five of those years. (And they're hardly "core", unless one considers the long snapper and the running backs coach "core"). The two most important of those are Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and even Brady's importance has been minimized this year, given the play of Matt Cassel in the same system.

More importantly, when you look at the coaches, the turnover has all been where it would be presumed to be most important: at the top. The team has used 3 offensive coordinators and 3 defensive coordinators in those 5 years - in product development terms, that's like switching VPs of Marketing and Engineering 3 times in 5 years.

So, I assert that the New England Patriots make my point: the reason that a company (or a football team) is successful isn't its ability to avoid turnover, but its ability to create (esp. talent development and knowledge capture) systems and (most importantly) a culture that minimizes the impact of turnover.

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Michael Murray

Michael Murray