SumTotal Blog

Drafting top talent

What organizations can learn from the NFL.

Football fanatics’ clocks are counting down. There are only three days left until one of the most anticipated events of the year – the NFL draft.  The decisions that franchise general managers make over the next few days will profoundly impact the future of each team.

Some teams hope to lay the foundation for the franchise moving forward. Others look to continue to stack their team with top talent in key areas.SumTotal Blog _Drafting Top Talent

As analysts and fans speculate over where high-profile players will land and the trading strategies of each team, I can’t help but be reminded of what organizations can learn about succession planning from the draft.

Year after year we’ve witnessed plans gone horribly wrong and perfectly right. Two of my favorite stories date back to almost a decade ago.

Flag on the Play – The Colts: Peyton Manning and Jim Sorgi
Whether you like him or not, we can all agree that Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. In 2004, the Indianapolis Colts drafted Jim Sorgi to be Manning’s backup. It became the running joke for years that Sorgi had the best job in the NFL – all the benefits and none of the pressure. He was a strong athlete who rarely took to the field but always took home a paycheck.  

Sounds like a sweet gig, right? Well, in March 2010, Sorgi’s contract ended and the Colts released him. A little more than a year later, Manning infamously went under the knife for a possible career-ending neck surgery, leaving him incapable of leading his team for the 2011 season.

Lacking a viable second-string quarterback, the team scrambled. Head coach Jim Caldwell went for a Hail Mary and quickly signed Kerry Collins out of retirement, but despite his attempts to come in and lead the team, Indianapolis had one of the worst seasons of all time, finishing 2-14.

Ouch! That’s one heck of a succession planning penalty.

Making the Right Call– The Packers: Brett Favre and Aaron Rogers
In 2005 football analysts expected Aaron Rogers to be the first round pick going to his home team, the San Francisco 49ers. Instead, Rogers sat in the green room of Radio City Music Hall as teams picked 23 other players before him. Finally, the Green Bay Packers selected Rogers as back-up quarterback to another one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Brett Favre.

It was a highly speculative yet brilliant move by the team.

For three years Rogers ran the scout team. Critics chastised him for working too hard, exercising too much and putting his body at risk. But he became part of the culture of the franchise and gained the respect of his teammates, coaches and fans through his hard work.

When Favre announced his first retirement (his later return is a whole separate blog post) in March of 2008, Rogers was more than prepared to assume the role of quarterback and captain. Two years later, he led The Packers to the Super Bowl and earned the most valuable player title.

Three years of working hard and standing on the sidelines had finally paid off. That’s what I’d call a succession planning touchdown.

Learning from the pros
The difference here is painfully obvious.

The Colts’ success blinded them. They never put a succession plan in place if Manning were to be injured. They did not build their bench strength, and as a result, they put the franchise at risk.

The Packers executed a brilliant succession strategy. They knew Favre’s age and planned for his retirement. They picked a top recruit, invested in his training and development, and built their team around him.

This story raises the question…

Do you know what you will do if your MVP leaves?


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