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Smart football.

SMART FOOTBALL Many believe that "managing strategic change" is the issue of the '90s for corporate executives, and a well-known Manitoba company is a national leader in this regard.

This business is 60 years old and operates across Canada, with its main office in Winnipeg. It has about 70 employees and annual sales of six million dollars.

It is rated by both its customers and its competition as "The Best in Class" in many categories of performance and quality, and for several recent years it has been the overall "Best in Class" in Canada. It sets the benchmark for its competitors. Consistent, predictable performance and quality are its principal characteristics, along with a solid, basic, non-faddish approach to management.

With three levels of management there is some functional specialization at the lower levels of management and a general-management or strategic-management specialty at the top. As well, the workforce has relatively low turnover, with very high morale, and all its employees get involved in marketing and/or company image promotion.

So who is it? Surprisingly, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers! Although not traditionally thought of as a "company," if you generalize and consider their approach to managing and directing operations, this Grey Cup winner can offer many examples of excellent management practice from which all business can learn.

In contrast to many other companies, the Blue Bombers organization is able to implement change in its strategy and tractics almost continuously, but minimally once or twice a month. Its business environment simply changes that fast. It routinely does what the rest of busienss dreams of.

For example, the Blue Bombers organization focuses on what it does best, sketches future scenarios and then with its flexibility seizes competitive opportunities as they arise. As a result, direction from management changes constantly -- it is clarified, modified and re-appraised on a daily basis -- between games and during games -- as the leadership seeks to keep the team in tune with its competition (other professional football clubs) and with its markets (the fans and the media). Priorities and work assignments for individual employees, especially the players, are changed on an ongoing basis and the general manager and coaches can turn the direction of the "business" on a dime.

But employees themselves have a significant say in the constant change to their jobs. "Employee empowerment," a current fashion in management, is the norm in this business since the time to react to the competition is so short that management and player alike must think strategically, make decisions and take actions themselves -- initiatives which must be related to the football club's goals and mission.

For the Bomber organization to be able to turn on a dime, everyone must know his or her role in detail.

Most significantly, the Bombers' ability to manage and implement changes is institutionalized. Intensive job orientation and continuous job training are of the highest priority and detailed direction from management is highly documented to avoid confusion and error, and to ensure thoroughness and mutual control over performance by both management and each employee. For example, a football player's game book, the regularly updated source for direction, is a model tool for employee direction in any organization.

Extensive human resource planning is done, in order to anticipate personnel requirements as much as five years into the future. Senior management and coaching staff regularly scan the market for potential players, and use elaborate rating systems to help predict a player's future performance.

Similarly, a major strength of a professional football club is market reconnaissance. The Bombers' organization makes a point of knowing the competition almost as well as itself -- their strengths and weaknesses -- and this directly impacts the Bombers' strategic planning throughout a season and during a game.

The Blue Bombers also insititutionalizes the celebration of success. Individual and group performance awards and events are strategically used throughout its business cycle to recognize and reinforce outstanding achievements. Bombers' employees learn that when the basics are regularly achieved, the "company" consistently reaches its goals, such as the 1990 Grey Cup, to name an important one.

Robert H. Kent, Ph.D, Business Administration, is a Winnipeg-based management consultant.
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Title Annotation:Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Author:Kent, Robert H.
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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