I recently had the opportunity to interview Jamey Rootes, President of the Houston Texans, for our Murray Resources webinar series. Below I share my top four takeaways.
Jamey has been with the Texans for twenty years, with the most recent fifteen serving as the team’s President. He started his career at IBM and went on to P&G before pursuing his passion and embarking on his sports industry career with the Columbus Crew of the Major League Soccer league.
Under his leadership, the Texans have become one of the most valuable franchises in professional sports, with a loyal fan base that has sold out every game for 18 straight years.
This month Jamey became a Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and USA Today best-selling author following the release of The Winning Game Plan, a compelling leadership playbook based on Rootes’ personal and professional experiences.
We packed multiple topics into our discussion (including a little sports talk), but I’m going to focus here on Rootes’ advice for recruiting and developing top talent and creating a strong company culture.
1. When recruiting talent, develop a non-negotiable framework
According to Rootes, he evaluates talent through three non-negotiable lenses.
“When hiring, I figure that the potential employee’s skill set has already been evaluated ten times to Sunday [by the time I interview them],” says Rootes. As such, he focuses his interview on answering three specific questions:
- Do they have a great work ethic?
- Do they have a winning attitude (i.e. positive, optimistic, team oriented)?
- Do they have a demonstrated commitment to the values of this organization?
If candidates possess those three things, Rootes explains, you can teach them whatever else they need to know.
Your company may focus on a different set of characteristics for new hires, but it’s critical to pre-determine your values and then structure your interviews to evaluate candidates against that framework.
2. Develop your own “Draft Class”
Every year the Texans recruit top graduating seniors to fill 12 intern slots, making up their “Draft Class”.
“These 12 draft class members spend at least nine months with us in varying departments,” Rootes says. “And every couple of months, my leadership team will do a complete review of each draft class member and provide insight into their strengths and their weaknesses.”
According to Rootes, the leadership team also asks the following question about each candidate:
“Would you hire them again if you had the chance?”
If someone shines in the company (and in a typical year about 70% of their interns do), the organization tries to find a full-time job for them.
It’s an approach that allows the Houston Texans to evaluate employees based on actual performance. “You might fake it in an interview, but you can’t fake it for nine months. Who you are is going to come out,” explains Rootes.
The concept came to Rootes by the way of the restaurant, Shake Shack.
“Danny Meyer is the creator of Shake Shake and he does not allow a full-time employee to start until they’ve run a couple of shifts and they’ve gotten a chance to view expertise in action. That’s the draft class,” he says.
There are a number of methods for evaluating talent before making a full-time offer. For some companies it may be an internship, a paid project, a working interview, or a contract-to-hire structure. The more opportunities to evaluate a candidate’s talent, work-ethic, and commitment to a job, the higher the likelihood of a successful hire.
3. Treat 1-on-1’s as development opportunities
Rootes is a big proponent of providing growth opportunities for his team and uses his 1-on-1’s with direct reports to reinforce and realign leadership behaviors.
To develop into a strong leader, Rootes explains. “You must lead well in four directions.” These four directions include:
- Leading up. You’re building trust with me (your manager).
- Leading out. You’re becoming a respected voice outside of the building.
- Leading down. You’re very clear with your employees about what success looks like and are a great manager.
- Leading across. You’re a great teammate.
For Rootes, leadership development within the organization involves meeting with each of his 12 direct reports for an hour every two weeks. He writes down action items before each meeting to guide the discussion.
The day after each meeting, Rootes’ assistant sends out the action items and notes to the directors. Two weeks later, he and each director meet again to talk through what was accomplished since they last met and add new action items.
Not only does this mentorship approach help leaders learn new skills, but it’s an excellent way to stay plugged in with your team. It also gives your leaders regular access to you.
“Use these meetings to determine what your leaders are missing,” says Rootes. “What can you do to help? What can you send them? Teach them along the way what your expectations are, how they can become great leaders, and how they can become better managers.”
Rootes always emphasizes the importance of guiding leaders and giving them time to come up to speed and sharpen their skill sets.
You shouldn’t be passive, but be patient. If certain leaders aren’t working out, let them know. But put in the effort first and give them every opportunity to be successful.
4. Utilize employee feedback to build a strong culture
Under Rootes’ leadership, the Houston Texans have become a perennial fixture on multiple “Best Places to Work” lists, reflecting their consistently positive company culture.
Their secret weapon? Every two years team employees complete a survey, giving leadership valuable insight into which areas are seen favorably, which are improving, and which need to be addressed. The organization utilizes Gallup’s 12: Elements of Great Managing Survey, which provides a baseline for organizational culture and engagement.
According to Rootes, you have to tap into the human needs you’re satisfying with your employees. “Using the Gallup survey, we enhanced our paternity and maternity plan a couple of years ago, based on direct feedback from our employees that we were out of touch,” he says. “And so we did the research, changed it, and reported back to our employees.”
This brought up another important point for Rootes.
The survey itself is important, but people need to know that you listened and you took action, or you listened and you decided not to take action.
“If you don’t report what you did with the survey information, they don’t know that their suggestions are making a difference,”
Rootes explains. “By telling them how, you show employees that you value their contribution to the organization. The survey and reporting combined, empower employees.”
For more leadership tips and some trivia about Jamey (including his favorite leadership book and his favorite athlete) check out the webinar and my full interview with Jamey Rootes here. You can also learn more about honing your leadership skills by picking up a copy of Rootes’ best-selling book, The Winning Game Plan.