Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Simple rules for Green Bay Packer organization recruitment strategy

The Harvard Business Review (HBS) article assigned for this week Simple Rules for a Complex World by Sull and Eisenhardt note the importance of keeping company rules simple for a number of reasons. Simple rules should be aligned with key decisions with corporate objectives. The article noted that “simple rules make it easier to act.” Various examples are given in the article. For example, when shoppers are presented with six types of jam, 30% ended up buying a jar. In comparison, when shoppers were presented with 24 types of jam, only 3% bought a jar. Another study resulted similar results with 401(k) plans. 75% of eligible employees participated in a plan when offered two funds; whereas only 61% participated when offered to choose from a dozen funds. Sometimes, less is more and keeping it simple, works better. 

After reading this article, I thought of one organization, that of the Green Bay Packers football team. As I am originally from Wisconsin, one can understand it has been difficult and trying living in Pittsburgh Steeler country (as a lifelong Packer fan), during graduate school at Heinz College. In all seriousness though, the Green Bay Packers football team is an anomaly to the National Football League. They are the smallest market in the NFL. They are located in a small city in Wisconsin and not in a large metropolis area as all other teams are (with a large revenue base). Yet, Packer football games have been sold out since 1960 (see: and has been accumulating a waiting list for fans who want tickets ever since. Fans are so diehard that they will their tickets to family members upon their death, to keep the tickets within the family. The most interesting aspect of this organization is that it is the only NFL team to be publicly owned. The public, fans, own shares in the team and each summer they have an annual “shareholders” meeting at Lambeau Field, where over 60,000+ “shareholders” or fans show up. If one were to sell the shares of stock, one really would not reap any financial gain, but fans buy shares nonetheless to support their team. These fans or shareholders help guide the future and recruitment of new players on the team.

How does the Green Bay Packers football team related to the HBS article Simple Rules for a Complex World? According to, the Green Bay Packers over the years have continually stuck to a simple, consistent recruiting strategy. In the process, they have won 13 league championships and four Super Bowls (see: As one of the most winningest teams in the NFL, their strategy is working.

What is their recruiting strategy? Rather than pay for players on other teams, the Packers’ strategy is to recruit mainly from the draft. The Packers aim to grow and cultivate their players over time and keep them. They pick promising rookies and “grow” them, better them, and keep them over time. Donald Driver, a Packers player for over 13 years, his entire NFL career (1999-2012), is one such example (see: Their strategy is not to cycle through players for the “next big thing or player.”

As the Packers and Ted Thompson (Packers Vice President, General Manager and Director of Football Operations) approached the NFL 2012 free-agency season, they continued to stay true to their past and simple approach of utilizing the draft.
Why is their team so successful? Thompson has stayed true to his formula. Thompson has built the roster of the Packers primarily through the use of the draft. Thompson has also re-signed free agents on his own team, as opposed to signing players from other teams, although he will at rare times.

Thompson is better known for signing "street" or rookie free agents. Players like CB Tramon Williams, CB Sam Shields, QB Graham Harrell, TE Tom Crabtree, DL Howard Green, LB Robert Francois and S Charlie Peprah fall into this category.

As the HBS article points out, when developing a strategy, an organization should “look for what worked, what didn’t, and why.” Whatever Thompson does usually works. The proof is in the pudding. Thompson must stay true to his philosophy in 2012 as well. He also must stay true to his past experiences, especially the ones that have led to success.

My only advice to the Green Bay Packer organization is a reminder that one’s rules should evolve. The HBS article points out that “Simple rules should change with the company and the market and as managers gain a richer understanding of what their strategy means in practice.” 

My question to the class: Do you see the recruitment strategies of NFL teams changing in the years to come? If so, how do you see strategy changing? What things or aspects will impact this change?

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