On a recent trip, my family and I had a chance to tour The Star in Frisco, TX.  The Star is the home of the Dallas Cowboys World Headquarters. Now, before you think this is all about team or sports, consider this:  the Dallas Cowboys is the most valuable sports franchise in the world, currently estimated to be worth $4.8 Billion*.  

To me, this tour was not about football, it was about a high-performing, highly successful business, and how they created it.  Based on the history and examples shared, one strategy that has driven the success of this franchise became clear. The organization has a very specific, intentional, and comprehensive talent strategy to which they attribute much of the growth and success. 

Early on in the tour, we stopped in front of a display of binders encased in glass along a wall.  Our tour guide explained that these binders contained all the notes of Gil Brandt, the Cowboys’ chief talent scout from 1960-1988. Brandt, a 2019 inductee into the Football Hall of Fame, is revered as a pioneer who revolutionized scouting in the NFL. Most importantly for this franchise, he served as the “architect” (i.e., intentionally designing the elements) of talent and built a foundation of success by thoughtfully and carefully scouting and selecting players.

Brandt was comfortable with exploring new thinking, new processes, and trying things others hadn’t attempted.  He developed techniques and evaluation methods not previously used that included unique measurements, both physical and psychological.  He originated the use of computer data and analytics as part of the scouting process for football players, keeping some of the initial data on punch cards.  Brandt is also credited with being among the first to look outside of traditional sources for talent, including scouting and drafting non-football players and players from outside of the US and Canada.  

Brandt used unconventional thinking to create a competitive advantage through talent for the Cowboys franchise, and it worked.  During his tenure, the Cowboys compiled 20 consecutive winning seasons (1966-1985) and appeared in five Super Bowls, winning two of them.  Brandt oversaw the drafting of nine Cowboys who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, and 13 of the 19 players in the Cowboys hallowed “Ring of Honor”.  

As I studied Brandt’s highly detailed, handwritten notes of Michael Irvin and Larry Allen, I contemplated the lessons we can learn from this highly successful business. While there are many, three stood out immediately:

  1. Strategically, every organization needs someone who owns being the “architect for talent”.  With Brandt at the helm, talent acquisition was a strategic imperative and a significant organizational priority.  Brandt took it upon himself to drive results and innovate when needed. He transitioned player selection from a game of chance and art to a process that was more purposeful and scientific, built on traits deemed to produce success.  It was his full-time job, he was empowered to do it, and he owned it.
  2. Future thinking and market changes don’t just impact new products and services, the impact of both on talent needs to be considered to take results to the next level.  Brandt used foresight and signals to develop and inform part of the talent approach. The Cowboys sought input from outside their industry, noticed the use of unique tools in different sports, and looked at future trends and disruptions, considering how to turn these into opportunities for improvement in scouting talent.
  3. Regardless of the type of business, successful leaders do not fear going against the grain and you will rarely hear “but that’s not the way we do things around here”.  Brandt had no fear of breaking with the norm or trying something completely new to achieve a higher level of performance and improve the team overall. He was fully supported by the owners and others on the leadership team to do things differently, even if there was a risk of failure.

Regardless of what industry you are in or with whom you are competing, being intentional in your design for talent (i.e., “architecting your talent approach”) is important for success and results. To make a difference for your team and your organization, consider how these lessons learned apply and what you can do to take talent strategy to the next level in your own “franchise”!