When Alabama clinched the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship with a 26-23 overtime win over Georgia the win gave Nick Saban six national titles, five of them in the last nine years, and solidified him as one of the greatest coaches in college football history.
Saban has often said he may not be college football's best coach but he's its best organizer. His assistants and support staff are, in his opinion, the keys to his success. They are the keepers of the system. While the players on a college team come and go, the assistant coaches, trainers, and recruiters - the people in the middle who keep the system running - remain.
In other words, while Saban is the CEO and the players are the frontline his staff is the organization's core and the key to its long-term success. Saban arguably has the best organization in college sports.
By this, it's not just his coaching staff but also every detail that makes up his system - from the shining faucets in the team's immaculately clean locker room to the daily practices timed obsessively down to the second. Year after year team after team; his system works because the core works. That's why many of his former assistants are now head coaches of top programs.
So it goes with any organization. If you want to win build your middle management - your organization's core. Identify your high-potential people and invest your time attention and resources in them.
Take control of your organization's hiring process.
Start by defining who and what you're looking for. What personality attitude skills education values and experience do you want to be at the foundation of your organization regardless of job title? Use these criteria to identify high-potential people both inside and outside your four walls. Promote from within or go out and hire them. Make sure HR and middle management understand what you're looking for. Approve indirectly or directly everyone you hire.
Install a formal training system.
Have a clear onboarding process and training system for every part of the organization. Identify high performers early on and rotate them through different functions and parts of the firm. Use this system to find and nurture the unsung heroes on your team. Train them in team-building, transparency ,accountability and other fundamentals of leadership.
Stay connected to your frontline.
As in football you win or lose on the frontline. Early on Saban meets with each young player having him outline his long-term goals in school football and life. As their coach he uses their personal goals and vision to help them achieve the discipline - doing what they may not want to do and not doing what they know they shouldn't - to succeed in both football and life. Saban gains insight and credibility by working out with his secondary. You should get out of your office regularly and meet the folks on your frontline. Ask questions. Listen. What do they see and know that you don't? If customers are unhappy your frontline is the first to know.
Maintain a circular flow of information.
Be sure your middle managers stay connected both up and down the ladder. As much as possible create a seamless interface between them and you, and between them and your frontline. Keep everyone so informed and aware that they will intuitively do their job as you would do it.
Be a culture that develops people.
You don't just want employees. You want people who can lead, inspire, and motivate others. Provide potential leaders with continuing education and personal development opportunities. Send them to leadership schools. Encourage their participation in relevant professional organizations. Let them know their growth is important by investing in them. Remember that millennials are motivated less by how much they're paid than by how much their work matters.
Ultimately, whether you're building a legacy or hoping to sell the value of your business will rest on the talent in the middle…your core leaders. For your organization's long-term health build your core. Always remember to keep your door and your ears open.