It’s remarkable how often sports teams win the week after sacking their coach.
Last year, Everton beat Premier League champions Chelsea just three days after sacking Ronald Koeman, and the Milwaukee Bucks won 7 of their next 8 games after parting ways with Jason Kidd.
Recently, Manchester United look Ferguson-era again after relieving Jose Mourinho from his duties, and the hapless Cleveland Browns made a late playoff run after sacking Hue Jackson.
When talented teams underperform, leaders often default to adding more rules in an effort to right the ship. Over time, these new rules pile up and strangulate the team to the point where their natural talent almost seems to disappear. Worse: the rules tend not to be relaxed once results rebound.
The reason teams win the week after sacking their coach is because the new boss comes in and strips away all of the burdonsome rules, replacing them with “Let’s get back to basics; go out and have fun.”
In her book, Powerful, former Netflix HR executive Patty McCord discusses the phenomenon of replacing rules with culture: “One of my favorite days was when I stood up in front of the company and said “I’m going to get rid of the expense policy and I’m going to get rid of the travel policy, and I want you to just use good judgment about how you spend the company’s money.” As Netflix removed more and more overzealous policies and outdated rules, the company’s performance skyrocketed.
In another example, Seth Godin notes “(My company) developed one of the first privacy policies on the internet, it said ‘we won’t rent or sell your email address’. I don’t need that policy anymore, because the people who trust me know that I would never do that.”
Culture is infinitely more powerful than rules, so your objective as a leader should be to create an environment where each individual is responsible to the culture, not a policy. The thought of disappointing their teammates (or for Godin, his audience) needs to be more scary than the thought of breaking a rule.
Similarly, your responsibility as a leader is to resist adding rules during periods of underperformance, instead prefering to double-down on your culture. If you get it right, your players will show up early to practice of their own accord, because they hate losing, not because you made a new policy.
If this sounds counterintuitive, it’s because it is. More culture, less rules.