In January of 1969, a brash young quarterback known as “Broadway Joe” guaranteed his team would win the upcoming Super Bowl. The problem with Joe Namath’s guarantee? His Jets were 18-point underdogs and nobody – except his teammates – thought the Jets stood a chance against the mighty Baltimore Colts.
Weeb Eubank, the Jet’s legendary coach, had this to say about Namath’s public declaration: "I could have shot him for saying it. But Joe always had a way of delivering. He didn't mind pressure. It seemed to make him play better. I figured, if he said it, he would just have to back it up."
When we are public about our intentions, it adds more pressure to deliver. This is true on the football field and it’s true inside of companies too. An important element of the McCaw culture was the memorializing of the company’s Goals and Values and the very public expectation of delivering on them.
Bob Ratliffe, McCaw’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications remembers McCaw President Hal Eastman’s push for cultural visibility inside the company. “Hal said, ‘You watch, these will show up on coffee cups, and rulers, and t-shirts, and posters. They'll be all over the place. It will be viral.’ And he was right.”
Not everyone bought in from the start, but as the results came in, so did the support. Regional President Tim Donahue recalled, “My initial impression was, ‘This is all bullshit.’ But then, it sort of took hold. And I think people really took it to heart, both headquarters, and I would say probably more so, the field. It was a wonderful thing.”
Regional President Bill Malloy said, “Looking back, I think this is what made it work. Hal drilled them into us. I mean to tell you. He drilled them into us. When he would start a meeting, he would set the table top card in front, in the middle of the table, and we'd go through the goals and values -- all the way through them. He would read through the four pages, and all the goals, and values, and everything else. We knew what was important.”
Making cultural expectations visible enables the culture to be explained and spread throughout the organization. It holds people accountable and gives permission to act in certain ways – even when it is difficult to do so. It is, as Southwest Airline CEO Herb Kelleher said of his own company’s culture, “If it’s public, you have to dedicate yourself to it or be known as a phony and a hypocrite.”
You want to make sure your culture is a living and breathing competitive business advantage? Guarantee it, Joe Namath style.