49ers a study in Management 101

49ers a study in Management 101
January 19, 2012, 11:22 pm
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Andy Dolich
CSNBayArea.com

OK, time to settle down and gently lower yourself off the ceiling. The Giants are coming to town with their late-season star, Mo Mentum. Ill leave it up to my fellow CSNBayarea.com 49ers Insiders to weigh in on how team ho-hum became team transcendent on its way to a possible sixth Super Bowl.

The leading business turnaround experts are looking at the wondrous work done by Jim Harbaugh, the coaches, players and football operations staff to discover the secrets of their stunning success. These management mavens should come equipped with microscope, telescope and stethoscope to figure out how this revolutionary resurrection took place.

Even first-year MBAs learn there are a few bedrock principles that lead to business success. The 49ers coaching staff used them to perfection on their joyous journey this season:

Narrow your focus:
One of the glaring errors of failing businesses is that they try to be all things to all people. Im sure you were in the group of about five fans in the free world that thought Alex Smith would be discussed in the same sentence as Joe Montana and Steve Young at the end of the season. This reminds me of a scene from "The Patriot," starring Mel Gibson. He is with his two young sons trying to overcome a British platoon that had captured his oldest boy. The instructions to his gun-toting kids, Aim small, miss small. Of course they overcame a superior force and freed their brother by narrowing their focus -- as the coaches did with Alex at the beginning of the season.

Expect to win:
I want winners, sounds great but You are winners resonates at a higher level with players. From day one the staff assembled by general manager Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh laid out a logical, consistent, step-by-step plan on how this team was going to win. No five-year plans here, lets try five months instead.

Encourage riskPromote trust:
The 49ers had been a team more predictable than a Lindsay Lohan meltdown. The coaches gave the players a mentality that taking chances was OK. We are not going to be who they thought we were going to be. When was the last time that you saw the kicker fake a field goal and hit the lonesome Michael Crabtree for a surprise TD? If I told you that Joe Staley and Isaac Sopoaga were going to channel their inner Jerry Rice and turn into pass catchers you would have spit up. Great managers promote trust in their workforce by supporting risk even if it fails.

Define a winning culture:
Companies in need of a turnaround usually have a poorly defined culture. In failing enterprises employees will not be able to answer what their company's culture is with a unified response. Its imperative that players embrace a single culture, one that will define success. The core values taught by the 49ers' football management experts defined that the organization is about winning football games. Anything else will be minimized.
Manage people:
Entrepreneurs dont invest in companies; they invest in people. When you look at the long-term picture, it isnt so much who you fire as who you hire or keep. Harbaugh has been there and done that when it comes to knowing every part of football culture. The immediate and total support and buy-in to Alex Smith was an early sign that this wasnt going to be business as usual. This decision was met with significant derision by fans and the media but the coaching staff knew how to manage Smith and the offense coming out of the gate. There was no ready-fire-aim in their approach. Their plan gradually took shape and built system-wide confidence in the quarterback and his leadership qualities. It has paid off beyond any ones wildest expectations.

See what no one else sees:
Trent Baalke is a football lifer who has spent hours on the practice fields of colleges and universities all over the country. There were many questions about how he and Harbaugh were going to mesh. Baalke is a completely focused professional who correctly envisioned the huge upside of Aldon Smith and the fill-in puzzle pieces of Kendall Hunter, Bruce Miller and Chris Culliver. The free agent acquisitions of David Akers, Jonathan Goodwin, Carlos Rogers and Donte we speak with our shoulder pads Whitner proved that Baalke has second sight, which is critical in making successful player personnel decisions.

Get rid of status symbols:
The work shirts early in the season gave the team a new vision of its future. It helped define the mental toughness we saw against the Saints. Everyone was part of the assembly line. Alex Smith appeared at the conference championship postgame press conference with his name stitched on his mechanics shirt. Who would have blamed him if he had showed up with with a T-Shirt cannon and blitzed the media with tees that were emblazoned with How do you like me now?

Share the rewards:
Wednesday, before the Saints game, QB coach Geep Chryst drew up the Vernon Post. He had coached for the Carolina Panthers and saw New Orleans twice each season. He knew there was a soft Red Zone tendency that the Niners could take advantage of. The Vernon Post became an instant classic and Chryst was given the credit. Great leaders always take the negative hits and give the credit to their colleagues.

Everyone is a leader:
The 49ers trail 24-23 with 2:18 left and have the ball on the Saints 28, 3rd-and-8. Harbaugh is talking to offensive coordinator Greg Roman in the coaches box. Roman suggests a play in which Alex Smith takes a shotgun snap and heads to the end zone. Twenty-eight legendary yards later Smith crosses the goal line. This wasnt a case of the smartest-guy-in-the-room syndrome but leaders working together to get the job done. The coaching staff assembled by Harbaugh and Baalke were all leaders. Without the following coaches this season would not have come together the way it did:
Brad Seely
Vic Fangio
Greg Roman
Michael Christianson
Geep Chryst
Reggie Davis
Ed Doantell
Tim Drevno
Bobby Engram
Peter Hansen
Greg Jackson
Jim Leavitt
John Morton
Tom Rathman
Mike Solari
Jim Tomsula
Mark Uyeyama

Dont worry be happy:
There isnt a 49ers team in nine years that wouldnt have folded being down 20-3 at the half in Philly or anywhere else. The coaches kept it cool, calm and collected in the locker room. The team knew through its coaches' confidence that it was possible to get back in the game. In the middle of adversity calmness is the ultimate cool. This was a happy team in the manner of Bobby McFerrin.

TEAM, TEAM, TEAM:
How did Harbaugh create this time warp to greatness from a decade of mediocrity?

Planning a turnaround takes an intimate understanding of a business or a team including its players, coaches, management, ownership, fans, training programs and processes. Powerful leaders define the culture and vision and communicate these directly to gain employee support. To have accomplished this turnaround in a nano-second is something that management consultants and the sports media will be deconstructing for a long time. The Management on the 101 is worthy of a Stanford Business School case study.

Over his 40-year career, sports executive Andy Dolich has held positions at the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland A's, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies and Philadelphia 76ers. He is the Sports Business Insider for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

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