What Organizations Can Learn From Taylor Twellman's Take on Wayne Rooney
Photo credit: Ben Sutherland, image slightly cropped
One of the hot rumors in global soccer is that England great Wayne Rooney may join DC United. The rumor has led to endless barstool arguments. TMZ ambushed DC United head coach Ben Olsen to ask him about it. Even by soccer rumor madness standards, that’s pretty nutty.
The best rant about the possible move, or at least the rant most relevant outside of soccer, came from ESPN’s Taylor Twellman. Most soccer fans are arguing about whether or not Rooney would be a serious player or just another big-name bust trying to cash-in before retirement. But Twellman’s focus was on whether or not DC United has the infrastructure and ambition to take advantage of Rooney. For Twellman, if the point of the deal is just to draw fans to DC United’s new stadium, which coincidentally opens two weeks after Rooney would be available to sign for the team, and to get people talking about DC United, then the deal is a bad idea. In Twellman’s words, “D.C. United, it’s on you, it’s not on Wayne Rooney, to make this work.” Twellman’s take should sound familiar to anyone who has worked in a company or organization trying to jump-start success or growth with a splashy project, event, or hire.
Signing Rooney could be a boon for DC United if the team builds around him and makes him part of a larger unit that will grow after he retires. If Rooney is a one-off splash that consumes resources that could be used elsewhere, then the team should do something else. Rooney would get international press attention, sell Rooney - DC United shirts, and lure fans to games. That means DC United’s press shop would spend time fielding calls and managing time for Rooney – time and attention not spent on other players or on the team itself. Rooney shirts are mostly Rooney shirts that would happen to have DC United on the front, and fans in the stands will be Rooney fans who would happen to be at DC United games; unless the team spends money and allocates time to turn Wayne Rooney fans into DC United fans, once he retires the shirt sales will stop, the fans will stay home, and the team will be right back where it started.
Twellman’s cautions will sound familiar if your organization has ever considered taking on a significantly larger project than it has ever tried, hosted a much bigger event than ever before, or considered hiring a big name for the first time.
Before deciding to divert scarce institutional resources to the next Big Thing organizations should consider several questions:
- What is the plan to build on success? What do we need to do right now to set ourselves up to be better and stronger after the project, event, or hire?
- What are the indirect and hidden costs associated with the opportunity? It is easy to count salaries, space rental, and consultant retainers. What other institutional resources will the opportunity consume?
- What are the opportunity costs? When the staff are working on the new idea, what are they not working on instead? What opportunities are being missed because all of the time, energy, and money are chasing the big thing?
- How else could limited institutional resources be used? Having figured out everything that the new opportunity will take out of the organization and honestly looked at the long term benefits, consider other ways to reach other organizational goals using the same or fewer resources. If you commit to spending X dollars, Y energy, and Z time, how else could those resources be used? Could they get even more bang for the buck if put to less headline-grabbing, but more effective uses?
One way to think about all of these pieces together is to imagine you have the chance to take a month off and live in the Basque Country. That would be an amazing thing to do. It’s also expensive – in addition to travel to and from, a place to live and food while there, a rental car, and other obvious expenses, there are the other predictable costs. Basque restaurants are among the best in the world and you can’t miss those, which means a lot of money spent eating out. Do you need to buy gifts for people at home? What about mobile phone service? Does where you live have laundry? What about medicine? Will you want to take trips to sights that will require overnight hotel stays? What about tickets to museums? Then there are the expenses back home – your utility bills won’t go to zero and you might need a dog walker or someone to water the plants. And of course while you’re in San Sebastian and Bilbao spending money, you’re not making any money in at home (and if you’re making money over there, how much will you have to pay your accountant to make sense of it?). Add all that up and subtract what you would normally make and spend a month at home - you eat out, you buy gas, and so on - the number that matters is the difference. That’s your actual projected cost. Take a minute to imagine what else you could do with that chunk of change. A three month break in the US or six months in Costa Rica? A sporty convertible? Art? Charity? Take your dollar sign and look for things that cost the same amount. You might end up trying to learn Basque (more money) – or you might find yourself on a beach in Mal Pais or in a motor home in the Badlands. In organizational terms, you might hire the big name, or you might hire two people nearly as good and not as famous for the same amount, or you might go after three more reasonable projects rather than the potential big get. Not as headline grabbing, but a better use of limited resources.
Wayne Rooney would be a leap for DC United, just as a big client, big event, or big hire would be big leap for your organization. These leaps are full of upside. The thing about leaps is that after you leap, you land. Where and how you land after the leap – not the leap itself – tends to be what matters.
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