Nick Foles, Second-Stringer, Delivers for the Eagles

By on February 8, 2018
Nick Foles by Sgt. Kyle Richardson (DVIDS) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Michael Silver, NFL Columnist, on the Eagles Second String Quarterback: “Pederson and his unlikely quarterback of the present, Nick Foles, have been laying waste to conventional wisdom since Dec. 10, when second-year star Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending knee injury in a 43-35 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. And on Sunday, with most of a football-watching nation wondering if Foles could prove to be a capable caretaker for an otherwise formidable Eagles team, the sixth-year signal caller unloaded on the Vikings like Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’.”

And what was the engine that drove this transformation from second-stringer to Super Bowl Most Valuable Player? For starters, the raw talent had to be there. But beyond that, it took a coach who knew what Foles was capable of and who demonstrated to Foles that he had a high degree of confidence in his ability to deliver for the Eagles. Quoting Coach Pederson following the game:

“I was going to stay aggressive with Nick and let him use his playmakers to make plays.”

And Nick certainly delivered. 373 yards passing and three touchdowns.

So what’s to be learned from this workplace called the Super Bowl? What’s to be learned about driving championship performance in any workplace, be it a factory, a corporate office, a warehouse, or a hospital?

I’d say there are at least three important lessons to be learned.

  1. Know your players. Observe their performance in their workplaces. In the language of Lean manufacturing, this is referred to as “going to the Gemba” or “going to the place where value-creating work actually happens.”
  2. Communicate with your players. Let them know that you respect their abilities, that you have high degrees of confidence in their ability to perform at championship levels.
  3. Refuse to stereotype your players. Be prepared to be surprised. Because when you “go the Gemba” and show respect for your players, you’re going to see some breakthrough performance from the most unlikely players.

Going to the Gemba” is one of the most powerful methods of identifying “second stringers” who have the potential of being champions. And it’s also a powerful method of transforming “second stringers” into championship level performers. To be effective, these trips to the Gemba have to be done the right way. Here are important things to keep in mind:

  1. You’re going to the Gemba to learn, not to lecture. Getting to know your players means asking questions, listening to what they say, showing respect for their ideas.
  2. You’re also going to the Gemba to share ideas. Engaging your players in active, focused discussions about their work processes and their work environment. Doing this will demonstrate to them that you’re there to learn what the organization can do to take the struggle out of their work.
  3. And you’re also going to the Gemba to reinforce in all of your players a sense of trust. Your focus is on work processes, not on people. When this is understood, candor will prevail in all discussions, exactly what’s needed if your discussions with your players are to be productive.

The very heart of effective coaching, the core of what it is that drives championship performance, is the creation of a work environment in which respect, candor, and trust are the defining characteristics. And when this kind of work environment is created, great things happen.

In my thirty years of performance improvement consulting, I’ve witnessed first-hand remarkable changes in performance driven by respect, candor, and trust. I’ve seen “second stringers” transformed into championship performers.

For weeks, Len sat silently in our 5S meetings. And then something beautiful happened. After a meeting during which we had discussed a serious problem on the production line, Len came up to me and said he thought he knew how to solve the problem and that he’d like to share his ideas at our next 5S team meeting. He came into that meeting with a flip chart containing some detailed observations and recommendations on how to solve the problem with which the team had been wrestling. His solution worked. Len’s silence in our meetings came to an end.

For many years, most employees in this company did their jobs but didn’t share their thoughts. After being asked in a meeting at the Gemba what the company could do to take the struggle out of her work, Mary turned in a very detailed description of things that hampered the productivity of her area coupled with very insightful suggestions on how to eliminate these productivity blockers. Mary’s silence had ended.

By being listened to and shown respect, Len and Mary were identified as championship quality players.

And I’ll bet this is exactly what Doug Pederson saw in Nick Foles, one of the most unlikely Super Bowl heroes in the history of the game. He knew that Foles could turn in championship level performance. And he demonstrated confidence in Foles’ ability, “I was going to stay aggressive with Nick and let him use his playmakers to make plays.

How many players with championship level potential do you have standing on the sidelines, silently waiting to be part of the action? I’m sure the answer is too many. The Doug Pederson/Nick Foles story is a great example of how respect and trust can transform a second-stringer into a championship level performer.

You can do the same thing Doug Pederson did. It’s not complicated. It just takes “going to the Gemba” and showing your “second-stringers” the trust and respect that will transform their performance.

Tomorrow’s a good day to start.


Photo: Nick Foles, quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, stands with his hand over his heart during the national anthem before the 2014 Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium Jan. 26. By Sgt. Kyle Richardson (DVIDS) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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