“You don’t need them all, but if you build your teams on strong principles the right ones will find you.”

  • John U. Bacon, Let Them Lead

I’m a strong believer that the culture of the organization is the best recruiter you have. It is going to attract people, right or wrong.

When it comes to recruiting, we pull out all of the stops. We want to make any visit as attractive as possible to a potential player or employee. We want them to feel welcome and comfortable, and we paint the prettiest picture possible. But ultimately anyone visiting is going to remember how they felt about your organization. The fancy dinner is nice, but what they really want to know is what it feels like to be a part of it. No matter what you do, it’s hard to fake that. It’s real, and they are going to see it.

I recently finished John Bacon’s book on a high school hockey team in Michigan that he coached for four years. It’s an easy read and a good look into how he turned around one of the worst hockey teams in the country. He established the right culture and then gave ownership of it to his team (it actually reminds me a lot of Entitled To Nothing).

There is a lot in his approach, and especially in that quote up top, that I like. The first thing is “you don’t need them all.” Turning around an organization and trying to establish an elite culture is hard, and not everyone is a fit. I used to say that about our program at RIC all the time to my time – “it’s not for everyone.” What we are doing here is hard, and not everyone is willing to do it. You are going to lose some people along the way, and sometimes some good people. You have to be prepared for that. They may be good people that you like and want to have success, but they don’t fit what you are trying to do. You have to be ready to let them go.

Every elite culture has to have “strong principles,” but notice he didn’t get specific about his principles. The principles of different elite cultures aren’t all the same. There are plenty of ways to build a culture, and it has to fit your personality. Regardless of what the principles are, they have to be worth fighting for. They need to be clear for everyone on your team. Strong principles are going to be evident, and they are going to attract people that believe in them.

I learned early as a head coach that the right ones will find you. Once your culture is established you will attract the people that fit. The ones willing to fight for your values. Our culture at RIC was based on toughness, something we valued and rewarded every day. It fit the culture of our school, a blue collar, state school located in a city. It fit the players we had on our team, and it fit the players we wanted to recruit.

But it wasn’t like we just went around picking the toughest players we saw. The coaches, families and players who valued toughness themselves were attracted to our program. They wanted to be a part of it. Rare was it that we got a long way down the road with a kid who wasn’t very tough. Most of the kids we even considered had a plus level of toughness. When they came to campus and watched us play, or played pick-up with our team, they saw how tough our kids were. When they watched practiced, the saw toughness being celebrated and rewarded. They talked to friends and people who knew us, and the heard the same thing. The kids who considered themselves tough wanted to be a part of it.

That doesn’t mean you can just sit around and throw your culture out on the floor and expect elite talent to come and sign up. You still have to work to recruit them. But with an established culture based on strong principles, the ones who won’t fit will usually weed themselves out. The right ones will find you.