Skip to main content

The Dallas Cowboys’ Scoreboard Effect

In Good to Great, Jim Collins postulates that an organization should limit its growth to its ability to attract enough of the right people.  I love reading statements like that, swallowing them hook, line, and sinker and then move on only to find that the more difficult task than orchestrating growth is defining “enough” and “right.”  Thankfully, Collins also has some wisdom to share on the definition of “right.”  The right people:

  1. Share the organization’s Core Values
  2. Have responsibilities, not a job
  3. Do what they say
  4. Are self-managed
  5. Have a Passion for the organization’s work
  6. Have a window and mirror maturity

This list of attributes does tend to be a helpful grid to drive recruiting and retention.  It sharpens my focus to enable me to make decisions about people when my instincts seem to fail me.  I have thoughts about each of the six attributes, but wanted to spend this time talking about the fifth on the list.

At Barnhart, there are several interesting differentiators that make us an attractive place to work.  First, we are privately held.  For the industry we serve, it is a key to the success of the organization.  It allows us to quickly make any changes needed to serve our customers as the demands change in the marketplace.  Second, we have as a core value “profit with a purpose.”  That core value is not unique to us, I am sure.  But the outworking of that core value is, quite frankly, different than anything I have ever seen.  Yet, it is the kind of work that we do that offers the most obvious difference to the day to day operations of other organizations.  And it is rather challenging to describe what we do in words.

When I first came to work at Barnhart, my mother asked me what I was going to do.  I shared that I would be an engineer for an engineered solutions company.  “Barnhart is an industry leader in heavy lifting and heavy transportation,” I said.  “You are going to run a crane?” she asked.  She didn’t quite get what it was that Barnhart did day in and day out.  I still have a tough time explaining to people how to think about moving a load that exceeds a million pounds.  Most people can’t grasp the size of it.

I have tried to make it easier.  “Have you ever seen the scoreboard for the new Dallas Cowboy’s Stadium?” I ask my friends.  “OOOOoooooh yeah.  That thing is huge!  You guys lifted that?!?”  “It weighed in at about 800 Tons,” I tell them.   A blank stare appears when I give the number.  “That’s the kind of thing we do.”  The interested look returns, “That must have been a big crane!” they respond.  “We didn’t use a crane,” I explain.  The furrowed brow that follows usually indicates that they still don’t quite get it.  But they do think that the scoreboard is cool.  So do I.  But a passion for our work does not mean simply relishing the high profile project.

A passion for our work means that you have to:

  1. Recognize the value of what we do.  We typically serve heavy industry.  It is the Dirty Jobs kind of place that makes our country the best place to live, although no one cares to live next to the power plant, or the refinery.  When we serve customers in those places we are impacting the lives of a multitude of people.  And we have to be able to do it better than anyone else.  Our expectations for return on capital employed are high, so the solutions have to be good.
  2. Really get excited about the tools of our trade.  Cranes, gantries, slide systems, cool rigging tools, sophisticated platform trailers, etc. have to interest you more than just the “big toys” they are often referred to as.   You have to be a student of the work.  There is no passing interest that can get you through the complexity of the work.  Most of us read about the tools in our leisure time because we get excited about the work.
  3. Be rigorously committed to improvement.  What makes you good in our line of work is your ability to provide a better idea.  Once your idea is out there, you need a better one.  That kind of environment would wear some people out.  Others would simply get frustrated at not being able to rest on your laurels.  For us, the right people have to be willing to challenge their own ideas, because someone in our organization will definitely be looking at it with an eye for improvement.  It is a part of our culture.

Passion for our work is a critical ingredient to being the right person for the team.  Being attracted for other reasons is good.  But without really appreciating what we do, the gloss of the scoreboard wears off quickly.