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What Tom Brady’s Fumble Teaches Leaders About Winning in Business

Do you know what a win looks like? You might be surprised that 85% of employees don’t.

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BY Partners In Leadership - 08 Feb 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

By Marcus Nicolls, Senior Partner at Partners In Leadership; author and expert in change management and accountability.

In the fourth quarter of this weekend's Super Bowl, the Patriots were in position to take the lead and secure yet another NFL championship victory. But during their final drive, Tom Brady lost the ball, and it was Eagles rookie Derek Barnett who scooped up the fumble, giving Philadelphia possession of the ball and, ultimately, their very first Super Bowl win. The lone turnover for the Patriots, which the Eagles produced, ended up being the deciding factor of Super Bowl LII.

There didn't happen to be a dogpile for the ball during this lost possession, but often there is. From pee-wee league to the pros, when there's a fumble, everyone is on it! Each player goes for the ball without hesitation. There's no need for a designated fumble-jumper because it's every player's job to get the ball, regardless of position. That's why you'll never hear a football player say, "that's not my job."

Why does every player on the field take accountability for a fumble? Because the objective is obvious: get the ball - it could cost us the game! There is crystal clarity around the desired result: a win, not a loss.

Here's a question, how clear are your employees on what a win looks like for your business this year?

Our Workplace Accountability Study revealed these startling facts:

  • Clarity: When asked if Key Results were clearly defined and well understood throughout the company, 85% said "No."
  • Alignment: When asked if people throughout the company align their work with the Key Results, 93% said "No."
  • Priorities: When asked if priorities change frequently, causing confusion around what needs to be achieved, 87% said "Yes."

As a leader, do these stats concern you? They should.

Imagine the cascading impact of this reality. Let's use the football metaphor to bring this into sharp focus.

With 11 teammates on the field:


  • 2 know which end zone is theirs (15%)
  • 8 aren't sure (76%)
  • 1 doesn't have a clue (9%)


  • 1 really cares (7%)
  • 9 could play for either team (70%)
  • 2 are competing against their own team (14%)


  • 1 knows exactly what position they play (13%)
  • 6 aren't sure (51%)
  • 4 think they're playing baseball (36%)

And here's a statement borne from many years' experience: if you want to create a culture where take accountability to think and act in the manner necessary to get results, it begins with clearly defined results.

That's worth repeating.

"If you want to create a Culture of Accountability, it begins with clearly defined results!"

Sounds simple, doesn't it? Our bet is that you can rattle off many important things that must happen this year. And that's part of the problem. There are so many - and they're all important!

And what do we hear when we ask people across different functions in the company? We hear many more important things.

What if you could distill and simplify what your team is accountable to deliver into three Key Results? That doesn't mean any of the other important tasks are ignored. It just means that we get really clear on the top three deliverables and create accountability so that everyone in the company can connect the way they think and act on a daily basis to deliver those three results.

Too good to be true? Not so. We've seen company after company successfully do this, and the impact is incredible. One of the world's leading casual dining companies reduced its Key Results from 40 to four, resulting in a 15x increase in price per share, a return of 20% profit to shareholders, industry-leading guest satisfaction scores, and the lowest employee turnover rate they've ever reached.

This is but one of hundreds of companies that have simplified what they're accountable to deliver, and then worked to create alignment and accountability to deliver those results.

While creating this simplicity doesn't guarantee that employees take accountability, it does open the door for people to think and act differently. And what's the alternative? You've seen the data -- that's not a winning combination.

As a leader, it's essential to clearly define what a win looks like so people can line up their own accountability to think and act in the manner needed to make it happen. Without that clarity and simplicity, you put yourself and your company at a huge disadvantage -- everyone's siloed, worrying about their own specific job on the field, and no one's diving for the fumble that could change the game.

Winning requires clarity and accountability. If you want your business to win, clearly define your top 3 Key Results and stay laser-focused on them.

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