How the West Coast Offence has redefined the public sector procurement practice by Jon Hansen

Posted on September 8, 2014


During my interview with Kate Vitasek last week, she adeptly used the start of the professional football season as a point of reference.

Even if I wasn’t a football fan – which I am – I appreciated her analogy because it spoke directly to the challenges with putting process ahead of relationships.

What was most interesting however, was not questions surrounding the merits of the Vested Business Model itself, but its potential scalability in terms of replicating the success to which Kate referred.  Specifically, at what point is the success of the model – any business model or strategy for that matter – dependent on the unique capabilities of key stakeholders?

It is within the context of this question that Kate’s football reference takes on an entirely different and interesting dimension.

Think about the success of the West Coast Offence.

While some credit its origins to  Don Coryell who coached the Dan Fouts led San Diego Chargers in the late seventies, most attribute it to Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers in the eighties.  The 49ers as you will likely remember were a dominant force winning several Super Bowls during that era – something it is worth noting that the Chargers were never able to do.

Even though the West Coast Offence was sound in its own right, its success was ultimately realized by the personnel Walsh had on his team, in particular Hall Of Fame quarterback Joe Montana.   This is the key point . . . and question; would the Bill Walsh West Coast Offence had succeeded if he had been the coach for another team who had a pivot other than Montana.

Bill Walsh

Beyond the realms of the gridiron this same question applies to business models, and in particular the emerging relationship-centric approaches to complex contracting. Or to put it another way, to what degree is the success in implementing a relational model dependent on having the right people in the right positions?

This is a critical question in that it focuses on the potential for a specific model’s scalability.  If the examples cited by Kate had different players or stakeholders, would the initiatives have succeeded? If she would have been successful regardless of who was involved, then the model itself is the key.  However, if having different stakeholders would have produced a less favorable outcome, then it is not so much a question of having the “right” model, but having one that is adaptable to different personnel.

But even with a degree of adaptability, success can remain an elusive quest.

I can still recall an CGI consultant coming up to me after a seminar I had given telling me that the company used their A-Team players to land new accounts.  Once the ink dried on the contracts, the A-Team would move on to pursue new sales opportunities.  At this point, the B-Team as she called them, took over the execution phase of the plan.  This she contended was one of the major reasons for some of the challenges they faced relative to delivering to client expectations.

Even though the top CGI team had charted what was described as being a sound road map for initiative success, realization ultimately came down to the B-Team’s experience and expertise, as well as an ability to work together.  This is perhaps one of the reasons why in my research for this post I found Andy Akrouche’s article What Is A High Performing Business Relationship? interesting.  What I took away from the Akrouche piece is that while the model is an important guideline for success, in and of itself it will not get you from point A to B.  You first need to have the right people in place.

This tells me that relational models are not scalable in the traditional sense, but are uniquely individual reproductions based around core relationship values.  For this reason, you have to first and foremost lay a solid relational foundation with the right players and then, structure the model around both their individual and collective strengths.  I call this the snowflake principle in that while each snowflake (i.e. initiative) shares the same elements, no one flake is the same as another.

Or in the case of Kate’s football analogy, not everyone has Joe Montana on their team.



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