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Content Guy’s Note: Regular readers of MorningNewsBeat know that I am a big fan of the unorthodox viewpoint…and so when the well-known consultant Art Turock sent me the following article, I couldn’t wait to post it here on the site.

There are two reasons for my enthusiasm. One is that I was flattered that Art – one of the most in-demand speakers on the circuit – would offer it exclusively to MorningNewsBeat. But I also loved it because I had a similar experience, albeit in a different sport, and lived to write about it. (You can check it out at:


As a high school football player growing up on Long Island, I loved watching telecasts of University of Southern California Rose Bowl appearances and dreamed of playing for the Trojans. Unfortunately, a 145-pound cornerback wasn’t going to make the cut on a major college program. And so, as a Baby Boomer consumed with denying my aging, I took the occasion of my 57th birthday to enroll in the Trojan Flashback Football Camp.

Flashback Football provides an authentic experience for players (average age 25-45), to live the daily routine of a Trojan football player while preparing for a game-day challenge. Beginning with the team orientation meeting, Head Coach Pete Carroll treated us like incoming freshman yelling, “I don’t care if you were a high school All American. Your history buys nothing at USC.” From that moment every activity was staged in authentic fashion from practice field drills, classroom strategy sessions, and especially the ritual-filled pre-game bus trip and solemn march into the LA Memorial Coliseum to play an imaginary opponent, Notre Dame.

Beside living my football fantasy and leveraging the event to raise my physical fitness, I also studied the USC coaching process and culture-shaping methods for inspiring peak performance. I’ve made a career of adapting best practices from other industries to produce results for my supermarket and supplier clients. Read on with the intent of adapting any of these coaching ideas to your work situation.

Declare lofty goals and align choices. Everyone at USC - from players, coaches, and operations staff - is focused on the over-riding goal, winning the NCAA championship. Every choice and action aligns with the quality of effort required to being #1.

Define your process for developing talent. Coach Carroll says, "There is a way to have great discipline, and have great intensity and have people compete on a level that is hard to match and enjoy every minute of it."

Define the attributes of your brand. What the coaching staff calls “USC Style” translates to the business world as brand attributes. “Brand USC” extols three primary attributes: effort, enthusiasm, and play smart.

In my consulting with consumer products sales groups, my clients are encouraged to brand not only what they sell but how they sell. Most sales organizations have not deliberately chosen specific attributes for branding the way they interact with customers.

Competition is healthy. USC players and coaches embrace competition as a means of raising performance. By recruiting an abundant talent pool, even the slightest temptation to slack off is nipped in the bud.

Encourage emotional expression. Emotion is an accepted part of inspiring athletic performance and getting emotionally ready for practices, games, and film study sessions. In sharp contrast, most businesses constrain emotional expression to a humdrum range, with strong displays of passion discouraged (at least implicitly). A seven-second round of high fives qualifies as fervent emotion.

Practice is everything. At USC, a player’s relationship with practice is a key determinant for achieving greatness. Each coach’s motivational efforts create a persistent intention--who are you being when you go onto that practice field also shows up in a game. Being extraordinary is not a function of natural talent, circumstances, and opportunity, but a function of practice. Practice is not a means to an end, but the necessary and essential process to peak performance. The USC alumni (“Trojan Greats”) all agreed that their college practices were much tougher than any encountered in professional football.

How do you practice business? In most cases, you create the practice in your actual work, by operating with the intention of getting better at a task rather than just completing it efficiently. So delivering sales presentations, negotiating a deal, sharing performance appraisals, deciphering financial statements, order selecting in a warehouse, all can be practiced.

In a recent Fortune article, “What It Takes to be Great,” it was reported that the best performers in any field—music, surgery, insurance sales, or sports—devote hours to “deliberate practice” to continuously make incremental improvements that over a decade or so put them in an elite class. Most businesspeople enjoy a fast learning curve and then hit a comfortable plateau for the rest of a career.

Define measurements and grade great performance. The USC defensive coaches grade game and practice films for each player on each play based on effort, production, technique, and fulfilling his assignment.

Pay for performance systems are rare among food retailers. A rare exception, Publix, rates employees on a numerical basis in 21 different areas. The rating is then matched up against expected numerical performance numbers based on position, with above expected ratings earning bonuses, and those falling below receiving a deduction in pay.

Load the workspace with physical artifacts of the culture. Picture of USC sports legends adorn the baseball and football locker rooms. Rose Bowl Championships are listed in the tunnel leading from the USC locker room to the entrance onto the Coliseum field. At the entry of the football program headquarters, Heritage Hall, seven Heisman Trophies are enshrined in plastic casing, honoring the top college player of the year.

Similar examples abound among winners in the food industry. To commemorate
the nine years Wegmans has been one of Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work, the magazine covers and annual rankings are hung in the sit-down dining area visible to associates and shoppers. In many retail companies, story telling about remarkable achievements are recited for new employees. For instance, a number of supermarket executives began their careers bagging groceries, and their stories inspire associates to hold “anything’s possible” aspirations.

Grant greatness. All USC alumni acknowledged their coaches’ (primarily John McKay and John Robinson) uncanny ability to envision their performance at a higher level than past history would indicate was possible. Granting greatness means not only sharing a vision of a player’s capacity for greatness but also expressing those expectations in defining responsibilities, teaching new skills, and appraising performance.
KC's View:
If you’d like to know the five elements of “deliberate practice?” based on the Fortune research, you can order a handout by e-mailing or calling 800-473-8997. If you’d like to talk with Art about preparing for and engaging with the USC Football Camp, or your adaptations of principles from this article, he welcomes your call.

And one word of encouragement – find your own way to embrace the unorthodox viewpoint, by challenging and even surprising yourself. It’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed…and you might even learn something from the experience.