Build a Championship Culture with the Performance-Values Matrix

by Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center

Looking to build and sustain a Championship Culture in your team, athletic department, or organization?

As a leader, you will obviously need to find, attract, develop, reward, and retain a team of highly talented people who fully understand, embrace, and enact your program’s Vision, Values, and Standards.

To build a high-performance, world-class culture at General Electric, former CEO Jack Welch developed a simple, yet profound and powerful Performance-Values Matrix to guide GE’s ascent. Welch’s Matrix evaluated people along two critical dimensions:

1. Performance: how well the person drives and achieves important results
2. Values: how well the person embodies and exemplifies the team’s Core Values

Welch and GE executives evaluated employees and managers in accordance with the Performance-Values Matrix to see how well they performed and fit within GE’s culture. Similarly, as a coach, captain, or athletic director, you too can adapt and adopt this practical and proven Performance-Values Matrix to evaluate, categorize, and coach the people on your team.

Rate Your Team on the Performance-Values Matrix

Simply grab a roster of your people and rate them using a 1 (low) to 10 (high) scale on these two important dimensions:


How well does this person consistently achieve the results we need to be successful?

1           2           3           4           5           6           7           8           9           10


How well does this person consistently embody and embrace our team’s values?

1           2           3           4           5           6           7           8           9           10



Rate each person on your team according to the Performance and Values dimensions and place their names where you view them on the Matrix. (Or if you are an athletic director, you can rate your entire coaching and support staff using the Matrix.) Ultimately, after completing this exercise, you will find that there are four categories of people who will emerge:

Box 1 - Poor Performers/Culture Killers
Box 2 - Poor Performers/Culture Champions
Box 3 - Peak Performers/Culture Killers
Box 4 - Peak Performers/Culture Champions


BOX 1 - Poor Performers/ Culture Killers

After evaluating your team, you may find a group of people who neither produce sufficient results nor adequately embrace your values. Because of their poor performance and lack of cultural fit, this group creates a tremendous drag for your program. Not only can’t they get the job done, they likely complain about how things are done and thus dilute and pollute your culture for the rest of the group.

Working with these difficult people is like trying to run a race with a heavy ball and chain shackled to your leg. Their lack of performance and misaligned values keep slowing you down and holding you back, despite your best efforts to move forward and make progress.

These are the people who, quite candidly, both “can’t” and “won’t”. They likely don’t have the talent or competence necessary to contribute nor the commitment or character to do so within your program. Because they are not on board with you or your expectations, it is easier for them to resist and complain about the changes you need them to make. Left unchecked, these people water down your culture at best or destroy it from within at worst. To quote one of my favorite adages, “I’d rather have 1,000 enemies outside the tent than 1 inside the tent.” These people are the insidious enemies inside your own tent.


BOX 2 - Poor Performers/ Culture Champions

You may find some people are a strong fit with our values but unfortunately aren’t performing up to the levels you need them to. Fortunately, these people understand and live your Vision and Values, but have a hard time consistently producing the results you need to be a high-performance team.

This group is often made up of your reserves, who likely are good people and mean well, but presently just don’t have their athletic or physical skills sufficiently developed or mastered to really help your team from a performance standpoint. But they can still make a positive difference for your team from the sidelines and in the locker room by living your culture and encouraging their teammates to do the same.


BOX 3 - Peak Performers/ Culture Killers

These are the people who athletically can get the job done for your team but act in ways that are inconsistent with and even contrary to your culture. They often pose a very challenging dilemma for many coaches, captains, ADs, and fans because they perform very well but are clearly misaligned with the values of the program.

For example, this is the superstar performer who is clearly your best athlete but regularly shows up late to practice, has an entitled, selfish, and lazy attitude, doesn’t get along well with his teammates, neglects his schoolwork, and feels he is doing you and the team a huge favor by being on it.

Sadly, because of his (or her) supreme talent, many coaches and ADs are afraid to confront him about his antics because they fear upsetting or losing the talented, yet turbulent superstar. Or perhaps they do manage to say something but never follow through to discipline him and hold him accountable for his actions. This situation often arises when a struggling or up and coming team is trying to breakthrough and compete with more talented and established teams. The underdog team feels the only way they have a chance to compete and win against the "top dawgs" is if they let their surly superstar play and excuse his troublesome behavior - thereby sacrificing their values and sending a confusing and conflicting message to everyone else.

Meanwhile, the rest of the team is usually fed up with the superstar’s bad behavior, acerbic attitude, and the apparent double standards of the coaching staff so they mentally and emotionally check out and become Existent, Reluctant, or Resistant because of the unfair treatment. I have seen many a coach and AD succumb to this situation and allow themselves to be held hostage by a prima donna superstar. It is not fun for anyone involved, except of course the superstar, and a quick way to create a Corrosive Culture.

Interestingly, there are some teams that actually run their programs this way. They intentionally attract and get supremely talented athletes (and coaches), sometimes through shady means, and let them do whatever they want as long as they can produce on game day. Their motto basically boils down to: “I don’t care what kind of person you are or problems you cause as long as you can produce.” These are often the same teams that have numerous off field/court issues and a bad reputation on campus and the community. They often end up embarrassing their schools - but they win so their inappropriate actions are overlooked, covered up, explained away, or “forgiven” for the umpteenth time.

While these teams usually do well during the regular season and sometimes go deep in the playoffs because of their superior talent, they also have a tendency to implode from within and fall short of expectations and championships because they don’t have the commitment, chemistry, composure, character, and coachability necessary to withstand the pressures at the highest levels. As you look across the sports world, you’ll see several examples of college and professional teams that knowingly select and tolerate Peak Performers/Culture Killers. They subvert and sellout their values because they think it gives them the best chance to win. It’s a gamble that some coaches and administrators are willing to take.


BOX 4 - Peak Performers/ Culture Champions

Finally, you will hopefully find a group of people who both embrace your program’s Vision, Values, and Standards AND they consistently get the job done for you and your team. These people are the backbone of your program and are essential to your success.

Build your program around your Peak Performers/Culture Champions, put them in leadership positions, and create a powerful partnership with them to help co-lead the team. Harness their credibility and influence to create and sustain the kind of culture you want and need to be successful. And work with them to communicate with and coach the people in the other boxes in an effort to draw them closer to their level. Be sure to thank them and appreciate them for all they do for you and your team! They make your job as a coach or AD easier and are the kind and quality of people you want to keep around for as long as possible!


How to Coach People in Each of the 4 Boxes

Categorizing people on the Performance-Values Matrix is the easy part. Coaching them to higher levels and potentially cutting them from your program is obviously the much tougher part. You now need to decide how you are going to deal with them for the health of your culture and the success of your team.


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