What We Can Learn from the Seahawks

Watching the Seattle Seahawks win the SuperBowl this Sunday was a dream come true. I’m a hardcore Hawks fan, for those who don’t know me. The victory got me thinking about the parallels with what we’re trying to achieve at Apptio. The business world can learn a lot from pro sports. Many of the techniques that Coach Pete Carroll employed in building the Seahawks are great learning moments for me in how we think about building Apptio.

Be Unwaveringly Committed to a Strong Vision and Philosophy

For the Seahawks, the vision of building a championship team was based on a strong defense and a killer running game. Most importantly, in this system, no one individual (i.e. the Quarterback) was positioned as being greater than the collective team. Another important tenet was to stay true to the vision, despite tough times. Remember a 41-7 loss to the Giants a few years ago at our home stadium? The core philosophy of the team was to improve every day: Have the best day of practice, have the best game, learn from your mistakes, and keep improving. This paid off for them.

At Apptio, we started with a big, audacious vision: make Technology Business Management (TBM) pervasive and make our customers wildly successful so they can create value for themselves and their organizations. This hasn’t been easy, but we persevered. And Apptio now has more than 175 blue-chip companies as customers.

Sunny Gupta, CEO

Build a Driven Team

For the Seahawks’ victory, it was all about getting the right talent and team in place. They built talent from within, but also supplemented with external talent when needed. Every individual brought unique characteristics to the table. Many players were overlooked by other teams; they all had a chip on the shoulder and something to prove. Most importantly they were all hungry. They all had a deep desire to succeed.

We have a very similar approach at Apptio – ensuring we have the best team to fulfill the vision. We develop our talent from within, but also bring in key talent from the outside. We want people with unique experiences who can help take Apptio to the next level. We thrive with people who have something to prove and want to help us win in the market, quite like the Hawks players. We want people who will challenge us on what’s not working and make that better.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Lastly, the Hawks were brought together and learned to work deeply as a team. Professional coaches say: “do your job, don’t try to do other players’ jobs.” This is when mistakes are made on a football field. This is how players get out of position. If you play your assignments and trust your team members to do the same, then you’ll be champions.

If things break down; the Secondary does not call out the Defensive line or vice-versa – they trust their teammates to do their job. If players don’t buy into the vision and culture, those players are no longer with the team. In a bold move, the Hawks cut star player T.J. Houshmandzadeh with $7 million remaining on his contract. The whole world wondered why they would let such a star player go, but at the end of the day, he did not fit the Hawks culture. He did not buy into the philosophy.

At Apptio, we want a team that really buys into our vision and culture – that is the one thing that is non-negotiable. It is truly the most important lesson I have learned over the last 6 years at Apptio. We want people who will over-deliver against our customer commitments. We also continue to strive towards building a culture of innovation. Through teamwork, we fulfill our vision each day.

No Team Is Complete Without the Fans

A big part of the Seahawks’ success came from the emotional investment and support of the Seattle fans – the “12th Man.” The 1st play safety was due to the noise 12’s created. All the emotional commitment we (the fans) have made to the Hawks has paid off. Even though the players played the game, it feels like this trophy belongs to us…the 12’s. The fans helped win the Lombardi for Seattle and that’s an amazing feeling. I am excited about the offseason and I don’t want it to end because there is nothing left to prove. We are truly the champions.

Making our customers connected to our cause – like the 12th Man connects to the Hawks – is key to our strategy. Many of our customers are emotionally invested in TBM because it is driving their careers and transforming their organizations. The TBM Council started with 6 members, just over 6 years ago, and now it’s over 1,100 members strong. Those are all people that believe in TBM as much as we do at Apptio.

We have not completed the journey, and neither have the Seahawks. Through success and learning from failures, the best team always wins. Onwards until the next season!!!