November 1

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Lessons from Leaders – Scott O’Neil

David Millay

November 1, 2021

76ers, Be Where Your Feet Are, culture, Devils, employee experience, Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment, HBSE, leadership, Madison Square Garden, sports biz, sports business, sports entertainment

Industry legend Scott O’Neil joined the latest episode. From former CEO of Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment, overseeing the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia 76ers, to Senior Vice President of the NBA’s Team Marketing and Business Operations division, Scott led teams at several of the most prominent sports and entertainment organizations, gaining valuable insights into leadership and employee development. The insights he shares prove that while winning is important, it isn’t the only driver of success. Here were three of our favorite insights from the show:

Create a Culture of Celebration – (44:12)

To attract and retain top talent, create a culture of celebration. Make people fall in love with the journey, not the destination. Focus on celebrating the small wins in your team’s weekly activities. First win, 5th win, 10th win milestones were all big deals for Scott’s team; it wasn’t just about million dollar sales goals. The culture of celebration was so strong, it had to be toned down after the Office DJ on Fridays led to an eviction notice. When you are going from one event to the next, what small wins are you celebrating? Not just in ticket sales, but in all your other teams?

Encourage constructive conflict – (15:30)

As smart and successful as Scott has been, there have been many times where his strong opinions were wrong. If he were surrounded with “yes men,” those strong opinions could have taken his organization down a wrong path. Instead, Scott encourages leaders to hire talented people, then create an environment that gives them license to disagree and empower them to make decisions they have conviction around. Think of your last management team or leadership team meeting… How much constructive conflict was there? How much flexibility have you given your team to make decisions? 

Data driven decisions > Industry common practices – (43:42)

Before you say you can’t afford a new staff member, have you calculated the ROI? At one point during Scott’s tenure leading the Philadelphia 76ers, they had the largest sales staff in the world for a sports team. He calculated that one sales rep paid for himself/herself in 9.5 weeks, so HBSE just kept hiring until the curve changed. He got pushback from friends who protested because that wasn’t how it was traditionally done. But to Scott, he didn’t care what the industry common practice was, he cared what the math said. How many of your organizational practices are based on “that’s just how we do it” vs. what the data says?  

If you enjoy the podcast episode and want to dive deeper into Scott’s leadership philosophy & stories from illustrious career, check out his new book, “Be Where Your Feet Are: Seven Principles to Keep You Present, Grounded, and Thriving”.

David Millay

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