Noel Nash | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Noel Nash

Background:  

Based in Bristol, Conn., ESPN is a global television network and multimedia company that bills itself as the "Worldwide Leader in Sports.”

The Mistake:

I came to ESPN to help found what was then called the Data Group. About two years in, it was time for the 2010 World Cup. So in 2009, people came to us and said listen: "We'd like to build a marketing campaign to give more interest around the World Cup in 2010. What would you guys think of your group taking all of this data and creating some sort of soccer power index with it?"

Our group had to take all of this international soccer data from every country, and every player that might play in the World Cup and put it into a database. We needed to build some metrics around it, to quantify or project performance. It was a huge project for our new team, very high profile.

We had a lot of discussion at the senior level whether we were going to do it or not. When we finally got the green flag to do it, we went to our relatively new staff and told them what we needed to do, and to get busy.

We just started cranking in and scrubbing all of this data. Over the course of a month or two, we saw something we had never seen before: very uneven work, very uneven progress. The data wasn't the consistent performance that we had seen around everything else that we were doing as a relatively new group at ESPN.

The more we dug into it, the more we realized we never explained the why with our staff. We just said, "Hey everybody, put your heads down, this is a massive project, get busy on it".

And, it was awful.

It took longer than expected, we found lack of commitment from the staff, in terms of really buying into it, and doing it in a way that was timely and very high level, because nobody knew why we were doing it. We never communicated to the people who were doing the work the importance of it, why we were doing it, the impact it was going to have on our fans, or the impact it was going to have on our company.

All we did was tell people: "Get busy, we have a massive project ahead of us.”

The project didn't go very well at all, until we had that discussion.

People will buy into what they feel they are a part of creating.

The Lesson:

I think we did turn it around ultimately. We got the project done. We spent more time talking to people explaining the "why" behind things. I think one of the lessons is that people will buy into what they feel they are a part of creating.

Instead of just being ordered to do all of this stuff, as we sat down and explained the "why" better behind it, people had ideas about approaches and how we could do it more efficiently, and more effectively.

Then, all of a sudden, our projects were back on track. Smooth sailing, essentially, because the people understand why we're doing it, and then can buy into it.

There was no longer command from behind to get this done. It became, "Hey, we're all in this together and we're trying to understand what we can accomplish. Here's some ways we can do it.”

We were open to whatever the best ways were. So, the big lesson ended up being that the people would get behind what they're a part of helping create.

Follow Noel Nash on Twitter at @Noel_Nash.

Pictured: Noel Nash. Photo courtesy of ESPN

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