Football, SportsMy son loved playing high school football, and during those years we established a tradition of camping on the couch to watch the NFL Combine. If you’re not familiar, the Combine is where fans can watch NFL prospects practice in front of coaches and scouts, and we always post up near the linebackers and linemen.

Though I’ve not played myself, watching the Combine and watching my son play has taught me a few things about football. Along the way, I picked up the acronym, KYP, which stands for “know your personnel.”

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For football players, that means knowing your people and their positions. Who should be where. Who does what. Who is the best person to handle a certain play. In the high-stakes structured chaos of a football game, knowing and acting on this knowledge makes the difference, and the more I have watched how coaches and players use KYP to their advantage, the more I see it in my own work.

The idea of knowing your employee’s strengths and weaknesses is not a new idea, but truly leaning into it the way a football coach might is still rare in the business world.

For example, our internal sales team is made up of of several people who on paper have the same or similar job descriptions. When it comes to styles, strengths, weaknesses, and preferences, two people filling the same role can find the same level of success in two very different ways.

When you are in the role of leading, managing, or simply collaborating with those individuals, understanding how they are different can change how you go about running that game-winning play.

If one salesperson loves to travel and the other prefers to work the phones, you should use that before you decide who to send to a conference. On the surface, that sounds like a simplistic example, but if you think about everything that goes into making a conference a success for the business, you will likely see that just as a football position is ideal for certain kinds of players, a conference is ideal for certain kind of employees.

Who on your team should go? Why? If one of your team members shies away from conferences, is this an opportunity to push for growth or would that time be better spent utilizing their other strengths? At the end of this process, you will likely decide that particular team members are better fits for that opportunity.

When you put the right person in front of the right opportunity, good things happen, but you won’t get to those rewards if you don’t take the time to KYP.

To do that, you need to be proactive about how you engage your people. Here are four best practices to get you started:

1. Talk to your people.

Observing how a person performs is not the same as having an open dialogue about how they see themselves and what they see as their strengths. When you have a discussion about where they perform best, you can learn more about their abilities than if you sat back and looked at reports. This takes trust, and that can take time to build, but the investment is worthwhile.

2. Look for growth potential.

Just because an employee has a weakness does not mean that they cannot improve upon that weakness. However, growth cannot come without desire and capacity. If you push in the wrong places with the wrong person, the experience will be painful for everyone. Look to bring weakness into a tolerance band, and really focus on amplifying what makes a person great.

3. Be flexible.

Asking someone to play a position means trusting them to use their judgment. Just as a coach can’t remotely control every player on the field, so should we as business leaders avoid trying to micromanage every aspect of our employees. Instead, we need to give them room to make choices and to solve problems in their own ways. As Steve Jobs said, “We don’t hire great people to tell them what to do. We hire them to tell us what to do.”

4. Learn more about yourself.

Even if you are in a leadership position, you have a role play. You need to learn your own strengths and weaknesses and put yourself in the right spot to be the most effective contributor possible. To do that, you need to reflect on your work and talk to your peers about what they see in your work. Ultimately, you work for your team.

In sports, the impact of KYP is a beautiful thing. It looks like every player is telepathically connected, and the entire team moves in sync. The same can happen in business if we put the right people in the right positions and let them do what you hired them to do. This balance of the right people in the right places at the right times should impact the whole of your business, all the way down to how you hire.

— Read 6 Ways to Capture the Rewards Hiding in the Unknownon ThinkAdvisor.


John Pojeta

John Pojeta is vice president of business development at The PT Services Group. Before he joined PT, he owned and operated an Ameriprise Financial Services franchise for 16 years.