February 10, 2021 | Alex Paradies

Seattle Seahawks vs. Covid: How to Enforce Policies the Right Way

Does your company face the challenge of enforcing policies meant to protect employees? In 2020 businesses faced the daunting challenge of operating safely during a pandemic. For a contact sport like football, the thought of how to socially distance, travel, and minimize risk seemed all but impossible. However, the Seattle Seahawks were able to accomplish something that no other NFL Team achieved. The Seahawks were the only NFL team to have 0 COVID cases the entire 2020 season.

You are constantly asking people to do something they are not sure they want to do,” said Sam Ramsden, the team’s director of player health and performance. “They are here to play football. They are not really worried about wearing a chip or wearing a mask.”

There are 4 elements to protecting against complacency and enforce policies.

  1. Clear communication of the policy
  2. Develop positive incentives to drive culture
  3. Accountability across the board
  4. Focus on better safeguards not reliance on people doing the right thing

Let us examine how the Seattle Seahawks tackled these challenges.

Clear Communication of Expectations

The first challenge in building a culture of excellence is getting everyone on board. Your employees must all understand what is at stake and what is the cost of noncompliance.

Head Coach Pete Carroll stated the challenge is “Some people thought covid was the worst thing that ever happened. They were scared to death. Some people said no way it is a bunch of BS.” I realized I had to create a global conscience to keep us in line

This is more than just telling people about the problems or hazards. It is more than just sit down meetings over PowerPoint slides. Communication of expectations is a daily discipline.

“We needed to recognize the people that might not be on board, meet them where they were, and bring them along with us. Get a real team effort going”

Enforcing policies goes beyond simple signage and speeches.

Develop Positive Incentives to Drive Culture

The competitive environment of professional sports lends itself to looking at how to motivate players to follow the rules. There are obvious negative consequences to noncompliance: Fines, increased covid risk, the possibility of not getting to play. However, Seattle didn’t just rely on negative consequences. A key component of Carroll’s enforcement of policies was making compliance a competition. He made it a challenge to display safe and healthy behaviors. Position groups competed to see who could have the fewest close contacts.

Positive incentives are powerful motivators to enforce policies within an organization. “These types of efforts to keep each other safe off the field only further strengthened the trust and bond throughout the roster,” said wide receiver, Tyler Lockett. He went on to say:

“That’s the biggest thing that I think we all took away. Football is great. Football is fun. But we’re able to go out there and be as great as we can be because I know this person beside me has my back. That’s what I think allowed us to be the type of team that we were this year, and it allowed us to go over and beyond with all of these COVID measures.”

Ensuring safety is about balancing positive and negative policy enforcement.

Accountability Across from Top to Bottom

One of the early challenges in the 2020 NFL season was mask compliance. In fact, Seattle’s own head coach was fined $350,000 for violating the rules for wearing face masks on the sidelines. This response to failure is important.

“We wear masks all day at practice, we wear them around the building,” Carroll said. “I know it’s extremely important to wear masks. Sometimes you’ve just got to be reminded. Sometimes you’ve got to get coached up.”

Enforcing policies isn’t just about ensuring that the employees are accountable. Management must also be held accountable … maybe to an even higher standard. The examples management sets through their actions, auditing, and coaching demonstrates their care for the team and their belief in the policy.

Focus on Better Safeguards, Not People

One of the biggest takeaways from the Seahawks program is the number of additional safeguards they put in place. They weren’t just relying on people to “do the right thing” when they were on road. They focused on the ways people could transmit the virus and refocused their safeguards around limiting exposure.

Their strongest covid safeguards focus on guarding their players and staff. These included:

  • Daily testing – removing the targets
  • Virtual team meetings – removing the targets
  • Physical changes to the building – guarding the target
  • Utilizing take out/room service – guarding the target
  • Player tracking – improving human performance

By focusing on building defense-in-depth through layers of safeguards the organization was protected from the failure of a single safeguard. Every company strives for zero harm. It takes more than just people being careful to achieve that. Organizations must focus on putting in place systems that support and protect their employees.

Congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks, for being the only NFL team to have zero COVID cases the entire season.

Current Events, Operational Excellence, Root Cause Analysis
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