It can be argued that no organization in the National Football League has had more success than the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the “modern era” of professional football, your organization’s accomplishments are measured with one metric – winning the Super Bowl. Nobody’s done that more than the black and gold.

Since 1970, no team has a better record than the Steelers. Not only have they won the most regular season games, but also the most playoff games, divisional titles, played in the most conference championships, and are tied for the most Super Bowl appearances. Not surprisingly, no team has sent more players to the Pro Bowl in the history of the game.

However, the Steelers are not in a big market. They don’t sign top free agents. They typically draft towards the bottom end of the talent pool. Their coaches stay on board for a long time, somehow managing to continually get their message across, even after their players should have long tuned them out. Even when their top players are injured, somehow they manage to have more talent waiting in the wings. Members of the team rarely speak out against the club, and Steelers fans are among the most rabid and faithful in all of professional sports. How do they do it?

Like all great institutions, they have a success model that they do not stray from.

1. They commit to the “long view”.

The Rooney family has owned the Pittsburgh Steelers since its inception in 1933. Since 1969, they have had exactly 3 head coaches: Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin. They’ve all won the NFL Coach of the Year Award. As a point of comparison, the Washington Redskins have had 13 head coaches in that span.

They find the right guy for their system and give them the time and support to succeed. Clearly, having a consistent message has led to the players understanding exactly what is expected of them. They are not confused about what it means to represent the team, what their role is, who is in charge, and what will not be tolerated. Every team member seems to be pulling on the “same side of the rope”.

2. It’s not about getting superstars. It’s about finding players that best fit the culture.

The Steelers aren’t only patient with their coaches. That philosophy extends to the players as well. They don’t focus on college accolades, 40-yard dash statistics, or bench press reps. What do they measure? Character. Reliability. Coachability. Do they fit the scheme? How will they fit with the other players? Eric Berry, a top draft pick a few years ago, remarked that the Steelers were the only team measuring knee size. It’s that kind of focus that nets them the players they need to excel.

Once they find their targets, they give them time to develop, rather than going for “quick fixes” or the hot free agent players. They don’t trade away draft picks for superstars. In fact, the Steelers have not gone without a first round pick since 1967. They look for potential, and they develop it better than anyone.

3. You’re opponent can’t win if you score more than they do.

We all love high scoring, exciting games. However, if you’re opponent can’t score than you can never lose. When you’re nickname becomes the “Steel Curtain”, it’s evident that defense is a priority. After all, defense wins championships in most cases.

The Steelers have been honored with 7 Defensive Player of the Year awards since 1972. Their style of play has consistently been aggressive, fast, and blitz happy. While that style of play poses some risk, it also puts a tremendous amount of pressure on their opponents which can lead to turnovers.

In 1976, the Steelers’ defensive “front four” was featured on the cover of Time Magazine, and is arguably the best defensive squad every assembled. That year, they posted five shutouts, and only gave up 28 points in their last 9 games. When you make zero mistakes, winning is a lot easier.

4. Running the ball successfully is important, but you have to throw to score.

Some of the most iconic players in Steelers history have been running backs like Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis, and Rocky Bleier. But the most honored Steelers have been their quarterbacks, Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger. Why? Because they made plays that won championships. After all, Super Bowl highlight reels rarely emphasize the three yard run up the middle that relaxed the pass rush that gave the quarterback time to make a play. They contain Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Hines Ward, and Santonio Holmes scoring touchdowns.

5. Despite external circumstances, the “standard” is the “standard”.

Injuries devastated the Steelers in 2011. However, they never used it as an excuse for poor play. Their “standard” is that when one player goes down, the next person in line has a duty to maintain the same level of play.

After a blow-out loss in their opening game, the media started using words like “Old and Slow,” “Sieve-Like Offensive Line,” “Lost Their Edge,” and “Walking Wounded”. The next game they blew out their opponent. And you can trace the reason why back to another time-honored cliché: The Standard Is the Standard.

The translation of “The Standard” is simple: Injuries are no excuse. Play above the line. Play winning football.

6. Never betray your “tribe”.

Few teams travel better than the Steelers. No matter what stadium they play in away from Pittsburgh, you can be sure to see your share of gold “Terrible Towels” in the stands.

Some have said that when the steel industry collapsed in Pittsburgh, it scattered Steeler fans throughout the country who were seeking work elsewhere. Maybe so, but I think it goes deeper.

I think most of us like to think we’re strong. I think we like to believe that hard work, dedication, and tough mindedness will lead to success. And no team embodies that like the Steelers do.

More importantly, they consistently deliver what we expect. When we see the black helmet with the U.S. Steel logo, we expect to see hard, aggressive play. We demand that they give their best effort and lay it all on the line. Even though they don’t always win, we always feel like we got our money’s worth.

When I was at Rutgers University in the early 1990’s, I was talking to a former Scarlet Knight named Alcides Catanho at a local watering hole. He had been playing with the Patriots that year and I was picking his brain about what the NFL was like, and especially about a game he played that year against Pittsburgh. He said something that I never forgot – “nobody hits harder than the Steelers.”

So, what does this all have to do with building your organization?

1. Is your leadership committed to the long view, or just next quarter? Are you making investments today in people and strategy that will pay off for years to come, or are you sacrificing future growth by jumping at “quick fixes?” Is your message clear?
2. How are you identifying talent? Are you only hiring people from within your industry, or just those that have the biggest rolodex? Do you have training program in place that is continuous? Are you using psychometric testing to identify potential, or are you staring at a stack of resumes? Are you giving people the tools and time to develop, or are you handing them a phonebook to call from?
3. Are you reactive? Are you resting on yesterday’s laurels, or are you putting pressure on your competition with innovation? Are you losing customers or retaining them?
4. Do you have the ability to land large sales, or are you positioned as a commodity? Do you have the people and processes in place to make big splashes in the marketplace?
5. Are you making excuses? Are you blaming the economy, industry, or employees you have? Or, is your strategy built on how to capitalize on opportunities that exist?
6. Are you creating “raving fans?” Do your customers visit your website, read your blogs, and wait in line for your next product launch? Will you lose your customers over a nickel, or will they stay with you? When they write about you, what will they say? How are you enhancing the customer experience?

And always remember, the “standard” is the “standard.” What’s yours?

Author's Bio: 

Dave Eisley has over 15 years of experience in building high performing sales teams. His experience in startups, franchise development, and inside and outside sales in both residential and commercial settings have put him in front of thousands of salespeople. He knows what works, and more importantly, what doesn't.