Game changer

David Morehouse sounds like a man whohas the only job he would ever want. Afterall, the president of the PittsburghPenguins grew up in Pittsburgh, and, as akid, snuck into the team’s games.

“When I was sneaking into games, I neverin my wildest dreams dreamt that I wouldbe the president of the Penguins,” saysMorehouse, who was named to the position in April 2007.

Though Morehouse no longer needs toslip by security guards to watch SidneyCrosby and the defending EasternConference champions, he still carries thesame passion for the team, which has anestimated value of $195 million, accordingto Forbes.

“When I first started working for thePenguins, I felt it was an honor,” he says. “Iwas very lucky. I was the luckiest guy in theworld to have the opportunity that I had.”

After working in the Clinton-Gore WhiteHouse and serving as a senior adviser tothe John Kerry for President campaign in2004, Morehouse joined the Penguins inDecember 2004 as senior consultant onthe new arena project.

Morehouse thought he would be inPittsburgh for the short term while helpingwith the arena project, but the organizationoffered him the president’s job.

“I didn’t have my eye on Pittsburgh whenI was in Washington thinking I’m going tocome back and work for the Penguins,” hesays. “Personally, for me, it was a goodopportunity for my kids to get to knowtheir grandmother.”

Morehouse used his strategic-planningand vision-setting skills for the arena project and did the same thing as he guides theorganization as president.

“I develop a strategic plan,” he says. “Inthat process of developing the strategicplan, there are a lot of different factors thatgo into it — key ingredients or research, orgetting to know yourselves first, getting toknow your customers, and getting to knowwhat your capacity is and what you cando.”

Here’s how Morehouse used strategicplanning and employee involvement toguide the Penguins to off-ice success.

Do research
Morehouse doesn’t trust anecdotal strategies. So, when he was first named president, he guided the organization in brandresearch to gather concrete informationabout what people thought about the team.You need that information to set an accurate and clear vision for your organization.

“We wanted to see what people thoughtour brand was in the marketplace,” hesays. “We researched people within theorganization to see what we thought ourbrand was and then we matched them up,and as we are rolling into a new arena intwo years, we decided what we wanted todo was enhance the things that are prevalent in our brand that we liked. (Then)eliminate those that are prevalent in ourbrand that we didn’t like, and roll out anenhanced brand strategy as we try to market this new arena and this hockey team.”

The team hired a consultant to conductthe process over several weeks to get tothe root of the team’s brand.

“We did focus groups, we did polling, wesat down, we analyzed,” he says. “We really dug deep into what the essence of ourbrand was, and what we came out withwas much different than what we expected. What we expected to do when we wentin was kind of wrap the Steelers working-class brand around the Penguins.”

But what the research showed was thatthe team occupied a unique place in themarket, which was more about innovation,technology and energy.

“We did a lot of metaphor research, and itwas interesting to see that we kind of represented something new and different, andwe might as well go with that rather thantry to wrap what is known is already successful, the Steelers’ brand, which is themost successful brand in sports,” he says.“We already occupied our own space, andwe just enhanced that.”

Morehouse recognized the Penguins had aniche, and it would have been a bad move totry to create a vision and brand outside thatniche. You need to create a vision that fitsyour company’s place in the market, which is why the research is necessary. You have totake advantage of your niche and not try tobecome something you’re not.

“We didn’t create it; it was already there,” hesays. “What we did was we kind of enhancedit and just recognized where our space is.”

The research results illustrate an important lesson: Be willing to change your planbased on hard data.

“One of the biggest mistakes peoplemake is trying to stay with a plan that isno longer relevant,” he says. “So, I thinkhaving the flexibility and capacity toimprovise is important, and being honestwith yourself, your customers and yourself is important from the credibilitystandpoint.”

In the focus groups, Morehouse wanted to find out why, in a sports-crazedregion, some people did not considerthemselves hockey fans.

“A lot of them think that the game istoo complicated,” he says. “You knowwhat, the game isn’t too complicated,but maybe we aren’t explaining it wellenough on our broadcasts and in ourmaterial and on our Web site for newhockey fans. Maybe we’re talking to people with old-school hockey jargoninstead of explaining things a little better.”

If you are having trouble explainingyour product to the masses or findingyour niche, you have to go beyondpolling people or forming focus groups.

“You have to do a combination ofthings that digs deep into how peoplefeel about your product, not what theythink about it,” he says. “There is a distinction there that is important because Ithink a lot of research just touches thetop, the 5 percent of decision-making ina human being, which is the intellectualside. Ninety-five percent of decision-making capacity is on the gut level (and)is how people feel about things, and youhave to work harder to figure that out.”

Outside of taking polls and doing focusgroups, you need to get out of youroffice and talk to people as a leader.Morehouse started to build relationshipswith other CEOs and presidents in the

region by meeting with them and asking them what theythought of the Penguins and what were their business needs.

“So, that’s an important key ingredient to beginning to set yourdirection and your strategy,” he says. “You have a body of informationnow from which to work. You’re not guessing. So, that’s an illustration of how you can use research to set a strategy.”

Get employee input
Once Morehouse had the information on which direction to takethe organization, he needed employee input on the vision.

“In the vision-creating process, everyone has to have ownership ofit,” he says. “It’s better to have them help to develop the vision than totell them, ‘This is what the vision is.’”

During the process, Morehouse had constant communicationwith his management team through a weekly meeting where thegroup discussed what they were working on individually.

“Then, it’s delegating,” he says. “Everyone has their own areaof responsibilities, and I have my area of responsibility, and Itake care of mine just like they take care of theirs.

But I think delegating is very important. It’s important not tomicromanage. Oftentimes, I’ll find myself in a discussion, and we’llbe discussing something that is subjective, and I’ll say to myself,‘This really doesn’t matter to me. It will accomplish the same jobwith someone else’s subjective view of this.’

“So, it’s recognizing that you can step
back, and you need toempower, and it’s important for people to feel like they are part ofthe success of the enterprise. So, you need to give people ownership of things and reward them for producing, and I think it helpsthem perform better.”

Morehouse then steps out of the way and lets his team get towork.

“I have a meeting on Monday,” he says. “We go through what ourobjectives for the week [and] what our long-term objectives are.How we’re accomplishing them. We look at data, we look at whatour list was from last week, we delegate, and everyone has theirresponsibility. Next week, when we sit down, if we said, ‘You weresupposed to do something,’ you better have done it. If I was supposed to do something, I better have done it.”

In order to empower employees and to hear their input duringthe vision-creating process, Morehouse doesn’t shoot an ideadown without hearing the employee out.

“You never tell anyone it’s a bad idea,” he says. “When you are in thevision-creating process and people are throwing ideas out, you maynot use their idea, but you don’t belittle anyone for their creative suggestions.

“You make sure everyone has a piece of it. You don’t announce that,‘This is our vision that you are implementing.’ You bring everyonealong with the creation of that vision.”

As much as Morehouse stresses not to squash any ideas during acreative process, he says you may need to scale someone backduring day-to-day activities.

“If it’s a straight management process, you may need to stifleideas for efficiency sake,” he says. “I’ve been in situations where Ididn’t have time to explain. I just had to say no and people had tounderstand there’s not time for arguments.

“Creative process is much different than just day-to-day management. In that creative process, it’s important not to stifle ideas. Inday-to-day management, it’s also important for people to feel likethey have a buy-in and they’re part of moving the train forward, but there are other factors involved, too. And if time is a factor, thenyou don’t have time for explanation, but people need to feel goodenough about themselves where that’s not going to have too bad ofa negative impact.

“So, that happens by just constantly making people feel they arepart of what the organization is doing, they’re important, and whenthey are doing something right, you’re telling them about it, soevery so often when they are doing something wrong, it’s not thatbig of a deal.”

Along with hearing employee input in meetings, you can alsocommunicate with them one on one outside of meetings as a wayto make sure they know they are part of the process.

“I’ve been in situations where I’ve been in offices where peoplee-mailed and never talked to each other, and it wasn’t a good situation,” he says.

“If I want something, I get up out of my office, I’ll walk down thehall, and I’ll see one of the VPs, and I’ll say, ‘I’d like you to do this, orI have an idea about that.’ I almost always get up and walk. I’ll e-mailwhen we have to send something that’s a little more complicated orif it’s fast or if I’m on my BlackBerry, but for the most part, I’m abeliever in face-to-face communications.”

While participating in face-to-face conversations can be moretime-consuming, it does have its benefits.

“They know that you’re there,” he says. “You can’t segregate yourmanagement team from the rest of the organization. So, I like toget out and see what people are doing, and say hi and also to beseen. I also think you lose some nuance if you are just e-mailingback and forth.”

Though Morehouse does like to get up and talk with people, themain idea to remember as a leader is to create a plan and stick withit.

“The key to success is developing a plan collectively, having buyin and then implementing it,” he says. “It’s as simple as that. Andhaving the flexibility to change if the circumstances change. Butyou have to have, basically, a plan to follow.”

HOW TO REACH: Pittsburgh Penguins, (412) 642-1300 or