Anyone that has spent any time with me this fall knows that I am more than excited for the 2014 Horizon Organic/Einstein Bros Bagels team. The process of assembling our team roster has common principles to assembling any team, and it has been helpful for me to step back and define, or admit, what really makes our team strong.
Before we started recruiting we needed to define what (who) we were looking for, and that starts with defining our team culture. It is more about building the right team than finding the “right person.” We used to joke on GS CIAO that a rider had to be at least funny and preferably fast to be on the team. (Everyone is both now.) That is really just a glib way of saying the riders needed to fit in and be fun to be around. Bike racing is really, really hard; and in the U.S. anyway, most of us are doing this for little to no money so my theory is we better be having as much fun as possible while doing it. Every new rider I talked to this year was interviewed much more extensively for attitude and culture fit than their actual race results or power numbers.
Once you have defined your culture and who you are looking for, you have to go find them! Most good HR people will tell you that the truly best candidates aren’t the ones sending you their resumes; they are the ones that are happily employed and aren’t actively looking. The best way to find these top candidates is to utilize your network to the fullest. For instance, every single rider we looked at seriously this fall had a connection to the team through their coach, or another rider already on the team. In most cases, we reached out to them first. Not a single rider that sent their resume in ‘cold’ made even the first cut. (That doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions to this, but you get the idea.) While being fast helps, it really does come down to who you know – for both teams and riders. Riders that are looking to step up to a bigger team, you can make yourself easier to find as well: Introduce yourself to a team director to get on their radar, ask to join up on team ride, brand yourself on social media, or perhaps look for a guest ride spot as a way to test the waters without the full commitment.
One area that I think is glossed over far too often in other programs is planning for longevity and keeping the team you have assembled together. In cycling, most teams are run and funded with fairly short term (<1 year) goals in mind and the most talented and ambitious riders are consistently looking to move up to a bigger, more well-funded team. If you have a good group of riders assembled and a supportive team atmosphere, it will be easier to keep them around than find equivalent replacements. Remember “Make new friends, but keep the old ones!?”
With our program there are a couple things I feel we do well here. The first is that we only work with sponsors that align with the long term vision of the team and are in it for the long term. Getting a big check isn’t really helping anyone if the program dies the following year, so choose your partners carefully! We have had some great long term partners from the inception of the program such as Horizon Organic Dairy and Panache Cyclewear, and they are a big reason we have been able to continue to grow year after year. We are just as excited about Einstein Bros Bagels and Felt Bicycles who as new partners in 2014 have shown great engagement and vision for how they can work with the team.
I also feel very strongly as a team director to always under promise and over deliver. Professional cycling is rampant with stories of teams folding at the last minute after signing their riders or running out of money half way through the season. Being honest and upfront will always pay big dividends in the long term – both for your own reputation and the health of the team.
I was riding with a well-known local pro the other day when he confided in me that he probably would have been better off riding for our program next season – both in terms of his development and the positive culture on our team. That type of feedback keeps me more motivated than ever to continue to grow and build the program ‘our way’!