Now in its ninth year, the Atlanta Hawks’ sales POD Leadership Development Program has evolved from a basic mentor-mentee program to a more formal and mature program that has helped not only create internal leadership candidates, but a web of alumni spread across professional sports.
Along with eight of 11 tickets sales leadership positions in Atlanta, there are 20 graduates of the program in positions of manager and above in sports, including with the Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, Miami Marlins and Philadelphia 76ers.
Eric Platte started as an entry-level sales representative with the Hawks in 2010. Now vice president of ticket sales, Platte said the program has created “an opportunity” for the organization.
“You get the best talent because of your track record. We’re selling results,” he said. “I’m fully aware we’re losing talent to other teams because we have a gridlock, but long-term, it’s the right strategy.”
Each summer, the Hawks entry-level sales representatives enter the Players Only Development 1.0 portion of the program. They’re paired with POD Leaders, who are chosen from an application process among sales representatives seeking leadership opportunities. On Tuesdays prior to work, they meet for a sales lesson of some form.
On Thursdays, the POD Leaders then meet with sales leadership staff to chat about the day, but also talking about real life leadership situations, such as how to give feedback, running a sales contest, how to address someone who’s late or not paying attention and conflict resolution.
This year, Platte said they approved nine POD Leaders, while declining a few from the application process, which requires meeting revenue goals, being a good co-worker and manager approval.
“After those 12 weeks, you’ve done the ABCs of leadership,” Platte said. “It gives people something to work toward. If they don’t get access to the program or do graduate and don’t get the upcoming manager role, they just keep driving.”
Along with stockpiling a department full of leadership candidates, Platte said up to 75 percent of graduates end up realizing leadership isn’t a track they’re interested in pursuing. The program also gives executive leadership an inside look at the candidates they should most focus on.
With a load of representatives seeking potential promotions, the Hawks ended up with a gridlock. So three years ago, the program expanded to POD 2.0.
“We had this bench of awesome candidates, but we didn’t have enough internal opportunities,” Platte said. “The idea behind 2.0 is imagine a coach going to the NBA Finals. They’re scripting plays, timeout schedule, rotation. We thought it’d make sense for aspiring ticket sales leadership to do the same.”
The program takes the participants through the pillars of the organization, how to recruit, the interview process and on-boarding. At the end of the 20-week program, potential leaders have a 20 to 40 page playbook of how to be a leader.
“When that job opportunity does become available, we don’t have to think about what those things are,” Platte said. “It’s all laid out.”
In 2014, Myers Dean joined the Hawks as an intern before joining on the entry-level sales staff. He jumped into the leadership development program and soon took toward shaping himself after his POD Leaders. Now, Dean is manager of new memberships with the Hawks.
Dean said the seamless transition into leadership roles is a definite benefit to the program, but so too is the footprint of alumni spread across sports.
“Selfishly, we could probably hold on to them longer, but we don’t look at people as a number, we look at them as people and do whatever we can do to help them get to whatever they want to do at the next level. We don’t want to hold them back. Now we have so many, they call us when they need account executive, and most of the time we can send them a few right away.”
Dean said what sets the program apart from other team’s leadership programs is the sheer time and effort that goes into it. As he helps run the program, Platte agrees and tells teams — at least once a month on calls — as much when they express interest in creating a similar program.
“It’s a lot of work,” he said. “Nothing easy about it. But we think the results on people development and revenue make it worth it.”
And when Dean received his latest promotion to a position created for him, the Hawks backfilled his old position within moments — no time wasted.