Tony and Pam Gordon had a big idea. 

At one of their four Gordon Salon locations in the Chicago area, two of the senior stylists didn’t get along. They just didn’t. The owners hoped their big idea would solve the problem. 

Big ideas were nothing unusual at Gordon Salon—they came along every quarter, and not by accident. The husband-and-wife owners disrupted the salon status quo every three months by implementing something new. Following procedures explained by author John Doerr in his book Measure What Matters, they regularly implemented OKRs—objectives and key results—and expanded that to launch “moonshot OKRs” The moonshot idea is to set goals that seem so bold and out-of-reach that it’s like aiming for the moon. A recent Gordon Salon moonshot OKR, for example, was to open a fifth location. It’s that level of big change, and it’s every quarter.

Ultimate Teams

Maybe the Gordons could design a moonshot OKR that would make peace between the two incompatible team members. What would that moonshot look like? They thought about what brings people together. The answer could lie in creating competition among teams, with the two stylists who normally butt heads now cooperating to score for the same team.

“We theorized that an outside force would allow the two to find common ground by working together in an effort to fight off an adversary,” Tony Gordon explains. “We figured a contest against an opposing force would drive these two people together—two people who loved the company but disliked each other. Much like political parties that are always bickering, when opponents are threatened by an outside force, they eventually cross the aisle and come together. The idea was to create a subculture within the greater salon culture.”

And Ultimate Teams was born.

The Gordon Salon team after hours. 

The Gordon Salon team after hours.

Ultimate Teams was the league, and the four salon locations were the teams. Each salon team picked a name, mascot, and uniform, created their own scoreboard and, although they were asked, Tony Gordon laments that “we couldn’t get them to make a team song.” Despite that last missing piece, Ultimate Teams already was becoming fun and exciting—and, just maybe, the league might forge a new connection between two particular stylists on the same team.

It was fall, so scoring was based on the football point system; later, in a second round of Ultimate Teams, scoring would mimic basketball. In both cases, teams earned points for achievements like prebooking, Instagram posting, upselling, and retail sales. The owners made sure to provide up-to-date numbers on the standings.

“We targeted what we wanted to improve,” Tony Gordon says. “It had been a struggle to get staff to post on Instagram, so those posts were one of the metrics.” Touchdown! The teams began to achieve their hard-to-hit goals; revenue increased, and client engagement skyrocketed. 

“Overall, the teams had a blast in motivating each other to succeed, and each location gained a strong sense of unity,” Gordon reports. But something else happened, too, that surprised the owners. Leadership strengths and weaknesses became crystal clear. The Gordons discovered how well some managers’ styles were effective in meeting certain challenges; the most motivated teams had salon leaders who adapted well to the game. The opposite pattern emerged as well.

“It became obvious that one salon team needed coaching on the engagement level,” Tony Gordon says. “They have emerged now, more than a year later, as great leaders. Through Ultimate Teams, we were able to determine whose leadership was lacking, and we coached and even compensated around that. It was a neat exercise.”

Compensation wasn’t involved in the winners’ rewards, though. The locations that landed on top in the competition enjoyed celebrations and trophies, proving that working as a team can motivate as much as money. The Gordons promotes the idea of TEAM as standing for “Together Everyone Achieves More.” 

Post-game Analysis

But alas, this moonshot didn’t land on the moon. The warring stylists never did make peace. Since then, one has left the salon, so the problem resolved itself in another way. But the OKR was still highly successful, moving the salon company forward in the targeted metrics and then some. The full adage bears the lesson: Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss you’ll still land among the stars.

“We wanted a team orientation with people committed to their location,” Gordon says in post-game analysis. “And it worked.”

Without the incentive of developing a peacemaker tool, the Gordons may never have tried Ultimate Teams. And that would have been a shame, because it was so popular that staffers have been asking for a third round. Tony figures it’s about to be baseball season, so his players had better suit up.

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