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Five Things HR Can Learn from Professional Sports

If you’re a sports fan–or even if you’re not–there’s something powerful in watching a team of people work together for a common goal. Each member has their role to play, sometimes out in the spotlight and sometimes on the sidelines, but regardless of their position, they are pushing one another forward, towards their collective definition of success.

There’s a lot to be learned from professional sports. While it’s easier to define success in athletics–trophies, cups, contracts, and sponsorship to name just a few–success in HR isn’t always so clearly noticeable. Here are five key areas that HR can focus on to help build an award-winning team:


1. Talent acquisition


Employees, like athletes, join a company for many different reasons. Sometimes it’s the brand and reputation of an organization known for its success or it’s the role itself, the chance to step out into the limelight and help to create something new.

It’s important that as an organization, you develop your core values and make that a part of your recruitment strategy and your employer brand effectively supports them. Don’t be afraid to highlight what makes you the best choice for a highly sought-after candidate: sometimes it’s the strength of your brand, the way you work together as a team or it could be that you’re offering them a chance to build something and to be a part of a rising, winning team.


2. Performance management


We all know the amount of attention that professional sports put on performance. There are diagnostic tools, analyses, and sports analysts dissecting the player as well as the game down to the micro level. Your performance management system should be no different. Like professional athletes have an area of specialty, so too do your employees. Maximize their strengths and work on the gaps as it relates to their role and the team’s overall success.

Leaders, like coaches and team managers, must know the strengths of their employees and make time to help them develop as professionals. It can be hard to do given the already busy and hectic schedules, but a successful team cannot exist without a good leader at the helm.


3. Balance


An important distinction between professional sports and the workforce is that professional athletes get downtime, known as “off-season”. Employees get holidays and paid vacation, but the business must keep going even when an employee is not working. This can make it harder for employees to strike the right balance to ensure they don’t get burned out.

Recovering in professional sports is about physiotherapy, eating the right diet, and rest. In the working world, it’s about striking that balance between your day-to-day employee responsibilities and home. It’s important for managers (and employees) to notice and address when staff show signs that could lead to a burn out.

Things to look for:

  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Frequent sick days
  • Late starts and early finishes
  • Decreased productivity

Remember to take time off. Raise your hand and ask for help. Talk with your manager (or your employee) to find out what’s at the heart of the burn out problem. And stick to a schedule that allows time for you to unwind until you can get your head back into the game.

4. Technology


Physiotherapists use the latest machines and methodologies to aid in the speed of recovery. Post play analytics, on-field cameras, and instant replays to give athletes the opportunity to do their jobs better and makes the results of a match more accurate.

Using the latest technology around data and analytics underpins every aspect of HR. It allows companies to identify where their top talent is coming from and how to reach them faster. It highlights their strengths and can aid in overcoming weaknesses. It decreases the amount of space between those working in different locations by creating platforms that allow for instant dialogue. By investing in HR enabling technologies, HR professionals can provide the support and analytics faster and more accurately than ever before.


5. Communication


Secrets and hidden agendas are the fastest way to sabotage a team’s success–whether it be a professional sports team or one in the office environment. The ability to create a workplace that values open, honest, and timely feedback is one of HR’s most strengths, and sometimes often overlooked. A coach would never wait until the end of the season to tell a player that he needed to work on his jump shot, and so it would be counterproductive to wait until the annual performance review cycle to tell an email he needs to focus on his accuracy or meeting his deadlines.

Lead your team and the organization by encouraging more discussions with employees. Conduct post project analysis where the team gets to discuss what went right, wrong, and the different challenges they faced. Tell an employee when they make a mistake, but help them maintain their self-esteem. And feedback doesn’t always have to be about what they did wrong. Just like in a post-game interview, the interviewer will praise a player for game well-played, HR leaders should do the same with their employees. A good job can go a long way.


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