Wednesday, September 24, 2008

HR lessons from the world of sports

This post was originally published on the Workosaur blog. Workosaur is the coolest new job portal around - its a niche site focusing only on 7 figure jobs

The world of sports is extremely performance driven. It’s the hardest “industry” to continually stay at the top. No other industry is as competitive. Winning in sports is everything. There is no place for non-performers – winners thrive and losers perish. Business organizations also aspire to create a similar kind of culture – one which is completely performance driven and breeds excellence. However, few HR teams know how to go about doing so. What they need to do is take a break from what they have been doing all along and start doing what people are doing in the world of sports. So what are the key things that people in the world of sports do?
  • Great players don't always make great managers and vice versa - In most organizations, the best individual contributors are often promoted to become managers. The world of sports runs differently – those guys have long known that the skill set required to become a great manager is drastically different than the skills necessary to be a great player. A lot of great managers have been very ordinary players but in corporate organizations managers have more often than not been great workers also. HR in organizations needs to learn this - to promote based on people and management skills and not just on their ability to contribute individually.
  • To win it is important to focus on the key positions that play the most significant role in securing victory – Sports teams know that it is not possible to have top performers in every position and also that attempting to do so is a futile exercise. HR teams are not so focussed and end up spreading their resources thin. Successful teams have always concentrated on filling the key positions with top performers and HR needs to do the same – start prioritizing jobs by their potential impact on the success of the business.
  • Your performance statistics will never improve if you keep hiding them - The best sportsmen always love to compete and compare themselves against others – by keeping score. The world of sports is obsessed with tracking performance figures and that ensures that non performers have nowhere to hide. Compare that to the corporate world, where the HR keeps all the performance statistics under wraps. No information about target achievements and appraisals are ever made public. This also forces the HR to keep salary increments a secret. Non performers keep getting away. Thus to build a performance based organization you need track, measure and distribute output and performance reports.
  • Rewards and recognition programs should not have a fixation for parity - In sports the best players often get paid many times more than the mediocre performers. In business, the difference is far less. HR uses tools like normalization curves and target percentiles to justify their action of keeping salary differentials low. It is difficult to get the top talent (as required for point 2) if they are not paid significantly more and treated differently than the average performer. It also corroborates the fact that in sports, performance is rewarded and paid for accordingly. HR often has no justification for its payment practises and hence is forced to keep them secret 9 another example of point 3)
  • Firing poor performers is a good thing and not a bad one – In sports, teams are always striving to improve – even if it’s by the teeniest bit – it’s a pre-requisite for teams that want to continue the winning habit. They are always looking to weed out the bottom performers and replace them with better talent. HR managers on the other hand believe that sackings are bad for morale and keep delaying it – giving poor performers’ chance after chance. How’s that for the motivation of the star performers – seeing their efforts get negated by that of shoddy performers, who are not even made to pay for it.
  • In sports, Winning isn’t everything… it’s the only thing – Sports teams are never satisfied with second place. It is this kind of “performance culture” that brings the best out of players. Unfortunately HR departments are quite happy with an above average performance. Average goals often result in below average results. There is no motivation to exceed expectations.
  • Don’t reward complacency with training sessions – Great sportspersons have the personal will and drive to get better. They don’t have to be tutored like school children to work on improving themselves. HR teams are preoccupied with training sessions. They believe that grown up and career conscious men don’t have enough self motivation to improve on their own and have to be sent to training programs to achieve that. Well I have news for them. If you have a company full of such men, you are in big trouble.
Disclaimer – We are talking of teams and organizations that want to win, not ones who are happy being mediocre.

P.S. - The 'Sports Blog : for the common fan' is now moving to a new home. Starting the second week of October, the common fan's views on the world of sports will be found on Look forward to seeing you guys in our new home.


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