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HR has Made Me a Nerd: Watching the NFL and How Managers Suck [HorroR Stories]

Purely for my own amusement, and hopefully for yours, I have decided to have an occasional series here in HorroR Stories about how when you work in HR long enough it starts to affect how you view everything in life. Keep sending questions though! I will resume the usual Q&A next time.

Now that the NFL season is in full swing, my husband has pretty much tuned all the televisions in the house to ESPN and thrown away the remotes. I can’t help but get drawn in by all the story lines surrounding football. Also, because I’m in HR, hearing all these story lines makes me think about HR and the lessons companies and mangers can learn from the NFL. Here are some of the lessons I think we can learn from the NFL regarding the workforce today:

No one should ever think they are indispensable, until they are indispensable

The referee strike has revealed all sorts of harsh realities of the modern workforce. I’m going to give you some thoughts without talking about unions. I don’t fuck with unions. Here are my few non-union thoughts:

Turnover is costly. Replacing a good employee costs more than the ad you posted on When you lose a good employee, or even worse a good employee with a lot of experience, the lag time in having the position open and then getting the new person up to speed is costly. And, worse, you may have to replace that star worker with someone who’s been working in the lingerie league because all the other good refs have jobs in the NCAA.

Companies tend to shine the spotlight on their revenue generators: their sales reps and business development types at the expense of the A/P clerks and admin assistants. The NFL was a lot more eager last year to resolve the player lockout then it has been this year to resolve the referee lockout.

Leverage is more than a tv show. Before the “Monday Night-mare” The NFL wasn’t even meeting with the referee’s association to talk about contract negotiation. So what do we learn? Companies have more leverage than you do, until they don’t. The NFL didn’t need to care, until they did. The refs seem to have won the chicken game they’ve been playing with the NFL for the past few months, which proves that sometimes when you are patient, you can benefit from other’s incompetence.

Just because you are really good at what you do, it doesn’t mean you’d be good at managing people doing what you do

This happens ALL the time. “Oh boy, that Karl he’s the best widget maker we have, let’s make him the widget maker supervisor.” Now not only have you lost your best widget maker because he has to focus more time on other things, but all the other widget makers are unhappy because Karl is a terrible supervisor. You see this in the NFL when players become coaches or general managers. The case that comes to mind is Mike Singletary. He was a great defensive player for the Bears back when the Bears were great. Then San Francisco made him a head coach. Dude dropped his pants at a team meeting to make a point! I love that story. I just picture the HR Manager for the 49ers (in my fantasy world they actually have an HR Manager who is involved in player matters) saying: “He did what?!?” Ah, and poor Karl (and Mike) they probably got absolutely no training on how to be a good manager (or coach), have no mentors to help them out. They just get stuck out there with everyone expecting that now the whole team is going to be as good at widget making as he was. I have a very short memo in response:


To: All Senior Managers

From: Me


Thank you.

Companies need to recognize that there is nothing wrong with a role player. And they have to figure out ways to engage and develop role players without necessarily promoting them to a management role. And, if they absolutely insist, or that great role player really wants to be a manager, then they have to give that person the tools they need to succeed: training, support and headcount, whatever.

Just because you are in charge doesn’t mean you are a “Leader.” Just because they call you a “Leader” doesn’t mean anyone is going to want to follow you.

Leadership is one of those things that is tough to crack the code on. To go hand in hand with my point above, there is a difference between managing and leading. Right now I’m thinking about Jay Cutler, and not just because he’s a rat-faced little millennial weasel who whines instead of producing, but because I can’t imagine that any of the other players on the Bears are feeling much love or loyalty toward him right now. In my observances regarding leadership, managers who step up to the plate, take accountability for anything that happens on their team regardless of who’s “fault” it was, who give their employees credit instead of hogging the credit for themselves and who don’t buy into the saying “shit rolls downhill and money rolls up” are the ones that have loyal and productive teams. Good leaders know that the key to success is not only to hire people who are smarter than you, but to let them and the rest of the company know that you know they are smarter than you. I know when my employees succeed that I look good too, and when they fail so do I. Throwing them under the bus makes me look even WORSE, letting the bus roll over me instead, makes everyone want to do better. I should never be afraid that my employees will overshadow me or will take my job. I should WANT them to take my job! That’s my job, right, to train them to be me?

Just look at the difference between a Peyton Manning press conference: “It’s all on me, it’s all on me.” with a Jay Cutler press conference: “Those guys need to get better.” (These, by the way, are not direct quotes, just the “gist” of what they said).  When you take accountability like that, people respect you, most of all the people who work for you respect you, and they want to do a better job for you. Then, when you win, you say, “hey the defense was fantastic today, the offensive line really stepped up,” and you are a fucking GOD. Because who’s on ESPN? This guy. Who does everyone love now? This guy. Nobody really cares WHO did the fantastic job just that it was done, and Peyton gets another car commercial and everyone is happy. I can’t believe I just used Peyton Manning in an example for something positive, when usually I just write him off an over-rated loser. I feel dirty. But, I have to admit his recent behavior (while LOSING) worked perfectly for my example.

Enthusiasm. Use it. Be it. Have it.

What is the #1 piece of advice I give people who ask me for tips going into a job interview? Be enthusiastic about the job and the company. As a hiring manager I am going to want someone who acts like they really want to do this job, like they are going to come in fifteen minutes early on a Monday because they can’t wait to do this job. I’m not going to want to hire the guy that is looking for just any old job and this one looked nice. No siree bob. Even with my current employees, I want them to be enthusiastic about their jobs, about our department, about the company. I try my best to find some fun, a lot of the times I act like a fricking dork to get them to laugh, but I’m willing to sacrifice my cool quotient to get them on board the happy employee train. Why? Because happy employees are productive employees.

You know what football team I want to be on? The San Francisco 49ers. Their coach Jim Harbaugh is jumping up and down, pumping his fists, he’s even got secret handshakes with the quarterback. He was once so excited after a win that his enthusiasm caused him to so vigorously shake the opposing coach’s hand that he almost started a fight. He’s got that crazy look in his eye that tells you he is passionate about the game and about the team and you know it’s infectious. And he’s getting results, just compare their records under Mr. Harbaugh vs. Mr. “Pants Dropper” Singletary. Clearly it’s not just me that wants to play for this guy.

Companies (and employees) aren’t going to do the right thing just because it’s the right thing

Everyone knows that concussions are bad things. Right? And everyone knows that repeated concussions are really bad things. Right? Does anyone give a shit? I mean we all say we give a shit, but then we are cheering and stomping our feet like lunatics as soon as some linebacker plants Aaron Rogers on his head. And Aaron Rogers picks himself up, waves off the medical staff and puts himself out there again.

Employers take calculated risks like this all the time. “Sure Joe is technically non-exempt, but I don’t want to pay him overtime.” “Sure we’re supposed to accommodate Margie’s pregnancy but let’s terminate her anyway and call it a ‘lay-off’.” So tell me, who among you ALWAYS drives 55 (or 65 or 75) on the freeway? Anyone? Anyone? I sure don’t!

And there have been deterrents instituted to save us all from ourselves. There are speeding tickets and class action lawsuits, increased penalties on particularly violent hits, or hits that go for the head. But, as with most things in life, these are things that punish instead of prevent. But prevention is boring. Who wants to watch flag football every Sunday? Not me! Who wants to drive 55? (insert Sammy Hagar joke here ) Not me! Who wants to treat their employees fairly? Not me! Wait…forget I said that.

Usually the ones that complain the most are the ones who perform the least

I’m looking at you, Chad Ochocinco Johnson. What’s great about this is that managers are usually too afraid to let them know they aren’t performing as expected because they’ll just start complaining again. What a racket. These are the employees (or wide receivers) that somehow stick around forever even though they aren’t doing a good job, until finally some manager just has enough and fires them which totally shocks the employee and they try and sue for discrimination or something. Then they head butt somebody and all hell breaks loose. Head butting? Really? Or in the immortal words of me and every other long suffering HR Manager: He did what?!?”

I could extend this a little to give myself the opportunity to call Tim Tebow a worthless sack of you-know-what, because that happens a lot too—the most popular guy is usually the most incompetent. I have the unfortunate misfortune of being both a Broncos and a Jets fan (raised in CO, moved to NY). So it’s not really funny, you know?

OK, I’m done drawing analogies between HR and the NFL. Or I’m done at least sharing them with you all, I’m sure my brain will not be quiet come Sunday (or Thursday, I hate that, by the way, but I still watch. Damn you NFL!). I’m going to go into a dark room now and quietly sob for a few minutes if you need me. Go Broncos!

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