The many lessons HR can learn from sport

Guest blog by ELAS consultant Emma O’Leary

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The analogies between sport and HR are not lost on most people. Team work, a healthy work environment, equality and diversity are just some of the objectives of the most successful teams, both in business and in professional sport. Here we take a look at what lessons HR can learn from sport.

HR professionals invariably refer to the staff in their care as a team and within this team there are individuals who bring different strengths and attributes, just like on a sporting side. The objective of any team, whether it’s in business or in sport, is to achieve targets through a set of values which all members hold in common. Consider Leicester City Football Club and their delightfully surprising Premiership win this season. The manager, Claudio Ranieri, set both himself and his players distinct objectives within a clear framework throughout the season – firstly to avoid a situation where relegation was a possibility, secondly to finish in the top half, thirdly to achieve a top four position, and only after the second-to-last game did he give his players permission to dream about an EPL win. The message he gave his players is clear – work incrementally towards a target as a team and build on the success you’ve already achieved. Businesses can learn a lot from this approach – not only engendering winning habits but also setting realistic goals which do not intimidate, but motivate, the team members to achieve.

An organisation’s shared vision can likewise inspire employees to perform to the best of their ability not only for the betterment of the company but also for their own personal satisfaction in a job well done. Blackburn Rovers Football Club’s ethos is displayed in its motto ‘Arte et labore’ which roughly translates as ‘By skill and labour’. Employees, like supporters and athletes, must be made to feel that they are proud of the organisation they work for and it is the responsibility of HR departments to communicate that the belief works both ways.

Perhaps the most telling analogy between sport and HR is how important leadership is. Great leaders inspire others to follow their example. When England won the Ashes with a 3 – 2 series victory against Australia last August, the England Captain, Alastair Cook, led by example, avenging a humiliating 5 – 0 whitewash by Australia the previous year. Cook reflected on his leadership methods after this defeat and created an atmosphere both in the dressing room and on the field of play where the England players were able to demonstrate their talent, expressing themselves to effect change. A successful business must similarly have management which is strong and supportive, understands the importance of teamwork, allows for the needs of each team member and recognises everyone’s individual contribution.

In the UK, over 450,000 people are employed in sport, not just as professional athletes, but also as coaches, and backroom and support staff, and the industry contributes over £20 billion to the country’s economy every year. It’s a hugely successful business. And while we consider that HR can learn many lessons from sport, at the end of the day, it’s also important to understand that those people who earn their living from thrilling us (or otherwise) are also need the same support and motivation as the millions who watch it each week.

Author: Editorial Team

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