6 examples that show how HR resembles running a football club

 As an avid sports fan, the news that really caught my attention the previous summer were the changes happening at Manchester United. A new team is being built with a new Manager, Jose Mourinho, and new, exciting players like Paul PogbaZlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. It might sound silly, but I couldn’t help seeing a parable of an HR-system and the process of building – or in the case of Man Utd, rebuilding – a sports team.

Exhibit 1: Employee Recruitment

Recruitment is a crucial part of HR, as we all want to find the best talents for our teams. Not an easy task – that’s exactly why professional football teams scout hundreds of players for each player they sign. Correspondingly, you should put as much effort into crafting your job announcements, reading applications and conducting interviews and tests as you place on the ultimate decision on which applicant to hire. Moreover, a thorough recruitment process well done is not just about finding the best talent, it’s also about projecting the best possible employer image.

Exhibit 2: Employee On-boarding 

Once you have found and hired the right people, another crucial phase begins: the on-boarding process. It is essential to give your new employees the necessary information and tools as well as assimilate them into your team and your organisation’s culture. In my view, Jose Mourinho has done an excellent job in bringing both Pogba and Zlatan to the club in one transfer window. Hiring two star players at the same time reduces the pressure that either player might feel about carrying the team on their shoulders and gives them time to adjust to the new.

Exhibit 3: Professional Coaching and Training

For the newly hired, joining a new organisation or team is always exciting. It’s a moment where you want show the people that you are the right choice. For team leaders it is important to support, co-operate and measure the performance of your new talent right from the beginning.

This is where the HR coaching process kicks in. How do you plan to coach your team? How will you help your team to succeed in their critical tasks and motivate every individual to reach their personal best? One crucial aspect of HR coaching is the training process. While you are probably not training your employees on the field every day, a solid training process allows you to develop your team’s culture, skills and teamwork as you would in a football club.

Exhibit 4: Resolving conflict

When you deal with various individuals with different backgrounds and talent levels, it is important to accept that conflicts might occur. A conflict resolution process is very important for both the coach and the team members. An internal conflict or problem can actually even be a good thing as long as you have a good resolution process that solves the problem. Every successful resolution welds team members closer together and helps them see the situation through their colleagues’ eyes. Miraculous turnarounds are commonplace in sports, but a manager that gets people working together again can achieve similar results in business as well.

Sometimes conflicts can only be solved by personnel changes. Building a firm and fair severance process helps you deal with these situations.

Exhibit 5: Compensation

Compensation rewards process is an interesting subject in sports and business alike. How do you reward your people for their daily work and/or exceptional achievements? In football, goals and assists are easy to track, but in business the targets might be foggier. Getting to know your team members well helps in setting up individual performance goals and rewards.

In much the same way as in football a player can be rewarded with more playtime per game, or with more responsibility, in business the reward doesn’t always have to be monetary. However, not recognising your people’s achievements can be costly, as you risk losing your people. Just look at Pogba, who originally left Manchester United as he wanted more time on the pitch (only to be brought back with 10 times the money 4 years later).

Exhibit 6: Analysis and documentation

In order to run a successful organisation, you need to be able to collect data on your team’s performance, and more importantly analyse and document the performance. In football, managers go back and watch videos from the successes and/or slumps and examine the copious amounts of data that is collected of each player in each game. The same tactics work in business: it is critical to be able to analyse and follow your team members’ performance and development. Analysis is easier and safer if all this data is stored in a single, accessible, and trustworthy database.
I find the parallels between Human Resources and the management of a sports club very intriguing. The same processes – i.e. hiring, on-boarding, coaching correction, training, conflict resolution, compensation reward, analysis and documentation – are important in building a great HR-system that helps HR and management take their business further.