HR & Football

What has HR got to do with football?

Do you know the rules of football? Well maybe not the off-side rule! We all probably know the rules of football. Lets face it, football is one of those games that is in our culture.

But you didn't always know the rules! You had to learn them. Maybe from playing as a kid, or at school or watching the telly. What we all know is that you need rules in a game of football.

In HR terms the rules of football are like the rules of your organisation. They are the rules that determine how you want people to play your game, how you want them to represent the organisation and what conduct and standards you expect.

In your business / organisation these 'rules of the game' will be documented in your contracts of employment, your HR policies and procedures, your standards of conduct; and you have to decide what goes into your rule book. 

Let's take an example: imagine you are a rugby player and have never heard of football. You are headhunted to go and play on a football team. You walk onto the pitch and do what you do best - pick up the ball and run with it. You are quickly sent off because you are not playing by the rules! Reading this you probably think it's unthinkable that someone would not know that they cannot pick up the ball on a football pitch - but that's only because you know the rules and because you know the rules it's obvious, it's common sense! But remember, common sense is not that common.

When a new employee joins your business from another Company, how do they know not to ‘pick up the ball'? How do they know your rules? Have you given them your rule book? Do they really understand your rules (have you communicated them clearly)? And do you keep them updated when your rules change?

We often take for granted that people will know the rules of our game (our business) - "because it's common sense". The only reason you know your rules is because you have been living, sleeping and breathing your business / organisation - or you have been working in the business for so long that it's part of you. But do you remember your first day? You didn't know where anything was, how you should behave - you may not even have known how to dress!

So the first step in HR for any SME is to make sure you have a clear rule book and that it's communicated and make sure the rules support your game... what you want to achieve, give you flexibility and set clear boundaries - just like on the football pitch.

The Referee

Which leads us onto the Referee. So let's assume that you have a clear rule book (contracts of employment, codes of conduct, standards and your employee handbook and policies) and that this has been communicated clearly and everyone knows the ‘rules'. On a football pitch this is definitely the case.

So why do you need a referee?

Because you do. Because rules will be broken. Sometimes deliberately, sometimes by accident.

But what would happen on the football pitch if the referee did not blow the whistle? There would be anarchy - and we would soon be back to rugby! In business it's the same, you need to blow the whistle and be the referee as soon as the rule is broken. You cannot wait until half time or just hope it won't happen again.

Think about the reaction when the referee misses a foul on the pitch. The feeling of unfairness and injustice felt by the player and the fans. That's how your staff feel when you don't act when someone breaks the rules in your business... and then what happens is that others will do it - what's good for one is good for another...

Rules can and will change

Don't forget that rules can and will change. You may need to introduce new rules, or existing rules may become outdated. There is nothing wrong with changing the rules - provided that you communicate these new rules and do it in the right way.

You wouldn't be happy if they changed the offside rule and didn't tell you and then your goal was disallowed! Equally, if you introduce a new rule in your business you must communicate it. Activity around social networking is a great example of where businesses have recently had to change or introduce new rules, restricting what people can say about the business on social media sites.

In a game of football people know the rules and the consequence of breaking them and accept this. The simple fact is,  if they don't want to follow the rules they will not be able to play and will have to get off the pitch!! They also know what will lead to a free kick, a yellow card or being sent off.

People need to be as clear about this in your business. Every Manager needs to be a referee to make sure the rules and the boundaries are not broken. If the rules are not enforced, there is no point in having them.

But this does not have to be onerous or mean that you should run a military operation (although you might!). It's about getting the rules of your game right and setting boundaries. Within those boundaries individuals can then feel free to use their skills and expertise. Just like the players using their skills within the boundaries of the football pitch.

Knowing your position and purpose

OK, so now we have the rules of the game and everyone knows where they stand. But it's not the whole story.

On our football pitch players also know what position they play. They may be a forward or the goalie. They know what their purpose is - to score goals or to save goals. In business terms they have a job description! And because they know the purpose of their position, they know how they will be measured - by how many goals they score (or for the goalie how many they save). In business, these are your performance indicators or targets. Your performance indicators let people know how they will be measured and how well they are performing.

They also know how they contribute to the team and the consequences of moving out of position. If the goalie were to run up the pitch to score a goal, no one would thank him as he has left the team vulnerable.

Performance indicators and clarity about your position and purpose gives people focus and helps them concentrate on the right things. If you don't tell them what will make a good day, they will make it up themselves and work on the things they like or they think are the most important without reference to the whole team.

So the starting point for SME's with HR is to get this foundation right.

These simple steps - being clear about your rules, enforcing the rules and being clear about people's positions and the purpose of their role are the starting points of effective HR.

And it all starts with recruitment...


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