SBJ/March 7-13, 2011/Opinion

Humility, focus critical for team personnel amid labor turmoil

From the Field of Human Resources

With the NFL, NBA and MLB collective-bargaining agreements all expiring this year, the battle lines between owners and players are clearly being drawn. While the focus is primarily on potential work stoppages and lost viewing opportunities, my thoughts have turned to the people most affected by such impasses: the people who make their livelihoods working for these teams.

All three professional leagues are sophisticated businesses headed by smart people in their respective league offices. They’ve been dispensing best practices guidance to their teams to help them navigate an event like a work stoppage, but ultimately it will be these separate entities that map out their business plan as it relates to the employees.

As the industry is starting to be hit with reductions in force, furloughing of employees (one week off per month with no pay, anyone?), and the potential loss of revenue that will dramatically affect remaining employees’ compensation, I’m not going to rail against the establishment and lecture about the battle between “billionaires and millionaires.” Instead, in an industry where egos run amok not only on the playing field and in the owner’s box, but also in the front office, I think this is a great chance for those who could potentially be affected to step back and reflect.

My perspective comes from spending the last decade at Game Face as a recruiter specializing in filling positions for the business operations of major league sports teams. We traffic in information, much of it confidential, and have a unique opportunity to view the world through the eyes of those already in the industry as well as those trying to break into sports.

Taking tickets
The potential for lost revenue from a work stoppage or reduction in force could have a dramatic impact on sports team and game-day personnel.
For those who may be facing the loss of a job to a potential work stoppage, or who are trying to land their first jobs in sports, here is some professional advice:

1. Remember where you came from.
Unless you got your job because a family member owns the team, there was a time when you were trying to break into the industry. I suspect there were people who were helpful to that cause and others who weren’t. When I was pledging a fraternity in college, I remember a small but notable faction already belonging to the fraternity that felt like they paid their dues and because of that were going to make becoming a member of the fraternity difficult for everyone else. You never know when you will need others in your career, and we all know people who, if they came to us in the same situation, we would gladly help, as well as those we wouldn’t.

2. Be humble.
No matter your station in life, if you ever work for a professional sports team, remember that you are replaceable. There is always a line of people waiting to take your job. It took a lot of perseverance, self-confidence and dues-paying to get where you are today. That accomplishment doesn’t have to be colored by hubris and ego. At some point, you won’t have the business card and team logo behind (or in front of) you. What do you want to be known for then?

3. Focus on the job you have, not the job you want.
We’ve seen many people in the industry become so focused on ascending to the position of their dreams that they don’t focus on the position they have. Just like anything else you do without your complete attention, performance suffers. Ultimately, not gaining the promotions or added responsibility you want becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ambition isn’t a bad thing, but it must be tempered with what we like to refer to as “professional patience.” There will be defining moments in your career when you will have to make some hard decisions, such as leaving your current team to continue your career growth. Rush those decisions, and risk falling out of favor with the industry — and one of the hardest things outside of getting your first job in the industry is trying to get back into the industry.

4. If you don’t reinvent yourself, someone else will.
As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only constant is change.” That’s as accurate now as when he said it, some 2,500 years ago. A key part of life is the ability to adapt to the circumstances around you. Professionally, change can take many forms, including new initiatives, a new budget cycle, different leadership or different responsibilities. You may be responsible for creating the change or the one who has to respond or react. Either way, that can be a difficult proposition for those who have a hard time breaking out of their comfort zone or who like to do things the same way. As I like to say to my kids, “You are either part of the problem or part of the solution.” The application of this to the workplace translates into being coachable, nimble in response, listening to understand, possessing a positive attitude, being a team player and communicating clearly.

Unless you are the architect of the change, there may be times when you won’t philosophically be in agreement with the kind of change coming down the pipe. If that’s the case, you may need to swallow hard and put your head down. The alternative is to look for another organization that more closely matches your ideology. And for those who have gone through that, we know that is no easy accomplishment.

Here’s hoping cooler heads will prevail with this year’s CBA talks and there will be labor peace. Whether that happens or not, take advantage of this opportunity for introspection and self-awareness.
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