The Game

How 'The Game' Mirrors Key HR Strategies

By: Greg Modd

“The Game” is one of the most storied rivalries in college football. The Game has been played since 1897, with Michigan leading the rivalry 60-51-6 all-time. Tomorrow, #3 Michigan will take on #2 Ohio State in a battle of two undefeated teams. Let’s explore how this rivalry offers valuable lessons for Human Resources in talent acquisition, training, development, coaching, performance management, business strategy, and culture.

Talent Acquisition – Scouting for Champions

College football’s rigorous scouting is intense. The average cost of college football recruitment for Division 1 schools varies depending on the school and its conference, but it is estimated to be between $1 million and $3 million annually. Is your company spending millions of dollars on recruitment processes and talent acquisition? Most businesses PPC works with don’t have that sort of budget. I emphasize the importance of finding individuals with the skills that fit the culture and ethos of your company. Just like in college football, talent acquisition is essential for HR. Identifying and recruiting the best talent possible to help your organization achieve its goals is crucial. Hire A-players and remove negative influences promptly. 

Training & Development – Harnessing Potential

Like organization employee development, college football programs develop raw talent into skilled players. The NCAA has rules to limit the amount of time players can spend on football-related activities. Many players spend more than the allotted 20 hours per week on football. Could you imagine spending 20 hours a week on training and development? If leadership dedicates 10% of that time to employees. Two hours a week of training and development. If the training is executed correctly, the potential for profitability is through the roof. Unfortunately, I see too often too many duties and responsibilities stacked on employees and formal training not being prioritized. Employees are lucky to receive two hours of training and development monthly. Personalized development plans and continuous skill enhancement are important for human resources professionals to work diligently with leadership in creating. 

Coaching – Leadership that Drives Success

Coaches play a pivotal role in college football. NCAA rules limit the number of Division I college football staff coaches. Each team can have one head coach, nine assistant coaches, and four graduate assistants. How many front-line managers are in your organization? To parallel this with leadership and mentoring in the corporate world, how many of your managers are coaches? How many of your staff are mentors? How many of your staff are mentees? These are important facets of a business. College football gets it right, and many organizations need to catch up. John Maxwell emphasizes how leadership styles can significantly influence team dynamics and outcomes. As Jocko Willink and Leif Babin explain in their book Extreme Ownership, there are no bad teams, only bad leaders. 

Performance Management – The Art of Keeping Score

What gets measured gets done. Simple, not easy. In college football, the use of stats and analytics to assess player performance is endless. When deciding on Heisman front-runners, much is based on statistics. What are your performance management systems in HR measuring? The importance of objective evaluations, feedback, and goal-setting are core aspects of HR. However, if nothing is measured, feedback between managers and staff isn’t happening, and goal-setting doesn’t exist, the business may succeed despite themselves. However, a well-run business measures KPIs, provides live time feedback, and uses goal-setting to know what the aim is to be achieved. As John Madden said, “At the end of the game, the team with the most points on the board is going to win.”

Business Strategy – Playing the Long Game

In college football, coaches analyze how strategic decisions, such as game plans and play calls, impacted the game. They watch films and deeply analyze players’ mistakes and what they executed well. Businesses must reflect similarly on their business strategy formulation and execution. Adaptability and strategic thinking in both fields of play are critical for HR professionals and business leaders. For instance, if a healthcare company receives multiple referrals in one week, do they analyze how the referrals came in? Who was responsible? What were the actions that led to receiving the referral? What actions can be repeated to receive patient referrals continuously? This is a compliment to the art of keeping score. It’s the end of 2023, and many are doing 2024 strategic planning now. Stategy takes a day. Execution takes decades. However, reviewing the strategy should be done in concert. Some may call it OODA Loop

Culture – Fostering a Winning Spirit

The distinct cultures of Michigan and Ohio State football programs contribute to their success. Michigan is the first to 1,000 wins. OSU is the only school with a player who has won two Heisman awards. Both schools have national championships, college football playoff experience, multiple Big Ten Titles, and a winning legacy. Why? It’s about the culture of winning! If you draw parallels to how a strong, positive organizational culture can drive business success. You, too, can have a culture of winning. It’s all about momentum. Gain momentum early in the week, capitalize on it, and ride that wave to business success. 

Call to Action

I encourage readers to think creatively about how sports strategies can be integrated into their HR practices and overall business strategy. Remember, scout for champions, train your champions, ensure they receive personalized coaching, measure KPIs, and always think strategically to foster a winning culture.