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What team sports can teach us about DE&I

former Employment attorney and author Jathan Janove writes for SHRM online how to bring more humanity into HR compliance. He welcomes your questions and suggestions for future columns. Contact him at the email address at the bottom of this column.

AAchieving diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace remains a challenge for most organizations. Despite significant investments of time and money, many companies fall short of their DE&I goals. In team sports, on the other hand, the principles of DE&I seem to be flourishing.

What makes team sports easier to achieve DE&I? What lessons can employers learn? Here are some characteristics that differentiate the typical workplace from a sports team.

Clear common goals

In team sports, the goal is clear: to win. Everyone from coaches and players to admins and support staff cares about and shares the same goal of winning. They also share stepping stone goals – the various steps and signposts necessary to reach the goal.

Team leaders make it their mission to ensure a collective understanding and commitment to the same goals. In contrast, in most organizations, employees either lack a clear understanding of the organization’s DE&I goals, or the goals are uninspiring. As a worker, how am I supposed to get excited about this effort?

Christopher D. Lee, Ph.D., CHRO at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, makes another point about common goals. “A boss can win while an employee loses. Whereas a coach and a player either win together or lose together.”

Measure what matters

Sports teams don’t waste time measuring meaningless subjective performance metrics. Don’t expect the Lakers to give LeBron James an annual performance review. “Uh, LeBron, for the 2021-2022 season, we rate you a 3.5. Please try harder next season.”

Sports teams continuously identify and measure the metrics that matter: not just the bottom line, but the parts that contribute to it (depending on the sport), from games won to points scored to meters gained and beyond.

maximize strengths

How many times has a boss asked you, “How can I maximize your talents to help you succeed?” More likely, you were given a detailed job description that you should review and conform to. Your boss hasn’t adapted to you. You made the adjustment. This approach leads to a “this is not my job” thinking and “this is how we’ve always done it here”. rigidity prevails.

In contrast, a good coach constantly seeks to identify, develop, and maximize the strengths of team members. This means being flexible and adapting as needed. Karl Mecklenburg’s NFL career got off to a bad start. He was on the edge. Things changed after his coach concluded he would be better off playing linebacker — a position he had never played in his life. What followed? Six Pro Bowl selections, three Super Bowl appearances, and his induction into the Denver Broncos ring of honor and the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.

How many bosses have you had who worked to make you feel included?

Accountability at all levels

In most companies, accountability is more transactional: “Follow the rules and keep your job.” For good sports teams, accountability takes a different route and starts at the individual level. Every player feels personally obliged to support the team.

Notice how often the star of the losing team, when asked, says, “I need to get better.” The player doesn’t point the finger. It’s not “she” – it’s “I.”

Responsibility also extends from team member to team member. There is a willingness to bring in a colleague if needed to improve the team. And the coach represents ultimate accountability. From the individual to the colleague to the authority figure, accountability is everywhere.

discipline and dismissal

Readers of my column know that I’m not a fan of “progressive” discipline. In my opinion, it’s a demoralizing, judgment-based, punishment-oriented approach that’s ineffective and tends to mix insult with hurt.

In sport there is no leeway to let things fester. If you are underperforming, your coach will proactively inform you what the gap is between what is needed and where you are – no equivocation and no avoidance. Also, there is no “first, second, third warning” nonsense. “Breanna Stewart, you shot 2 for 12 in yesterday’s game. So we put you on corrective action, step one.” There is no dwelling on the past. Nobody hands out certificates. The focus remains on the future.

If a player gets fired (cut), it’s not because the player is a failed human. The coach simply believes that there is someone better able to help the team win.

Some organizations, such as B. Precision Tools Service in Columbus, Indiana, are replacing the traditional command-and-control management model with a coaching approach. Managers and HR have made a “Culture Commitment” there, which is posted in all facilities and serves as the basis for training, coaching and talent development. It lists the following qualities of a coach-leader:

  • Acts more like a coach and mentor than a traditional command and control “boss”.
  • Combines humility, courage and discipline.
  • Leads by listening instead of telling.
  • When it comes to job expectations, responsibilities and accountability, he treats people fairly and consistently.
  • Shows genuine interest in people’s ideas, contributions, growth and development.

“As a Japanese-owned company operating in North America, one of our diversity challenges relates to native language origin and language,” said Tsutomu Ehara, executive vice president of Precision. “We find that a coaching culture helps us with this challenge.” HR Director Diana Stephens added, “In addition to promoting DE&I, a coaching culture allows HR to be viewed less as a ‘compliance cop’ and more as a coach helping our leaders lead.”

Similar efforts are being made at Bridge Property Management, a national property management company based in Sandy, Utah. Company leadership is committed to replacing a traditional “boss” culture with a coaching culture in which each leader:

  • Ensures everyone on the team has the same goals and empowers others to use their skills to best achieve goals.
  • Actively listens to employees to engage and learn from them.
  • Generously shares praise and appreciation and takes responsibility when things go wrong.
  • Does not hesitate to confront others, but does so with a solution-oriented mindset as opposed to a guilt-oriented approach.

“I’ve been in sports most of my life,” said Company President Matt DeGraw, “from participating in competitive sports in my youth to coaching competitive sports as an adult, and I remain active in many sports as a hobby and actively watch sports as a fan .”

DeGraw explained, “A good coach holds their team accountable for the team’s goals and helps each teammate hold each other accountable for accomplishing the team’s mission. At Bridge Property Management we encourage a coaching culture to advance our DE&I to achieve goals and create a strong team spirit.”

Think like a coach to create a DE&I rich work environment. Shift from traditional management thinking to a team sport model. And may your team win!

Jathan Janove, JD, is the author of Hard Won Wisdom: True Stories from the Management Trenches (HarperCollins/Amacom, 2017). He is President of Oregon Organizational Development Network and was named in it inc magazine as one of the top 100 leadership speakers for 2018. If you have any questions or suggestions for topics for future columns, write to [email protected]

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