Let's Talk Sports: Hiring to Build an Unstoppable Team

By Larry Sheftel, PHR, SHRM-CP, PAFM

Each year millions of people tune in to watch the NFL draft. It’s an event that bonds, excites, and builds momentum for the upcoming NFL season. As an all-around sports enthusiast, I grew up watching and anxiously awaiting the annual draft, always eager to see if my favorite teams — the Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns — would select the college players I regularly cheered for (or against). Over the years, the NFL draft has remained one of the main sporting events I look forward to each year. While I do still anxiously await and anticipate watching the Falcons and the Browns unveil their newest team members, the annual draft has become more than just a simple sports event for me.

Instead, I now see the NFL draft as an exquisite example of how the seamless convergence of the logical, emotional, and technical aspects of a company’s talent acquisition strategy can blend to strengthen and fortify a team, so it has the potential to one day become unstoppable. Perhaps it’s a side-effect of being a human resources executive that has influenced my perspective, but the truth is that at its finest, the NFL draft can teach all management professionals how to recruit and hire not only the top talent, but also the players who will round out and elevate their company rosters.

In Hiring, It’s Not All About the Stats

We are in an age where readily available analytics, metrics, and statistics drive business decisions. For operations based decisions, analytics help drown out the noise that leads to diminished profitability or takes focus away from a company’s best interest and core competencies. For example, an ineffective step in your company’s billing process will not be optimally rectified or enhanced without first isolating the cause of the inefficiency through metrics-based analysis, and then tackling the identified bottleneck based on the data.

The beauty of readily available data is that it is based on numbers, and numbers rarely lie. Therefore, when it comes to operational process improvement and enhancement, metrics and statistics are essential for achieving optimal results. However, when it comes to hiring people, it is crucial to remember that individuals — humans — are not meant to fit into cookie-cutter molds, and individuals cannot be treated as if they will always behave like a predictable algorithm.

Unlike a pre-established process, an individual has the ability and potential to independently learn, grow, develop, and morph into a top contributor for any company. As firm administrators and managers, it is our job to empower, motivate, and engage our employees so that they unleash their full potential. This is why you cannot solely rely on a candidate’s stats or metrics during the hiring process.

A person, and what they can potentially bring to the table, is so much more than a resume of past employment highlights. Hiring based solely from a resume will not tell you if a person is calm under pressure, articulate in client meetings, a self-starter, or if they have the charisma and soft skills to manage a team. A resume also won’t tell you if they can think outside the box to come up with win-win solutions for the company. These intangible assets cannot be seen purely through metrics, which is why when it comes to hiring, you have to look past the obvious and garner an understanding for the intangibles each candidate brings to the table.

Had the Atlanta Falcons focused purely on the stats in 2008 draft then Matt Ryan may not have been their first-round draft pick — data showed that the 2016 NFL MVP’s physical skills were not necessarily as strong as some of the other draft prospects that year. However, the Atlanta Falcons saw past the stats and could envision the potential value that Ryan’s calm demeanor, intelligence, and quick thinking leadership style could bring to the team. These intangibles have now become the defining hallmarks of the quarterback who took his team to Super Bowl LI last year.

Understand What Players and Positions Are Missing From Your Roster

During the NFL draft, teams must make strategic decisions about the types of players and positions they need to fill in their lineups. Perhaps they are looking to add a well-known college superstar to boost publicity and fan morale, or maybe their offensive line is a bit weaker than they’d prefer, so they’re looking for players with demonstrated strengths in those positions. The bottom line is that teams don’t just add to their rosters to add to their rosters. Each NFL team goes into the draft knowing exactly which players they need to enhance their teams. After all, if part of the team advantage lies in the notion that humans are stronger and able to accomplish more as a team than as individual contributors, then it is important to understand how the coming together of select individuals and their different skill sets will provide a competitive advantage for any organization.

Before beginning the hiring process, establish a clear understanding of the voids in your company’s lineup. Prioritize figuring out the areas that are holding you back from greatness, and hire compatible individuals to fill those voids. Whether you need an industry-specific superstar to help with business development or a well-trained technical player capable of getting work done with limited supervision, each employee influences the end product your company puts out and, as a result, impacts your company’s reputation. For a company to become exceptional, it needs to have an extraordinary team in place that not only respects one another professionally, but that also understands how each respective role contributes to the company’s success.

Culture Can Make or Break a Team

Companies, just like teams, live and breathe by their culture, and yet, very few companies truly hire for culture. Company culture is more than words on a poster or a framed infographic on your employees’ desks; company culture is the amalgamation of the actions you live and breathe by that eventually come to distinguish your company. Today, the word “culture” has been muddied to imply a certain level of personal likability when referred to in the hiring world. Is your company revenue focused, do the individuals have a team based mentality, do you offer a flexible work environment? If the answer is yes, then a candidate who prefers an environment where their job has a limited need for team interaction and a preference to work a set schedule, then they may not be the right fit for your professional culture. Sure, the employee may have the technical skills you need, but will they be happy on your team and will the other employees be able to rely on this individual?

If an NFL team knows that a player won’t be the right cultural fit, they don’t introduce them into their teams because it dilutes the team’s culture and level of trust each player has for one another. A quarterback knows he can rely on the offensive line to do everything possible to keep him from getting sacked because he knows that his team members share the same professional values. Just as the NFL doesn’t waste draft picks on individuals who aren’t the right cultural fit, neither should you because you will diminish your employee’s trust for one another by consistently introducing players who do not integrate into the established company culture.

The NFL draft is an unlikely place to draw inspiration for developing and refining a talent acquisition strategy, but at the core that is exactly what the NFL draft is. With a 2.5 percent unemployment rate in the world of accounting, it is now more important than ever to look beyond the stats, understand what players and positions are missing from your team roster, and hire for culture as you work to build an unstoppable team.

Larry Sheftel, PHR, SHRM-CP, PAFM, is vice president of human resources at Aprio. He is a member of The Georgia Society of CPAs.

This article appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of GSCPA's Current Accounts magazine. Members receive a complimentary subscription and exclusive access to full issues on our website. Read the full issue.