Four things HR can learn from the sporting world

HRD chats to a CEO who claims that the polarised worlds of sport and business can learn from one another. His claim hasn’t gone unnoticed – KPMG recently acquired his company

Four things HR can learn from the sporting world
KPMG recently acquired a company built on implementing sports tactics into the workplace, marking the tenth acquisition by the big-four member. But how much can really be transferred from the world of sport to business management?

According to Andrew May, CEO and founder of The Performance Clinic – and now a partner at KPMG – “sport management in many ways is a lot easier than business”.

One of the aspects that May continued to emphasise was the missing ‘off season’ in the business world; while professional sportsmen have a recuperation period, business is “on 24/7 now”.

“Sport has definite timelines and an off season. There are also really clear guidelines around what everyone needs to do to win and progress,” he told HRD.

“That said, there are a number of things that we can learn from sport management.”

1. Performance management

May advised that when it comes to performance management, HR professionals can take heed from the way that professional athletes are managed.

“Sports managers know the different levels, skills, and strengths of each individual player,” he told HRD.

“Sometimes in business, managers leave things to luck – but now there are so many metrics we can look at to help people get the best out of themselves.”

He referred to data analytics and employee feedback, and even suggested combining the analysis of those metrics with the use of wearable devices.

2. Recovery

“In the world of sport, it’s all about training and competing hard – but recovering hard is equally important,” May said.

“In the corporate world, ‘recovery’ is a luxury, not a strategic advantage.

“But we see it as an essential – allowing employees to switch off from work improves innovation and creativity.”

Utilising the analysis of employee wellbeing in performance management was also linked to May’s suggestion that workplaces can benefit from this particular sporting technique.

“Employers can now look at things like the hours of sleep their workers are getting, their resting heart rates or the amount of steps they are taking each day,” May said.

“This allows them to look at the whole emphasis on their ‘recovery’ from work – whether there could be an aspect of their working lives that is negatively impacting their wellbeing.”

3. Open communication

According to May – who has 15 years’ experience in the field of elite sport, including stints with the Australian cricket team, basketball team the Sydney Flames, and the NSW netball team – another thing that sport teaches is regular, honest conversation.

“In the corporate world, there is unfortunately a lot of scheming and talking behind people’s backs going on,” he said.

“There is an openness and transparency in sport that we can bring into the corporate world.”

4. Overcoming workplace hurdles

May told HRD that there are key issues that are common among his clients – one being that the average employee is “overloaded”.

“Most workers have too much to do, and not enough time to do it in,” May pointed out.

“They’re on 24/7, from the moment they wake up until they go to bed.”

Because of the ‘always on’ phenomenon of recent years, May suggested that people are becoming “distracted” from their personal lives.

“People are constantly distracted,” he told HRD. “They think that constantly responding to work is their job, when it’s not.”

Working with KPMG

May told HRD that there are “two primary levels” to how KPMG will utilise his techniques.

“We are offering our services to KPMG clients already,” he explained.

“KPMG has an amazing relationship with a great number of clients. Every business – from large companies to small ones, telcos to energy companies, government agencies – is looking at ways to improve performance.”

However, he warned that employers “can only mine someone so much before wearing them out”.

“You can only push people so much until you hit a breaking point,” May said.

“An unfortunate reality – especially in white-collar workplaces – is the insidious rise in stress.

“We’re giving people the fundamental building blocks to look after their minds and bodies. Looking after people helps them to bring their best to work.”

Clients were leveraging the service to improve balance and sustainability in their workforces, he added.

The use of May’s techniques will also be used in KPMG’s internal workforce.

“It’s having a positive impact on the internal culture,” said May.

He noted that one of the reasons The Performance Clinic’s approach will work at KPMG – and one of the reasons he was attracted to the company – is its “cultural set”.

“KPMG’s leaders lead by example,” May explained.

“I’ve had a couple of companies approach me in the last 18 months with acquisition propositions, but the right set was about culture, not money – KPMG is the right partnership.”
Related stories:
Five things HR directors can learn from sports psychology
Preventing fatigue-based workplace disasters
Time for action on psychological wellbeing

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