This article was updated on July 31, 2018.
The similarities between athletes and HR leaders might seem far-fetched to some, but whatever their differences on the surface may be, they are both trying to inspire and achieve greatness. Those of us within the HR industry have experienced the thrill of victory after successfully persuading the C-suite to embark on a new initiative, and we've also experienced the agony of defeat when an employee we've onboarded, trained and invested in leaves for a competitor.
Here's a few more similarities between athletes and HR.
Can you do back flips and turns on a balance beam? What about the HR manager who has to coach the star salesperson who isn't very nice to their co-workers? The organization doesn't want to lose their star performer, but they're so negative that you're in danger of losing everyone else. So, in comes the HR manager tasked with correcting this behavior without punishing or offending. Talk about a tough balance!
Sure, a marathon is about speed, but it's also about endurance. Once you start, you have to push through until the end. Sounds like what an HR leader has to do while they simultaneously recruit for their organization's global expansion and manage the day-to-day needs of current employees back at home. Much like the very best distance runners figuring out how to conquer each individual mile while still keeping their ultimate goal in mind, HR leaders have to deftly manage their present employees, while still being mindful and planning for the future of the organization.
This sport is an amalgamation of a number of different skills — from running to jumping to shooting to passing. In HR, we call this an "HR generalist." We need you to recruit, onboard, handle benefits, coach employees, act as a business partner, run perks programs, manage contractors, keep the system functional, discipline employees — and still make everyone feel valued. A basketball game only lasts 48 minutes, but the HR generalist may be expected to do all of this every day. Every generalist deserves a trophy.
There's little difference between the athlete who can both run at amazing speeds and lift hundreds of pounds and the HR manager who lifts hundreds of legal obligations. From FMLA, OFCCP, OSHA to ADA, the HR manager makes sure the organization is in compliance with all of these laws. Talk about an all-star!
Not only do you have to swim with skill and precision of strokes, but you have to do it at breakneck speeds while you're bobbing your head in and out of the water. HR delivers the bad news and enforces the policies. Sometimes, no matter how much you do, it can feel like all you're able to do is just barely keep your head above water.
If you ever feel out of breath at the end of a day, you're not alone. The life of an HR manager is challenging and competitive. But when you get a win, it makes it all worth it. Engaged employees, a good recruitment pipeline and perks that make people happy are your reward for a ton of hard work.