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The NFL Lockout: Lessons Learned in Talent Management

The NFL Lockout: Lessons Learned in Talent Management

By: Roberta Matuson

Football fans are on their feet applauding the end of the NFL lockout that ended one of the more unsettled periods in NFL history.

The highly-publicized case hinged on employee benefits and employee relations gone wrong.

Ultimately the NFL referees stood tall against the NFL and didn’t back down. They received huge salary bumps and the right to keep their 401(k) plans in place until 2016 or an officials’ 20th year of service. They also were able to remain part-time employees. The game changer appeared to be when a stand-in referee made a bad call that could be heard around the world.

The NFL referee lockout provided some timeless lessons in employee negotiations and talent management:

Talent trumps skill every time. You’d think it would be fairly easy to train someone to referee a game. Hand them the playbook, put them on the field a few times and watch them do their thing. If only life were that easy.

Professional referees have an innate talent that they’ve honed over the years. They make the job look like child’s play. The bad call which caused the world to pause brought to light how easy the professional referees make their jobs look. We now know better. This is a great reminder for small business owners to hire the best talent and develop for skills.

Keep the door open with tough issues and negotiations. Don’t wait until it’s critical to have critical conversations. I’m guessing there were a lot of rumblings before the referees decided to walk off the field. Don’t wait for your people to get to the point where they are no longer willing to hear what you have to say, particularly when negotiating compensation. Instead, take the time to ask your employees how things are going and more importantly, stick around long enough to hear their answer.

Leadership isn’t always about consensus. The guy or gal at the top gets to make the final decision and the rest of the team has to carry the message consistently. Be sure you don’t have a member who is a leaky wheel like the NFL had. The Wall Street Journal reported that, “According to one owner who has been briefed by league officials on the issue, the disagreement with the referees is more ideological than it is financial.” Some say that was the beginning of the end of the NFL’s ability to win at their own game.

Bring in an outside mediator early on.  Disputes may go deeper than you think. I’m often called in by clients to help mediate what appears to be a situation that has recently bubbled to the surface. In most cases, these situations have been brewing for a long time and are on the verge of burning the owners. Don’t wait for things to heat up in your business. Call for help the moment you see some smoke, as fire can quickly elevate a difficult situation to critical status.

Play fair. The easiest way to avoid situations like the NFL recently experienced is to play fair. Stay “in the game” with your employees. Keep communications in the workplace open. Cultivate a healthy atmosphere of employee engagement.

Treat people like they matter, no matter what their job may be. Do this consistently and I guarantee that your employees will play fair with you.

©2012, Matuson Consulting. All Rights Reserved.

Author Bio
Roberta Chinsky Matuson
is the President of Matuson Consulting and author of the forthcoming, The Magnetic Workplace (Nicholas Brealey, 2013) and the acclaimed book Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around, a Washington Post Top-5 Leadership pick. Sign up to receive a complimentary subscription to Roberta's monthly newsletter, Talent Maximizer.

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