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Football Season and Human Resources

Living in Toronto, there are times when I feel like I have flown off in a spaceship and landed on Planet Z. In particular, I have this feeling during football season.

To be clear I am talking about American Football, or Futbol Americano, not soccer.

I am alone here in my fanaticism of football. I won’t apologize for it. It is the one truly American thing I have hung onto since my move to Canada twenty years ago.

This weekend, I am heading down to Ann Arbor to watch the Iowa/Michigan game. It is a big game and it will be on TV. I have never been to the Big House before. I am very interested in experiencing the pageantry with 108,000 people. I intend to bring a Canadian flag with me, so if you’re watching the game, look for it at about the 15 yard line in the 7th row on the press box side of the field.

Like most mid-westerners, I was brought up on football. I have great memories as a kid sitting down on a Saturday afternoon with my father, watching all the Big Ten schools play. I remember standing in line at the Crystal Point Mall in Crystal Lake, IL for hours, waiting to get Walter Payton’s autograph. I remember with great fondness the first time I made Chex Party Mix at home with my mother in preparation for the Superbowl.

My hometown of Woodstock, IL is a football town. Many high school players over the years have gone on to the NCAA and some of them have made it all the way to the NFL. When I was a junior, my high school won the class 4A state championships. In college, two starting Big Ten quarterbacks were from Woodstock. Right now, Bryan Bulaga of the Green Bay Packers, a 1st round draft pick, and also a Iowa Hawkeye, went to high school in my hometown.

I think I’ve made my point.

As much as my Canadian friends like hockey, it is so much more sedate than football. They also like soccer, but as most Europeans complain, the Canadians are far too polite at a game.

Herein is my lesson today as to what you can take from football and apply to human resources. These are my top seven lessons (get it–a touchdown and a conversion!)

1. Like football, successful businesses have fans. They’re homegrown. If you don’t build loyalty from within and around, you’ll never find it in far away places. Guard and nurture your people brand. Encourage cheerleaders.

2. A healthy workplace has camaraderie and excitement. You don’t have to be serious all the time. Identify a big hairy audacious goal (e.g. a BHAG) and find unorthodox and fun ways to achieve it. Encourage employees to push their boundaries and try new things.

3. For most people I know, football is a family affair. It is something they plan to do together and everyone has a task to get ready. Find venues where your people can do things in teams and where their families are not outsiders.

4. Expect greatness. One of my favourite things to see at a football team is a little guy getting past a really big one. I really like the Canadian movie Meatballs! and often think of the expression “Woody the Wabbit” to describe the value of being quick and nimble. In the movie, Bill Murray knew it was possible for Christopher Makepeace to win the camp marathon, but he had to set the marker high enough so that Makepeace had the gumption to attempt it.

5. Tailgate! Tailgating is an American phenomenon that has not quite caught on in Canada. Primarily it is about the food, but it is also about creating a friendly environment where strangers with common interests meet. Stop having potlucks and start having tailgates.

6. Take health and safety more seriously. All the talk this year is on preventing concussions and other injuries. If we invested in the science of safety in the workplace as much as we do in sports, we’d have a much different workplace.

7. Employ strategy. Few football games are won with a single Hail Mary. They are won by utilizing many plays that involve using many different strategies. In business terms, this means you should understand your assets and determine how to use them.

I hope this encourages you to watch a game this weekend, and get pumped up to spur on excitement at your company.

Or, at the very least I hope it encourages you to make queso. After all, if you watch a game, you’ll see plenty of commercials for Rotel and Velveeta.


  1. Hey Bonni! Great blog (even though I'm a CFL fan…can't help it when you grow up watchin Can Univ Football).

    You made some great points (get it…points…boo).

    Just a quick note…it's a Touchdown and Conversion…not field goal. Field goal is worth 3 points.

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