I used to hate soccer. Many casual, and even die-hard, sports fans are not keen on the “other” form of football. A lot of this is because viewers don’t understand the sport. But there are also elements such as the player who overreacts to any semblance of a foul or regularly “low” scoring outings. So, here we are, me trying to force you to think about something you care very little about as I ask you to reconsider how you think about the workplace.  

Several years ago, I would have cast my vote with the millions of Americans who don’t appreciate the sport of soccer. I played a little bit in grade school but never gave it much thought from there until three key events happened. First, my eldest son, Caiden, was invited by his friends to play on their YMCA soccer team. Second, my firstborn Abbie, decided she too wanted to play soccer but there wasn’t a coach for her age bracket. Third, a friend of mine asked if I would sub on his indoor soccer team as they were having trouble getting people to play for late games.  

If you are a parent of young children, there is no better sport for your children and for yourself than soccer. Change my mind. Your children will be tired after a game of soccer. Even if they don’t know what they are doing, they will run and they will have fun. There is only one break for halftime, there aren’t timeouts or quarters or commercial breaks. You get in, you get out and those little stinkers are running the entire time.  

Playing and coaching soccer had a much steeper learning curve than observing my children participating in the “beautiful sport.” Yet, I was able to draw parallels between this sport and another one plagued by overpaid athletes overreacting to common infractions: basketball. I ended up coaching for several years, teaching kids to run their butts off and to play as a team.  

Let’s pause here for a moment. While we are drawn to the clips of a soccer or basketball player who was barely touched and they go down like a sack of potatoes and flop around, when they don’t get the call, or any attention from the referee, they are back up and playing as though nothing happened. In both sports, the foul has become part of the game, yet the players bear the brunt of the public perception and the blame.  

While many athletes play up the foul, if it will get your team an opportunity to score, isn’t the juice worth the squeeze? The issue is with the rules in the sport and the way referees are instructed to make calls. Both soccer and basketball have made some strides to tighten up these “loopholes,” but is it the fault of the player if they are playing within the system to try to win?  

This article likely will not convince you to become a soccer player, but maybe it will remind you to stop and think about whether your frustration is aimed at the right causes. Many employers are struggling to recruit, hire, and retain good talent. This isn’t a new problem but recent events have compounded the issue. As I have said in prior articles, blaming the current workforce will not help you turn the tide. Do you want to win? You need a winning perspective. 

In my latest book, So, You Want To Be A Project Manager? I share a soccer story. Like many things in my career, this was a risky choice, for all the reasons listed above. Yet, by doing so I can assure you I am using analogies that are unique and trying to cause the reader to think differently so they can bring about better outcomes. You know that you will not effect positive changes if you keep the same mindset and never adapt your habits

I recently had the opportunity to reconnect with professionals that I had crossed paths with in former roles. They are at various stages of developing their careers and it is interesting to be able to observe from a distance to see how if just a few things had been approached differently, both these professionals and the organizations that they formerly worked with would have been so much better off.   

Jim Collins introduced a principle in Good to Great that I hear many people in a position of leadership share and yet see few implement. He talks about getting the right people on the bus and then working to ensure that they are in the right seats. By this, he means that we want to hire good people. If there is good talent, get them hired. If they are honest, hardworking and willing to learn, make a deal. Once they are in your company, you will have to work to find where they best fit for their skills and abilities, as well as for your organizational needs.  

One of the points in my third book discusses the idea that our industry is so set in its ways that if someone wants to advance this usually means they have to pursue estimating. Estimators frequently have access to the highest pay and overall compensation. With recent advances in our industry, estimating may be one of the easiest things you can outsource in your company. Project management, on the other hand, or the direct interaction with your customer experience, is not something that you can farm out.  

If you maintain the conveyor belt mentality for career advancement, or the leadership ladder, you will continue to lose competent people. Recruit and hire quality people, assess and develop their skillset, then find ways to retain them in a role that aligns their values with your vision. Compensate in a manner that benefits their growth and empowers them to do what they do best for your company.  

Now, tying my soccer analogy together with my recent meetups, you will need to purchase my book and read Chapter 13, Qualities of a Good Project Manager. In short, a well-known soccer team was enamored with the prospect of adding an international superstar to their team. While this isn’t uncommon, they tried to force many of the processes, including usurping the time-honored ritual of allowing the players to vote on the player who would wear the captain’s armband.  

The team had a young prospect who had served as the team captain. This person was voted by the players and was growing into the roles and responsibilities of this position. But, when a shinier object came along, a “superstar” from another team, the owners and managers interfered with the natural course of things.  

There was a strong likelihood that had this superstar come in and performed the way everyone expected, they would have been voted captain or the current captain may have even voluntarily awarded the role to the much more experienced athlete. In leadership, we have a tendency to get in our own way. When we look for the missing piece outside of the organization rather than double down on our existing resources, it may work, or more likely, when it doesn’t work it will set you back further than sticking with your current plan.  

Thinking differently about your issues will help you to listen to your team and source solutions from within. While you are training new technicians to learn the multiple skills that they will need to succeed in property restoration, what do you tell them when they aren’t picking it up as fast as they would like? “Hang in there.” Stick with the process and you will unlock opportunities for career growth in a rewarding industry. 

What happens when they do hang in there and learn the process? Often if they want to promote they have to look elsewhere because they are “too valuable” in their current role to be allowed to learn a new process and hang in there as they learn those skills.  

My final soccer experience was coming in as a late-night substitute for other players. At first, I was terrible, but I could run around and I listened to my experienced friends. I started to like the sport and enjoyed the camaraderie of the local indoor soccer community. This sport became a great way to deepen our engagement with our workplace teammates and even develop some sales opportunities.  

I reached a point where I started conditioning and practicing on my own time to get better at the sport. By no means have I become a good player, but I can contribute to a team. Over the course of a few years, we recruited and developed a team that was consistently competitive and even bumped up a level in proficiency.  

We were not the most talented team but we regularly won. Our greatest strength was that we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We complemented each other and respected our roles. If a defender decided to make a run to score, the other players would drop into alternative roles to cover responsibilities. We pushed each other to be better. We discussed areas of improvement when we lost and we celebrated our wins. 

My point is that we complain about what is happening around us and yet we often stick to the same tired mechanisms that net us the same haphazard results. This type of chaos is not random. It is the result of wrong mindsets and habits being repeated within your team functions. Recruiting good talent is an uphill battle; it always has been. Development and retention of good talent are well within your ability to improve.  

A few workplace scenarios for you to reconsider:   

  • Do you do what you say you will do during the recruiting phase? 
    1. When a technician or carpenter in training turns the corner and learns what it takes to be proficient in their role, is there a realistic process for them to take the next steps? 
  • Do you reward the people who hang in there? 
    1. Do you have a clear process for employees to pursue advancement in areas such as project management and estimating, or do they have to go somewhere else to do that? 
    2. Do you have team members who show some promise, but you are distracted by the fruitless pursuit of the superstar? 
    3. When your team members leave, are they responding negatively to a system that caps their growth, or are you actively working to help them find the right seats on the bus?