By: Kelly Womer, APR, ABC, Fellow PRSA

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Mar 16, 2016 | Linhart Blog, Our Culture

How Can the NFL Help You Draft the Right Employees?


Next month, the 2016 NFL draft will give about 250 college football players the chance to realize their childhood dreams. What can organizations learn from the NFL draft when it comes to hiring the best employees? Identify team players, according to a recent study published online by the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Professors at the University of Buffalo School of Management and University of Central Florida Business College analyzed 440 college wide receivers and linebackers who were drafted into the NFL between 2006 and 2012. They also scoured more than 36,000 media articles to find instances of where those athletes acted as team players.

Here’s what they found: A player’s success in the NFL hinged as much on his on-field statistics as his team-oriented behaviors such as working harder than necessary, making personal sacrifices that benefit the team, and helping new teammates. In short, teamwork matters.

“These ‘character guys’ are better investments for NFL teams,” says study co-author Tim Maynes of the University of Buffalo School of Management. “Players who hit the weight room after practice, spend extra time analyzing game film, or help a rookie learn the ropes while in college will be drafted earlier, awarded higher starting salaries and be more successful in the NFL.”

Researchers also compared the NFL approach to drafting players – a mix of considering off-field and on-field performance – versus sports outlets that only focus on player statistics to create mock draft rankings. Not surprisingly, the more well-rounded NFL team selection process was more predictive of future player success than the draft prospect rankings.

Taking the insights from football field to the workplace, the study indicates that organizations should go beyond candidates’ previous job performance and try to assess teamwork-related traits such as how they went above and beyond to help another employee and the company succeed. Here are two other ideas for assessing team-focused skills when hiring or putting together a new team: offers a list of possible team skills questions and also suggests asking about a specific past experience working in a team and then following up with: “What was your role and what were your teammates’ roles?” That determines the person’s ability to give credit to others while showing he or she was a talented individual contributor.

• Google recently published its research about how to create high-performing teams. The company found that the keys to success are how the team members interact, structure their work and view their contributions. Questions could probe in those areas.

Of course, the organization itself needs to embrace teamwork as a way of doing business – just like team sports like the NFL. Contact Kelly Womer.


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