Search Firms, Sports Business and You

searchA recent ESPN.com piece profiled the role of search firms in the hiring of athletic directors and basketball coaches, focusing particularly on Parker Executive Search. Dana O’Neil describes the changing environment in athletic departments, in which leadership roles are increasingly populated with “lawyers or CPA’s or MBA’s” in positions traditionally filled with coaching lifers or former athletes.

In that evolving world, the reliance on search firms grows in importance. Interestingly, based on the article, the evolution of the prominence of these firms started with using them to vet candidates for university president positions, but over time the search firms have followed the money to become involved in the lucrative athletic department searches.

The article is a “must-read” for anyone in sports business, especially college sports. And I would encourage you to read it. But the takeaway for me was in recognizing the changing landscape of the hiring process across sports, not just in the most premium positions. The article led me develop three questions that sports business employees should be asking themselves:

  1. “Is my organization giving me quality feedback about my job performance?” If the answer is “yes” are you taking that advice to heart and striving to improve in the areas that warrant improvement. Or if the answer is “no”, it is time to approach your boss to make sure this potentially valuable insight is communicated to you.
  2. “How many people in this organization know about my contributions?” Sports organizations are relatively small enterprises, so a lot of organizational memory can be lost if just one or two employees leave to pursue other opportunities. So work on a 360 degree approach in making sure supervisors, co-workers and subordinates are aware of your impact. The key is to do so without be identified as a self-promoter – so be tactful!
  3. “What is the perception of my work outside the organization?” This question can be considered on two levels. First, how strong is your network outside the organization – opinions of former co-workers, colleagues with other teams in similar positions, and employees of other teams in your market all matter. Be sure to carefully nurture those relationships! Second, what could be known about your professional life by a stranger with internet access? LinkedIn is the starting point for any inquiry about your professional experience – so put in the time to consistently update your profile and add detail to your position descriptions, as you never know who might be looking for someone with your skill set and experience.

So, while most in the industry might not be in the cross-hairs of search firms (yet), every sports business professional needs to act as if they are.