HR Management & Compliance

Basketball Rules in the HR World

Basketball is my favorite sport, and the heart of the college basketball season is nearing an exciting conclusion—the buzzer beaters, the rivalries, the upsets, and the drama of teams trying to earn victory in the national tournament. All of this made for an exciting March and helped to get us through the remainder of the cold and bleak winter. Not only is it exciting, but there are also some valuable lessons in the HR world that you can learn and apply from watching and experiencing the game of basketball.

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Play Defense

Just like good defense in basketball will win you games, a good defensive strategy for your various HR decisions may help you to win subsequent lawsuits. For every decision you make, you want to ensure that you have proper documentation. This will include documenting employees’ performance evaluations, any discussions with them about discipline, any investigations regarding employee misconduct or harassment, and the reasons why you have disciplined or discharged an individual. By having proper documentation of your various employment decisions, you will place yourself in a much better position to defend them when the time arises.

Proper documentation not only shows the reason why you made the decision, but also will help to refresh your memory if you are called on to defend it several years later. With many employment decisions, an employee may have up to two years to file a lawsuit. It may then be another year before you have to give a deposition. As a result, several years may pass before you are called on to justify your decision in a lawsuit.

Moreover, we live in a world where employees no longer stay at the same company for 30 to 40 years. Instead, you will have employees and supervisors moving in and out of your facility. There’s a good chance that the supervisor who was actually involved in the decision-making process, or who was a witness to the issue that led to the discipline or discharge, is no longer with you. Having proper documentation will allow you to explain more fully why the decision was made or what facts it was based on.

In addition to documentation, providing proper and regular training to your employees can be a good defensive practice. For example, providing yearly harassment training can help you defend against harassment lawsuits. Additionally, training your supervisors on how to conduct a proper performance evaluation can be beneficial for those cases when an employee is discharged for performance-related reasons. It’s always a difficult case when you discharge an employee for performance issues but prior evaluations reflect that she was performing well in the job. If there truly are performance issues, the supervisor needs to be sure the evaluation actually reflects those issues. Like in basketball, having a good defense can be critical in performing your HR work and supporting your decisions.

Acknowledge a Good Pass

Former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith always required his players to point to the person who made the pass that led to a basket. This simple gesture acknowledged the individual who made the pass that allowed a teammate to score. In the HR world, this translates to acknowledging your employees when they do a good job. For simple morale reasons, you want to make sure you are acknowledging employees for the good work they perform. You don’t want them to feel like they are being taken for granted and aren’t valued. Those types of thoughts can lead to a potential union organizing drive, which is something you don’t want to face.

Acknowledgment can be a simple e-mail or telephone call to the employee about the good work that was performed. Additionally, it could come in a more formal manner, such as an employee-of-the-month program or a free breakfast/doughnut meeting for the employees. You simply want to take the opportunity to let them know when they do a good job and show you appreciate and value their work. It’s human nature to feel good when someone values what you do, and it will likely lead to the individual continuing to work hard to obtain future acknowledgements. A happier employee can be a more productive employee, and you want to take the time and make the effort to achieve that result.

Teaching the Fundamentals

Having the correct fundamentals in basketball is critical. To win games, you need players who have proper shooting form and good defensive stance, who box out on all shots taken by the other team, and who can work together as a unit for a common goal. Teaching your employees good fundamentals is similarly critical to your business. One way for your employees to learn good fundamentals in your business is through training. While training takes away from production time, proper training on how you want employees to perform their work should increase their efficiency and productivity.

Moreover, it’s imperative that you train employees on your various policies and procedures so that they know what is permissible and expected of them. Not only will training them on your policies and procedures make them better at doing their jobs, but it will also help you when you need to use the policies and procedures for discipline or discharge. For example, if you can document that an employee has been trained on the policy or procedure, it will be difficult for her to argue that she didn’t know about or understand it. Evidence about the training can be used to support your decision to discipline or discharge an employee based on her violation of the policy or procedure.

Employees also can learn the fundamentals through performance evaluations. Conducting thorough and accurate performance evaluations can be critical in helping the employees develop and work on the skills they need to perform their jobs. If an employee isn’t performing properly, it’s vital that you catch and correct the error early.

Bottom Line

The next time you find yourself cheering on your alma mater in basketball, or watching your daughter or son in a recreation basketball league, don’t forget that there are lessons to be learned that translate to the HR world. Now that you have finished reading this article, make sure you hustle back to work, get down in your best defensive stance to prevent any unnecessary HR issues, and teach your employees the fundamentals of how to succeed in your business.

Jeffrey M. Cropp is an Attorney at Steptoe & Johnson, PLLC. He is also a Contributing Editor for the West Virginia Employment Law Letter and can be contacted at