“Virtually, all positions in sports organizations are volatile”

December 23, 2019

"All positions in a sports organization are volatile"

Miriam Carreño, a human resources professional and former director of organization and people at Real Valladolid, recognizes that “virtually, all positions in sports organizations are volatile” and admires the new generations who consider this more a challenge than an inconvenience

In human resources, we no longer like profiles that want a stable job for life.” Miriam Carreño, professor of human resources and leadership of the Master in Sport Management at Johan Cruyff Institute, has been managing talent as a human resources professional for over a decade, and in the last two and a half years she has been working in the sports industry. It is a sector that is increasingly committed to its professionalization and the incessant search for results cannot be limited to athletes. This task of incorporating the best profiles in the entire value chain (from the executive, managerial and operational side) in sports entities requires not only time, but a change of mentality. Miriam does not hide the fact that “all positions in a sports organization are volatile”, perhaps more than in other companies where the clock does not run so fast.

We had a very interesting conversation with Miriam Carreño about change management in sports organizations, the importance of teamwork, goal-oriented recruitment and the incorporation of new generations accustomed to working on projects, with ambition to bring freshness to more traditional organizations while boosting their résumé with experiences based on win-win situations.

Is it usual to have a human resources department in sports organizations?

Unfortunately, not. That is the first handicap that I have found in the time I have been working in sport, which is two and a half years. The human resources function as such is missing. There is always someone to do payroll and they reduce it to that, to personnel management. Obviously, it is the operational part, but all that part related to internal communication, organization, procedure and protocols, and regulatory care in relation to people is missing. There is no one to take care of the work environment. It is a function that, from my point of view, is very important; in any other sector you will find it implemented, it is a cross-cutting function that has to cover the entire organizational chart, dealing with all the levels of the organization and reporting directly to a steering committee or a board of directors, because any human resources policy has to flow hierarchically down and will affect all staff, and because organizations are people. But, unfortunately, in the sports world this is something that is not yet known and it is very difficult to implement it due to this ignorance. It is not accounting, which always exists; it is not a marketing or communication function. In the end, the world of sport is a spectacle and requires those functions no matter what. It is a very new function that really began to have a place in other sectors no more than 20 years ago and football, which is well over 20 years behind, or sport in general, is trying to get on board, and trying and professionalize, and to professionalize it is necessary to implement a human resources or organizational policy, whether you like it or not.

“Sport is trying to professionalize, and to professionalize it is necessary to implement a human resources, whether you like it or not”

How does the human resources department impact the daily life of a club?

In the world of sport, until now the law of ‘everything goes’ was followed. Anyone who was a sports lover could work in sport. This is very good when you want to be a coach but, even so, you will be asked for some training qualification. When you want to be a good communicator or work within a marketing department and work in marketing, activation, fan engagement, hospitality, ticketing … there are many functions that were not defined. The beginning of everything for human resources is to organize and say what boxes, what different functions there should be in each of the functional areas of the organization, and calculate the number of staff needed. It is just as bad to be overstaffed and have a department of 10 people with eight of them with their arms crossed, as it is to be understaffed, which is usually the case in sport unfortunately, and two people have to do the work of eight.

Can human resources help monetization?

Human resources will seek efficiency in resources, especially human, but also material resources, and will help the company to monetize because it will apply different techniques that will make workers more efficient. It will not bring you the investment of a sponsor, with millions of euros, but it will help you to manage the costs of the organization in a responsible and efficient way.

“Human resources will seek efficiency in resources, especially human, but also material resources, and will help the company to monetize”

Is job instability greater in sports entities?

The first thing you find in a sports entity is that different generations converge: in any other entity you will have the X generation, the Y generation, the Z generation, the millennials. For each one, you must also have a way of communicating, a way of getting through to them, there even have to be policies adapted to each of them. In the world of sport, the problem of the older generation is that it is not professionalized. There are many people in jobs that are historical and that you can’t move or do without, and you can’t even retrain them because their work is all about their ego and they are not qualified for the position they hold. The only way out is to surround them with advisors, a technical team that helps them grow.

Where do we start?

That they are not qualified at the level of training does not mean that they are not at the level of experience, they are historical for any entity and from this type of profiles you also learn a lot. But it is true that we depend on changes in policy by management or boards of directors. Virtually all the positions in a sports organization are volatile, there is a lot of rotation: people are hired for seasons, it is very difficult for a sports organization to offer an indefinite contract, nobody thinks that the project will last many years. A president decides to professionalize, and gives great importance to the technology and human resources functions, and the next president thinks that what’s needed is to have a very fast investment, so he gives huge importance to marketing, he wants to save costs, and he sees the human resources and technology functions as unnecessary. We never know where we are. You know that you are going to do your best, but that will not prevent the project from coming to an end and the following management, or the same one the following year, having a different business vision that no longer includes you.

How is change management handled?

Change management is based, above all, on communication and tremendous support from technology. human resources listen to people and change management comes from that: from communicating and listening, because you can find lots of problems in sports entities.

Where should that change of mind start?

The first ones who need to change their mentality are the directors of the board. If there is no support from the executive, we will hardly be able to change anything at all. There are very complicated departments because they have been working in the same way for many years and it is difficult to change that culture, but if the push comes from the executive, they will undoubtedly change. They are the first ones who should have that clear idea.

What do you value in the new generations that are joining the sports industry?

Their desire, flexibility and that, for them, the important thing is the project. I value that motivation and the desire to contribute, that initiative, that freshness. Their attitude of “I’ll go for a project because it will give me visibility, it’s good for my CV, it will open a lot of different sectors. Because entering the world of sport does not limit you only to sports clubs, it opens the doors to federations, to LaLiga, to companies that are dedicated to sport marketing, player representation, even sectors that have nothing to do with sport, and that are sponsors of the sports world and know your project and are interested in you as a professional. I find it very inspiring that the new generations see this and are interested in sport because for them it is a challenge. In human resources, we no longer like profiles that want a stable job until they retire. Sport is a sector in constant rotation, project-based, and it needs daring people who aren’t afraid of being here today, in Japan tomorrow and unemployed and looking for a new challenge the day after. That is what the new generations have. It’s very inspiring for me.”

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