As a graduate student and young professional, I’ve had the opportunity to hear many leaders within the sports industry speak. While I’ve learned a lot, there are certain phrases that stuck with me. During my time in ASU’s Sports Law and Business program, I took a class titled “Strategic Fundraising.” While it was focused on innovative ways athletic departments generate revenue through business partnerships, capital campaigns, and traditional fundraising, the curriculum also included interacting with senior leaders. Each speaker was powerful but one of the concepts I vividly remember was a phrase uttered by ASU’s Vice President for Athletics Ray Anderson, which was that high-performing organizations have a system of creating “Leaders in Succession.”
As I’ve begun my career journey, I’ve noticed this phrase rings true. Whether it’s the New England Patriots, the University of Alabama, or the San Antonio Spurs, organizations with the highest levels of success have a system of ensuring when key personnel leave subordinates are ready to step into leadership roles without losing any productivity. With the business of sports becoming more complex and volatile, turnover amongst senior staff and executives is frequent. Taking the time to create a succession management strategy to ensure high potential employees are prepared for senior level positions can help improve multiple facets of any organization.
To get more insight in this area I reached out to Rocky Harris who is currently the COO of Arizona State Athletics and professor of practice in the university’s Sports Law and Business Program. He was also recently named one of Sports Business Journal’s 40 under 40. According to Harris, he believes identifying high potential employees in the sports industry should be slightly easier than in traditional business.
“In corporate America, it’s more challenging to implement a succession strategy because there are thousands of employees, compared to an athletics departments where it’s smaller and easier to pinpoint talented individuals.”
Harris, who has worked in senior level positions for the Houston Texans, Houston Dynamo, and for Fortune 500 NRG Energy, believes succession management starts when mentors and senior leaders take a vested interest in their employees.
“Employees want to feel valued and recognized for their productivity and impact,” Harris explained. “The best leaders find ways to prepare their staffs for positions that are one or two levels above them.”
While in-house succession strategy can have costs attached in terms of time and money, creating professional development opportunities can have a dramatic effect on workplace morale and productivity. From an institutional standpoint, ASU has taken this to heart by increasing the resources allocated to employees for advanced degrees and other development activities such as attending conferences throughout the country.
“Ray Anderson has instilled professional development into the culture of Sun Devil Athletics,” said Harris. “It is important to give our employees as many opportunities to grow and network as they desire. Employees who know you have their best interest in mind will go above and beyond in their current positions. That’s a win/win for the employee and the organization.”
Creating a succession management strategy doesn’t just help senior leaders or high-level employees but the organization as a whole. Through the implementation of a talent review process, you are able to evaluate individual employees and then create targeted programs to help them reach their career goals. This will only help drive business performance. Whether you are a massive organization or small athletic department implementing these strategies will only enhance the way you do business and grow your brand. It will not only help you retain talented individuals but it will ensure you attract the best employees when vacancies are announced.
Ronnie Burton Jr., is an emerging professional within collegiate athletics and higher education. Prior to writing for CollegeAD Ronnie worked in administrative and coaching positions at California Lutheran University, Arizona State, and Michigan State. A 2015 graduate of Arizona State’s Masters in Sports Law and Business Program he looks to be an asset for organizations making decisions in the areas of regulation and revenue generation. A former college baseball player, Ronnie’s passions reside at the intersection of higher education and athletics.