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Free Agent Frenzy – HR Version

For the sports fans/football fans out there, you all know that today at 4pm EST the NFL’s free agent period kicks off. This is essentially the NFL’s version of a talent free for all. Hundreds of NFL players will become unrestricted free agents today, which means that they are all free to sign with whatever team they want to for however much money they can get. As free agents, the very best players (best talent) command top dollar for longer contractual periods. The funny thing is, every year, in the chase to make more money and to win championships, both players and owners alike, make critical mistakes during this time period. Players leave simply for money and owners overspend/over value the free agents and make hasty decisions as they try and buy a championship.

The same comparator can be drawn when it comes to top talent within organizations looking to move on to perceived greener pastures. That is, unless you are under some sort of fixed term contract, as an employee, you are always in free agent mode. That is, you are free to change employers as you see fit and are able, provided you give proper notice to your current employer. In my years in the recruiting and HR business, I have seen a lot of people chase the dollars only to have it come back to haunt them – much like the NFL players do. Similarly, organizations NFL-FAtry and buy talent (overpay) as a way to compensate for their inability to attract, develop and retain the right core group of employees.

The biggest mistake that NFL players make is that they leave a team (company) and system (culture) that they are familiar and comfortable with which has also allowed them to have great success on the field. When these players become free agents, they jump to teams that offer them the highest dollars possible without considering how they will be able to perform in these new systems. Just like in business, the NFL has teams with such poor cultures, usually due to poor ownership, (the Oakland Raiders or Miami Dolphins) that it is hard for players to be successful, especially if they have come from an organization with strong culture focused on performance and winning (think the New England Patriots). In fact, rarely have players that have left teams with these type of “winning “ cultures gone on to realize the same or similar success with other teams. If you don’t believe, Google any big named free agent that has left New England or Baltimore (despite the Ray Rice issues) in the last 10 years and see if they have gone on to similar or greater success. Trust me, you will come up empty. The reasons are simple – leadership, culture and organizational stability at the top trumps dollars when it comes to setting people up for success. Meaning, just because you pay someone a ton of money, doesn’t mean they can and will perform for you.

So, if you are looking to make the leap from your current company to another for more money (as your main driver), you need to consider if you can have the same level of success and maintain the credibility of your personal brand if you do so. Now, I am not begrudging NFL players or you, my readers, for trying to make more money. Heck, we all have bills to pay! I simply mean you have to look at the big picture. NFL players will turn down $5 million a year on a 5 year deal with their current team to take $6 million a year for 4 years with another team. Yes, I know that is a total difference of $3 million in overall value however, the player is realizing approx. a 20% increase a year with one less year of employment. What happens in the NFL, because a lot of deals don’t contain guaranteed money, meaning, the player can be cut without penalty, is that after the first year or two, if the player’s performance isn’t at peak value or producing, they are out of a job. So how much additional money did they truly realize?

The same logic applies to us as employees. You may be able to increase your salary by 20% (who wouldn’t want to) but if you aren’t going to be set up for success, is it worth the damage to your professional brand? Do you really want to go through the misery of being part of a horrible organizational culture with poor leadership for the next 4-5 years of your career so you can realize a 20% bump in pay?

So, when considering a move purely based on money, you have to ask yourself, “Would I rather be playing for the New England Patriots and have a chance at winning the championship every year?” or; “Do I want to go purely for the money and play for the Jacksonville Jaguars where I have no chance at winning or success for the next 5 years, but I will take home more money?” Typically the average NFL free agent doesn’t consider this…perhaps you, as top talent, should? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

PS – Darrelle Revis: Please heed my advice!

Image courtesy of The Revelation


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