Recently, I wrote about The Smart Girl´s Guide to Sports by Liz Hartman Musiker. As I mentioned in that post, "Like the information that Hartman Musiker presents in The Smart Girl´s Guide to Sports, the training you offer your people needs to be accessible. That is, you need to build an unencumbered path to its door. If you make something too technical, for instance, you throw up obstacles and give people one more reason to tune out."
Liz Hartman Musiker is a tireless sports enthusiast and a former publicity director at Pocket Books (a part of Simon & Schuster). Although she lives on Long Island, she is more of a Yankees fan than a Mets fan, which horrifies her geographically loyal son and husband. Below is part one of and interview with Liz.
Q: Do you think companies can take some of the lessons you offer in Smart Girl´s Guide and apply them to the workplace?
Yes. The workplace today is increasingly diverse, not just in terms of ethnicity, but there are people of all ages at different stages of life — from just out of school, to working moms, to grandfathers. Add to this the fact that with technology there is less and less necessity for face-to-face contact, although real, live interaction is essential to a workplace with team-oriented goals. My contention is that sports is a tool that can bridge gaps — not just between men and women, but also between people of all different backgrounds. You don´t need a scientific study to show that if a group of men who don´t know each other well — or at all — are thrown together, they will very quickly start talking sports. It´s a language they all seem to know and puts them at ease. Women would probably start having a hair chat — but this can be problematic because it may be viewed as frivolous in the business world. The great thing about sports is that even though in the greater scheme of things sports don´t matter, sports are never frivolous. The world of sports has a weird nature of being frivolously serious, or seriously entertaining, or passionately fun. Unlike politics or religion, all opinions and passions are A-O.K. Companies could benefit by utilizing the idea of a universal language, a universal interest. It doesn´t have to be sports. But, as John Steinbeck said, "Sports gets into everything," so why reinvent the wheel?
Can your strategies for learning about sports be applied to employee development?
Yes. Unless of course your employee is a neurosurgeon-in-training. In sports, as I say in the book, a little bit of knowledge (unlike in neurosurgery) is not a dangerous thing. In fact, a little bit of knowledge can go a long way. Regardless of how specialized the various departments or duties of individual companies become, it is beneficial to all, if every employee knows something about what the other departments and/or employees do. It makes problem solving easier when one understands the obstacles that others are facing and it is a way of showing respect and support for fellow employees. What can be applied widely in employee development is the dip-your-toes-in-the-water approach that I recommend for women learning sports. A lot of women shy away from sports because they think they´ll never understand it or it simply isn´t worth the effort because it won´t be fun. My point is that once one learns the basics, the rest comes naturally and it IS fun.
Next time: part two of my interview with Liz Hartman Musiker