Fort Worth YMCA’s CHRO and Former NFL Player Ken Reeves on Building a Truly Successful Team Within Your HR Department and Your Business as a Whole
One of the most frequently used types of analogies employed to frame business in more palatable terms is to draw similarities with the world of sports and athletics. There, the logic postulates, something complex and ostensibly opaque can be imparted to someone in a more digestible manner, allowing them to grasp and take advantage of the information contained therein.
Oftentimes, however, these wisdoms are confined to individual attributes such as “drive” or “perseverance,” or to reliably flexible understandings of ideas like teamwork and selflessness. In other words, the comparisons are facile but fundamentally figurative.
As someone who spent a significant portion of his life as a top-level competitive athlete, rising through high school, collegiate and professional football, Fort Worth YMCA’s Chief Human Resources (HR) Officer Ken Reeves has a keen understanding of the literal functions within a team structure.
A Plan for Life Before & After the NFL
Pointing back to his parents and community upbringing, Reeves stated that he was never allowed to “forget what college was all about.” His focus, from day one, was to derive all he could from his education and not take it for granted. Because football was always a fleeting thing which could end at any time—and that even an extended professional career certainly would end when he was still a relatively young man—he planned accordingly and always intended to return to school after initially earning a bachelor’s in Engineering.
“I always knew that upon retirement [from football] I would return to Texas A&M to go to graduate school,” Reeves said. “I didn’t know if it was going to be in engineering, I didn’t know if it was going to be in another field, but I always knew that my transition out of football would lead me into the business world in some shape, form or fashion.”
Process, People & Purpose
As someone who possesses a master’s degree in HR Training and Development and is pursuing a PhD in the same subject, Reeves has both an enormous passion and a wealth of knowledge about HR. The connection he draws between the organizational structures of football teams and HR departments takes the current trend of making HR more integrated within business as a strategic partner to a deeper level.
“You take the CEO [Chief Executive Officer] of a major organization. That CEO’s job is to set the strategy for the organization and put the right people in the right slots, with the right skills,” Reeves said. “Just like a coach, that person is there to oversee the team as a whole, to make sure that the chemistry, culture and attitude is right to move that team forward.”
As with a team, an organization’s employees, or players, are the ones who “get things done” on the proverbial field. Building on this point, Reeves discussed the two focuses he uses to equip his HR unit to play the role of a strategic partner and advisor at YMCA. First is asking, “How can this person or practice add value?” Second is a holistic understanding of how the organization achieves its mission.
“Going out initially and meeting with each leader [of other YMCA departments], I asked, ‘What is it that you do?’ And then, once I’d understand what it is that you do, I’d follow up by asking, ‘How do you see HR or myself and my department adding value to what you do?’ Once I can figure out what you do and then figure out how HR can add value to that, that immediately inserts us to have a position as a trusted organization advisor.”
“The second thing that I preach to my team is—and this is more on the for-profit than nonprofit side of things—I stress that you have to understand how an organization generates resources,” Reeves continued. “You have to understand the operations of an organization, and once you can understand that, you can truly understand how to impact their bottom line, how to be more efficient, how to be more effective and how to become a trusted partner. When you can do that, then truly you’re operating at a strategic level. When you’re able to understand how the organization generates resources, then you’re able to quantify those dollars and cents through process, people and purpose.”
Networking & the Law of Averages
Although it’s safe to say that “networking” has officially supplanted “synergy” as the business community’s most popular buzzword, few executives articulate the value and utility of the practice as concisely and practically as Reeves.
“When it comes to networking and making yourself known, it’s really the law of averages,” he said. “The single most important thing you can do for your career is to network, and you have to do it constantly. When I say constantly, maybe not literally daily, but you should be seeking to find five to 10 new contacts per week and the [technological resource] that I use big time for this is LinkedIn.”
Highlighting volunteering and professional speaking as excellent networking avenues, Reeves touched on the seminal moment when he was taught the value of networking—one that has informed not only his professional goals, but also his choice of college. Relaying a conversation he had with an older Texas A&M graduate when he was 17 years old, Reeves said that the man told him his choice of school would “not only affect you for the next four years of your life, but the next 60 years of your life.” The man went on to describe the importance of A&M’s “Aggie Network” of alumni, something Reeves has both sewn into and accessed throughout his career.
Confidence, Winning & Being a Whole Person
Lastly, in referencing his love of coaching youth sports, Reeves again tied in his desire to instill in his players confidence, leadership abilities and a holistic view of developing one’s own skills.
“When I get a kid that doesn’t have a lot of confidence and I’m able to build up that kid’s confidence to the point where they’re able to compete and take pride in themselves, they oftentimes are the ones that will outwork everybody,” Reeves said. “Because when you can get a kid to believe in themselves, they will believe in you.”
He also stressed that in terms of winning, even more important than the result is that of having the confidence to do so.
“It’s hard to win when you don’t have the confidence to win,” Reeves conveyed. “You have to win a game in your mind, your heart and your soul. I take pride in coaching youth sports because I’m more interested in the development of young people.”
Reeves, both as an athlete and now as a businessperson, has demonstrated an uncanny ability to recruit talent, develop leaders and cull the very best from the people around him. While just as in sports, finding the optimal roles for himself and those around him is essential, he’s unequivocal about his belief that the best players are also the most complete players.
In calling and making the right plays with Fort Worth YMCA and as advice for fellow professionals, Reeves noted, “You have to be a whole person and develop your whole self to be successful in life in general.”♦
Ken Reeves’ Guide To Leading a Team
Reeves outlined the competencies and behaviors, which go hand in hand, that the YMCA in Fort Worth has adopted in its Leadership Development Program:
- Ability to develop clear strategies to support the vision of the organization;
- Ability to develop new relationships and cultivate long-term ones;
- Drives results;
- Gains alignment and commitment of others;
- Communicates effectively; and
- Makes informed and timely decisions.
- Promotes sustainability through philanthropy;
- Develops relationships with and among members/participants;
- Policy/Standards; an
He also added that one cannot have the competencies but not the behaviors, or vice versa. It doesn’t matter just that you got something done, Reeves said, but also how you got to that result.
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