‘Watering the Grass’: Why Company Culture Matters in Sports Business

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Your professional life in sports can be demanding, but that doesn’t mean office culture has to be cold.

A recent seminar at the Baseball Winter Meetings focused on office culture and featured Adam Nuse, the general manager of the Triple-A Nashville Sounds who graduated earlier this month from Western Kentucky University upon earning his doctorate in organizational leadership.

The seminar also included Round Rock Express General Manager Tim Jackson and Minor League Baseball Human Resources Manager Tara Thornton. The three discussed the changing dynamics of office culture and various perks that have been implemented.

Sports have long been an extended-hours work environment, but work, in general, is no longer 9-to-5, Nuse said. The key, he said, is to trust employees and offer them flexibilities.

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“One of the biggest things is you want work to be part of employee lifestyles,” Nuse said. “This generation is unlike some of the others, and they can be working all the time. If we allow them flexibility, they can be working anywhere and we can trust them to get their work down and the service gets better.”

The generational differences are large, Nuse said. When he was coming up through the ranks, working from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. through a seven-game homestand wasn’t unusual. Workers were driven, for the most part, by money at the end of the journey. Today, employees aren’t happy in the daily grind and aren’t driven solely by money, Nuse said.

It’s not an easy switch for the older generations in management to make, but Nuse said it pays off in the long run.

The Sounds’ organizational office changes — like staggered hours, for example — came from increased transparency and an open-door policy. Nuse also said one of the largest drivers for positive culture adjustments is the annual 360-degree reviews. The review asks five questions with anonymity: What do we do good? What do we do bad? What to get rid of? Staff MVP? What do you want to see from the organization in five years?

“It’s a platform to voice their opinion without feeling like they’ll get in trouble,” Nuse said.

Nuse recognizes there is an innate fear among early-career employees — and experienced it himself. Now as a superior, he said employees shouldn’t fear opening communication with managers.

“A lot of these old organizations are certainly motivated by fear and it creates an organizational paralysis of sorts,” Nuse said.

Similar to the 360-degree review, Nuse said he does his best to maintain an open-door policy and likes catching up with his employees. Some use it better than others, but that’s OK.

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“Some of the most influential people in our culture are the people who pop in and visit and keep me updated,” Nuse said. “Some of those people become the voice for everyone else who still might have that fear. It’s natural, but they know they can go to certain people and still have the ability to have their voice heard.”

Consistent and open communications can provide a variety of benefits. The conversations might lead to whole-scale organizational office culture changes. They also can lead to individual projects and benefits; that could mean an organization helping pay for continued education, for example. It never hurts to ask, Nuse said.

He cited a quote his wife says in regards to the common idiom: “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.”

“The grass is greener where your feet are,” Nuse said. “It’s about trying to create an environment where they can make the grass green where their feet are — an atmosphere where they can succeed and don’t have to look out for greener pastures. We try to invest in the time and efforts where they are, so while they’re here, the grass is growing.”