Company Culture

How BSE Global and Norwich City FC Build Healthy Company Cultures

April 17, 2024
April 24, 2024
Jimmy Leonard
Lattice Team

You win some, you lose some. That mantra is an everyday reality for professional sports teams — organizations that typically operate on multimillion-dollar budgets with hundreds of staff under intense public scrutiny to deliver exceptional results. 

So what happens to the company culture when the team isn’t doing well? 

Lattice VP of International Marketing Jules Strong met with HR directors from two worldwide sports organizations to learn how they build resilient, supportive, and growth-focused cultures in high-pressure environments:

These leaders share a commitment to creating high-performance workplace cultures that help employees thrive. Here’s how they maintain champion mindsets — and how HR leaders at any organization can do the same.

Set goals for impact.

Brooklyn and Norwich are both home to loyal fan bases, and Aponte and Hamilton agree on the importance of prioritizing community outreach.

“​​Our purpose is to leave our football club and our community better tomorrow than it is today,” Hamilton said. “That’s an infinite purpose. It’s never going to be fully attainable — we’re always working toward it.”

Yet in the daily grind of travel arrangements, marketing, accounting, and other operational functions, task-focused key performance indicators (KPIs) often seem more urgent than making a difference. To sustain a meaningful purpose for the long haul, community-centered goals need to be measurable and actionable.

“We’re doing a lot of work right now to identify behaviors for [our] values so that it’s more tangible,” Aponte said. “When you say ‘accountability’ or ‘growth mindset,’ what does that mean? We’re trying to give more tactical behaviors for our employees so that they can understand it.”

At Norwich City, each department defines its own measurable KPIs. They have the flexibility to claim a meaningful impact in the context of what they control — “as long as they can give us an audit trail of how their goals contribute to the milestones that the club is trying to seek as we work toward that infinite purpose,” Hamilton explained.

Motivate and communicate through change.

All organizations grapple with change management, but the sports and entertainment industries are more turbulent than most. 

For instance, BSE Global has had three CEOs in the past two and a half years, and high-profile player trades or end-of-season results can also have an outsized impact on organizational morale. When the Nets traded star forward Kevin Durant to Phoenix in 2023, Aponte recalled, there was a down mood in the back office. But the excitement ramped up again later that year when the Liberty reached the WNBA Finals.

“[Our employees] put so much pride and passion into the teams and seeing them do well,” Aponte said. So how can managers motivate teams even when the win-loss record varies from year to year?

Hamilton and Aponte agree that clear communication is foundational to organizational trust. HR teams can’t disclose everything, of course. But the more employees know about where the organization is headed, the better their sense of direction will be in their roles.

“Clarity creates capacity,” Aponte added. “The clearer we are with where we’re going and what we’re doing, the more capacity our employees have to execute successfully on what they have to do and understand what's important.” 

Hire top performers, not just fans.

A winning culture starts with hiring the right people.

Even outside the sports world, HR teams can easily fall into the trap of hiring “good cultural fits” while ignoring gaping holes in applicants’ skills or experience. And while countless fans would surely love to get paid to work for their favorite professional sports team, fandom doesn’t necessarily equate to competency. 

A sports team’s best players are often the ones who make both offensive and defensive contributions. Similarly, a strong hire needs a diverse skill set and a track record of performing well in high-pressure situations. “If we’ve got someone who’s applying to work on the team just because they love the game, we’ll figure that out pretty quickly,” Hamilton explained.

Aponte agreed that someone who’s a lifelong fan of the team isn’t automatically a good hire. “You want that level of pride in the organization and that commitment to see success, but you also want to bring in top performers who will do their jobs really well and keep elevating the organization,” she said. 

Build safe spaces.

A high-pressure, results-driven environment can be a miserable place to work — and a fast track to burnout — even when an employee is good at their job. That’s why people leaders should care for the wellbeing of their teams by addressing their emotional and mental health needs.

To be clear, HR directors are not mental health professionals, but they can help create a supportive, psychologically safe work culture. Norwich City focuses on self-awareness and self-accountability.

“It starts with people understanding ​​that they are allowed to look after their own mental health and wellbeing,” Hamilton said. HR leaders can create an open environment where employees feel safe to share their concerns about work, but ultimately, individuals need to take charge of their own wellness. One of the best ways HR departments can promote mental health is by raising awareness of common challenges.

For example, Norwich City received international recognition for its World Mental Health Day 2023 video advocating for suicide prevention. BSE Global offers quarterly Touch Point Tuesdays: days of massages, breathing exercises, rooftop yoga, and other activities focused on stress relief.

“Part of it is creating a culture that it’s okay to…take time for yourself,” said Aponte. Even an action as simple as allowing employees to take some time off to go to a doctor’s appointment can speak volumes in encouraging personal wellness.

Leverage employee feedback.

Any growth-focused culture thrives on feedback. The problem is that many legacy HR systems rely on clunky interfaces and cumbersome data entry that render employee evaluations ineffective.

When Aponte joined BSE Global, a legacy system was detracting from the team feedback culture. “Employees [and managers] didn’t use it,” Aponte said. And when it came to annual reviews, “People didn’t see the value in actually having the conversation.”

After switching to Lattice, though, more than 90% of BSE Global employees completed their annual reviews last year, and Aponte reported that the recent mid-year review rate was 92%. “Employees know where they stand better, and managers have a way to say more clearly what they need from someone, what their objectives are, and what their goals are,” she said.

Hamilton recently brought Lattice to Norwich City FC as well. Starting out, he’s using Lattice’s prewritten pulse survey questions to learn how employees stay informed and understand the organization’s values. For instance, the pulse surveys provide a window into how employees think about collaboration, respect, and positivity using real examples from their day-to-day tasks. 

Lattice Analytics allows Hamilton to analyze the employee data to inform new initiatives. “That is going to be key for us because we’ve not had that [data analysis] in a system before,” he said. Listening to employees helps HR leaders craft meaningful professional development plans, both corporately and for individuals.

Successful sports teams review game footage to improve their performance. The right people management platform provides the data and tools for organizations of any size to maintain a champion mindset.


This article is based on “The Playbook for Achieving Champion-Level Performance,” a Lattice webinar hosted by Jules Strong, vice president of international marketing. To learn more about how guests Emily Aponte and Perry Hamilton build resilient, results-driven cultures, check out the full recording here.