Thursday, November 21, 2019
Tuesday, 20 June 2017 10:20

I've Got Friends: What HR Can Learn from a Country Legend

Written by B. Todd Whisenant, SHRM-SCP, SPHR

Banjo

One of Garth Brooks' best know hits is “Friends in Low Places.” It is an easy tune to sing, especially with friends. Last year, I attended a Garth Brooks concert. Although I’ve attended concerts from other genres, this was only my second country music concert.

A Garth Brooks’ concert is awesome. He truly looks like he is enjoying the concert and the interaction with his audience even more than they do – which is saying a lot. To him, it appears this is fun, not work. That, of course, is the best kind of job to have.

Leaders in our organizations need HR to model and coach them on how to apply Brooks’ example to their own teams. Almost every team could benefit from more appropriate fun and sincerer appreciation – not just for a favored few, but for all members of the team.

But the aspect that really got my attention was how Brooks interacted with and acknowledged his band (team). At other concerts I’ve attended, fellow band members were recognized with a spotlight and perhaps a short solo. We’ve all seen it: “And on the drums is Mr. Johnny Doe!” It is a common form of recognition in the music business, similar to many casual acknowledgments bestowed by leaders on teammates in the corporate world.

But Brooks did something different. Throughout the concert, he teamed up with one or more different band members, including his backup singers, while singing, playing, or just having fun with them. He acknowledged each member by their full name, talked about where they were from, gave some interesting facts about them, explained what made them so great and told the audience how long they had been with the band. He even included the guy who handed him his guitar on stage.

In addition, Brooks didn’t simply say words of appreciation along with a spotlight shining on the individual. He showed a slide of that person, usually with several pictures of them on the jumbotrons. Each team member was truly well acknowledged and appreciated.

What was also interesting was when Brooks introduced the rookie. It turned out he had been with the band for 22 years! Twenty-two years and he’s the rookie? Many employees don’t even make 2.2 years before moving on, much less 22 years.

Why is there such longevity with Garth Brooks’ team? There are probably two simple reasons, both of which HR practitioners should model and coach. First, Brooks has made the job of touring fun.

No doubt there are times when it isn’t all peaches and cream – difficult travel away from families—but that’s true of any job. Most music groups find it very difficult to stay together for long, but Brooks’ band is experiencing the joy of having a leader who clearly makes having fun with his team a priority.

But, the more important second reason, and likely the real reason his band and backup singers (or “Wall of Song” as he called them) continue to stay together, is that Brooks genuinely and sincerely appreciates and recognizes them. He does so publicly -- which is quite a recognition given they play almost nightly concerts of more than 17,000 people. As performers, surely his band members like the large-scale public recognition, but everyone likes some kind of recognition (although some are more comfortable with more private expressions of appreciation).

The band rewards Brooks with virtually no turnover and with obvious engagement. How long would YOU stay at an organization where leaders try to incorporate appropriate fun and sincere appreciation for your efforts, regardless of how big or small they may appear on the surface? Brooks’ band and backup singers are no doubt paid well today for their talents, but that probably wasn’t the case when Brooks first put together the team. Yet, they stayed together. Now, they are able to reap the benefits that come with being in an experienced, successful team.

Although others may know Brooks’ story far better than I do, my point is that his leadership style is an example that we, as HR leaders, can utilize. Brooks is a popular performer whose team’s strength is worth emulating. Leaders in our organizations need HR to model and coach them on how to apply Brooks’ example to their own teams. Almost every team could benefit from more appropriate fun and sincerer appreciation – not just for a favored few, but for all members of the team. Everyone is important.

It is evident that Brooks treats and values his band (team) members as friends. Whether at work or home, if you truly value someone and make it known, you’ll always have them as a friend - and hopefully not in “low places.”

Todd Whisenant
B. Todd Whisenant, SHRM-SCP, SPHR is the Human Resources Business Partner for the Southeast Region for Michael Baker International. Todd has over 30 years of diverse business and human resources experiences in a variety of industries, including consulting. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..