View from HR: What can for-profit businesses learn from the Panthers?

There are more Carolina Panthers fans in my neighborhood today than three years ago. I am one of them, brought into the fold by a couple of winning seasons, a charismatic quarterback and a Super Bowl 50 appearance.

At the end of the day, we are rooting for a profit-centered private enterprise. The team is a business, with wealthy owners, income and royalty streams and a payroll to meet. Forbes magazine reported last year the Panthers franchise was worth $1.6 billion, had revenues of $325 million and net income of $78 million. A solid, mid-sized, successful money-making machine!

How does a business spawn this patriotic-like following among its jersey-buying fan base? The Panthers organization is not a religion, a college, a political party or a country. Tickets are expensive lately and beers are ten bucks.

Maybe football and NFL fans are a special case. Still, what can any for-profit business learn from the Panthers about creating fans?

Emotion. The most important lesson for any business is the important role of emotion. Employers underrate the power of emotion to rally, motivate and inoculate employees and customers. The right kinds of emotional experiences inside and outside a company are why people stay, spread the word and buy more (or work harder). The Panthers understand that people make choices based on emotion and justify those choices with logic.

Nothing beats winning. It is my duty to remind recently-minted Panthers fans that seats were easy to get and prices were falling just a few years ago. Private seat licenses were resold at relatively low prices by tired owners. The difference is winning. Employees want to work for a winning organization, too. Winning is defined many ways: meeting goals, delivering on the mission, hitting bonus targets, growing skills/pay, feeling part of a team, being heard, having a good plan, overcoming competitive threats, and building a positive culture. Employees want to be fans of their employer, but if they work hard and never win, your best people move on.

Quirky can be good. Cam Newton is a talented quarterback with a distinctive style. My wife loves it when he trots over to a young fan and gives away a game ball. He sometimes says goofy things like “hindsight is 50/50.” He has his own, authentic style. Good for him. A successful business leader can be quirky if also authentic. There is no single style or set of behaviors to assure a leader’s success. But employees can spot fakery and manipulation 100 yards away.

Pride. One of the best survey questions to ask employees is “are you proud to tell your friends where you work?” There is only one good answer. “Yes” is an employee’s version of wearing the jersey. When employees are proud to say where they work, why they are proud, and why others should apply, it is the employer-equivalent of a trip to the Super Bowl. When your best people attract other great people, talent shortages are rare.

Go Panthers!

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 North Carolina employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit