Robert Gulliver

Executive VP & Chief Human Resources Officer, National Football League

In his six seasons as executive vice president and chief human resources officer for the National Football League, Robert Gulliver T’97 has helped manage the NFL through some major cultural shifts: a push for more diverse head coaches, a re-thinking of NFL values in the wake of the Ray Rice domestic violence controversy, and most recently a major initiative to bring more women into executive roles.

And this is just the latest chapter in his 20-year career in human resources, at companies like Citigroup and Wells Fargo. Here he shares his tips on how to shape the culture in an organization.

Prioritize diversity. While there are times to allow things to be organic, diversity is an area where it’s important for leadership to be intentional and vocal. We recently expanded the NFL’s “Rooney Rule”: when there’s a head coach or general manager opportunity, at least one diverse candidate has to be considered. Now for all executive-level jobs at the NFL League Office, we must consider at least one woman.

Create a “truth to power” environment. The NFL is very consensus driven, and we work to find common ground in driving change. But at the same time, it’s critical that the leadership of any company fosters an environment where employees feel comfortable putting their voices in the room, and it’s okay to respectfully disagree.

Think of leaders as coaches. We talk a lot about our leaders throughout the organization as “coaches,” and coaches are essentially teachers. They provide those on the team with candid feedback, and they’re the people who can drive and affect change. Coaching is a literal part of football, but it’s a valuable metaphor for any business.

Win hearts and minds. Make the business case for change, but also work to win the hearts and minds of those who can help drive and influence change.

Look for high EQ in your hires. I find the people who are most successful as leaders have the technical expertise and excellence required and combine that with good people skills. They have high emotional intelligence—EQ—as well as high IQ.

Listen and understand. Our leadership team realizes that it doesn’t have all the answers. We’re doing a lot of listening. Two seasons ago, we had some challenges related to domestic violence and sexual assault, and we rolled out an enhanced personal conduct policy to better address these societal issues within our community. That wasn’t simply a top-down edict. We took a step back and listened, conducting focus groups, interviews, and discussions with players, owners, executives, employees and experts in the field. In addition, we used this moment to rearticulate the NFL values from the vantage of the people who are living them.

There’s no one best source of ideas. We recently rolled out what we’re calling an “employee hack.” It’s a page out of the tech world’s hackathons where programmers get together for a short, intense period to find new ways to solve problems. We’re pulling together a bunch of our employees who have great ideas and asking them how we can move the needle on our culture. What are the “even better if...” opportunities to live the NFL values day in and day out? It’s a deliberate act to create a forum for dialogue, ideas, insights, and brainstorming.

Value competitors’ ideas. One of the most important focuses for us is diversity, and five years ago I joined with a group of sports and media diversity experts with the goal of sharing best practices. Diversity is one of those areas where a rising tide lifts all boats. It’s been a productive forum, and we continue to meet annually.

Continue Reading