How to Invest in Your Employees

Human resources experts have no shortage of prospects when it comes to new hires in the NFL—but they have to figure out how to identify the right people who will help drive sustained success. How one NFL VP is tackling the job in Philadelphia

Kristie Pappal, vice president of human resources. Photo: Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles

Each season the Philadelphia Eagles organization is faced with time-sensitive, large-scale projects that require swift resolution. In 2013, heavy snowstorms blanketed portions of the East Coast. In Philadelphia, the blizzard was so severe that the stadium and seats of Lincoln Financial Field, where the team was preparing for a home game, were covered. On the field, the grounds crew rushed to make the yard markers visible.

With just hours remaining before kickoff, front-office employees from top to bottom grabbed shovels to clear the stands. Interns and coordinators worked alongside the chief financial officer, vice presidents, and directors. Kristie Pappal was not surprised. She joined the organization in 2007 and says this is just one of many examples of the attractive and team-oriented atmosphere that’s kept her with the team despite the high turnover within the sports industry. As the Eagles’ vice president of human resources, Pappal is working to sustain and even improve upon the organization’s well-respected culture.

Did you set out to enter human resources?

Kristie Pappal: I was a college athlete at Penn State and thought I would be a physical therapist. When an injury shortened my running season, I discovered it wasn’t for me. I got involved in campus HR internships and fell in love with the daily interactions of HR and the idea of providing internal customer service, knowing that every day would be a little different.

So you’re an athlete. Is it a coincidence that you wound up working in sports?

Pappal: Not at all. After two years in HR, I loved it but wanted to be in an industry and product that I was passionate about. I made a list of hobbies and activities I loved and companies that were affiliated with those. I worked in the health and fitness industry, which really married my personal and professional interests.

And the Eagles?

Pappal: I saw an ad, took a deep breath, and applied. I knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime, and felt fortunate to get an interview.

As someone who now works in human resources at a high level, what do you think helped you land your job with the Eagles?

Pappal: At that time, I had no idea of the thousands of résumés that come in for every job that exists in professional sports. But I was in the marketplace and had good experience combined with being a native of Philadelphia and a student athlete. I demonstrated a good pattern of career growth in a short time, and I presented a résumé that was clear, concise, and error free.

What did you notice about the organization right away?

Pappal: There are only thirty-two opportunities to get a job in the NFL. There are certain perceptions about working in sports, but people only see what’s on the field. When you join a team, you see what a robust business a sports organization is. I could tell from the start that there was a real camaraderie and that it was a fun environment. We’re working together for a common purpose.

Which is?

Pappal: The one goal that drives us all, regardless of our role in the organization, is to be a Super Bowl winning team.

Don’t the business side and the football side have different goals?

Pappal: Ultimately, no; they go hand in hand. Success both on and off the field allows the organization to continue to invest and be progressive. Teamwork is critical, and there is an interdependency between our football and business operations.

The Philadelphia Eagles’ annual playground build is a day of community service where the entire organization joins together to revitalize a school.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ annual playground build is a day of community service where the entire organization joins together to revitalize a school.

You were recently promoted to vice president. What prepared you for the move?

Pappal: Learning how to stay relevant. We believe in investing in personal and professional development. We want everyone to have those opportunities, and I try to prepare my staff to do more so I can also take on more responsibilities.

What do you consider your most important work?

Pappal: My advisory role with our leadership team. It’s also critical that we hire and retain the right people.

What do you look for?

Pappal: You want to surround yourself with people who are passionate and driven. We say, “I am an Eagle,” and we work hard to identify the best people who embody that DNA. One of the drivers of success is the willingness to jump in and do what needs to be done in the best interest of the organization, regardless of title. When interviewing, I often hear candidates use the expression, “I just want to work in sports.” It’s critical that during the interview they convey that their accomplishments are relevant to the particular role as well as their professional aspirations. We want people to know what skill sets they bring to the table that will make an impact, and I work really hard to make them articulate that in an interview.

The Eagles are often listed as one of the area’s best places to work. Why?

Pappal: The culture keeps people here, and there are many opportunities for advancement. We also have some great perks, like an on-site gym. People go running together, or participate in wellness and nutrition events. We really want people to engage, and these efforts translate into motiving people to put forth their best effort. It’s the culture, the common purpose, the environment, and the ability to share and elevate ideas.

The organization has ramped up community outreach. What does that look like, and why is it important?

Pappal: There’s been a longstanding commitment from senior leaders to address issues in the community and make a positive difference where we live through the power and status of a professional sports team. We know we have the unique chance to excite people and raise awareness, and not making that part of our DNA would be a mistake.

We have an annual playground build, and every player, employee, and coach participates. It’s amazing to see how the school looks when we arrive compared to how it looks when we leave. We do things that are hands-on so our employees can see what they’ve come together to do in partnership.

What is the best part of working for an NFL team?

Pappal: It’s a privilege to be one of the select few that gets to do this. I wake up every day loving that I have this opportunity, and it never gets old. There’s always an excitement when I drive through the gate and pass the Eagle heads to enter the NovaCare Complex, but the best part to me is game day. It’s our chance to see all the hard work come together, because each department has made a contribution to create a memorable experience for our fans. There’s a special electricity in the building, and we know that we’re a part of it.