In American football, there is a position called an H-back. The position was created by Coach Joe Gibbs when he was head coach of the Washington Redskins from 1981 to 1992 as a direct response to the Lawrence Taylor era of the New York Giants. Taylor was a dominant linebacker at the time. Offensive formations that utilize the H-back are not commonly used in professional football today, however teams at the high school and collegiate levels sometimes utilize H-back formations.
The name H-back can be confusing because the H-back rarely carries the ball as running backs do. Rather, the H-back plays a position similar to a tight end. The name stems from the playbook notation in use at the time the position was developed, where the standard offense consisted of three receivers and three backs. The three receivers, the split end, tight end, and flanker, were labeled “X”, “Y”, and “Z” on play diagrams. The three backs, quarterback, halfback, and fullback, were labeled “Q”, “H”, and “F”. Gibbs’ innovation was to move one of the backs up near the line of scrimmage to serve as an extra tight end.
The H-back has to be versatile. As a backfield member, they can be lined up as a lead blocker on running plays and are also eligible to run the ball. In the role of a traditional tight end, they also have to catch passes over the middle and pass protect the quarterback when needed.
As I reflected on this position and placed it in the context of today’s professional workplace setting, some interesting thoughts were revealed. I would argue many organizations need an H-back.
The value of an H-back’s versatility is priceless, as there are many opportunities for them to serve in the modern day organization:
- For an organization operating in functional silos, they can serve as a communication bridge between silos, thereby enabling them to get along and work better together.
- As a teammate where the executive suite is disconnected from what’s going on in the field, they can serve as the bridge between management and labor and ensure educated decisions are made, and the front line feels their voices are heard and feedback matters.
- As a stakeholder in serving customers, they can be the glue that creates brand stickiness and customer loyalty.
In my organization, I’m the lead H-back. Here’s a sample of what our H-backs do:
- Serve leadership by modeling the desired behaviors of our leaders.
- Speak many “functional” languages to serve as a translator between departments, i.e. administrative, finance, legal, sales, marketing, production and customer service.
- Acquire a wide range of experience that enables empathy. We need the experience of walking in others’ shoes so we can solve problems.
- Be the “first in” on any customer-facing matter. Work side by side with salespeople to help them acquire new business. Get in the trenches with the customer service representatives to help them offer a solution. Proactively monitor the customer experience and dive in to any threatening matter to diffuse it.
- Continually strive for mastery and balance of skills in the following arenas: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, intuitional.
Every organization needs H-backs. Serving in that capacity is not easy. It’s not for everyone. It’s a rigorous role.
However, the opportunity to become one is available to anyone who chooses to commit their hearts, minds and bodies to it. As with life, becoming the person you want to be starts with a choice and commitment.