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    10 years later, still talkin' about practice

    This week was the 10th Anniversary of NBA legend Allen Iverson's classic 'talkin' about practice' press conference, where the Philadelphia 76ers star, just a few days after seeing his Sixers team eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics addressed the media and was confronted with questions about his (allegedly poor) practice habits. Iverson had a tempestuous relationship with 76er coach Larry Brown, himself no stranger to controversy, and the 'practice' rant stemmed largely from Brown's comments to the media about Iverson's casual attitude towards practice and preparation.

    Some video exists from the 2002 press conference, (embedded below, email and RSS subscribers will need to click through), that shows Iverson in full on 'practice' rant, mentioning about 20 times in two and a half minutes that he saw it as being ridiculous as a the franchise player, and league MVP just one season prior, and a legendary fierce and fearless competitor, that he had to spend time well, talking about practice.

    Video below and some more comments from me after the jump...

    A few things about Iverson's comments and the 'practice' issue overall.

    One, the video, and most of what everyone remembers from the press conference was the two minutes of so of Iverson repeating, 'we're talking about practice, not a game' over and over, which makes it very easy to call into question Iverson's dedication and commitment. What is missing from the video, and can be found in the full transcript of the press conference here, is that before and after the 'practice' rant, Iverson talked openly about being hurt, confused, and disappointed in trade rumors that were floating around at that time. Iverson, rightly so, considered himself and was recognized by the league, as one of the very best players in the game. In 2002, he was in the middle of an 8 or 9 year run where he'd be named to the All-NBA 1st, 2nd, or 3rd team each year. In our workplace parlance, he was 'top talent' an 'A player' or a purple squirrel if you will. So naturally Iverson would have to be surprised and insulted that the team he had performed so well for, including dragging on his back to the NBA finals just one year prior, would even consider shopping him around the league.

    Two, the rant, and the 'practice' context raise really interesting and ongoing questions about talent and more specifically how hard it can be to 'manage' the best talent. Iverson was a former league MVP, the league's leading scorer, and had an unquestionably ferocious style of play, notable for a guy just 6 feet tall and thin-framed. No one who watched Iverson play consistently ever came away from recognizing his commitment and intensity to winning basketball games.  At the time of the 'practice' press conference, he was 26, had just completed his 6th year in the league, and won his third league scoring title. Was he a perfect player? No. But he was one of the very best in the game and it can be argued he knew how to best prepare himself and his body to stand up to the rigors of a long season and playoffs.

    Should Iverson have been more attentive and subservient to the wishes of the coach, and tried to be a more dedicated 'practice' player?


    Did Brown know the right way how to get the best out of Iverson, his star player?

    Probably not.

    I guess I am coming off as a bit of an Iverson apologist here, especially when most of the people that have seen or heard about the 'practice' rant come to the quick conclusion that Iverson was selfish, pampered, and in the wrong. I guess all I will say to that is as a manager or leader you eventually sink or swim largely by your ability to get the best performance out of your star performers.

    Iverson has some blame here for sure, but definitely not all of it.

    Probably too much of it.


    What should we pay your co-worker? No more questions for you 'Bro

    It can be really difficult to rate your own performance at work as anyone that has stared frustratingly at their annual 'self-assessment' might agree. Trying to navigate that tricky tightrope between honestly, desire to reasonably match your self-ratings with the likely views of the boss, while making sure that a nice blend of ambition, honestly, and subtlety ends up painting a portrait of you in your best possible, (and defensible), light can be one of the most difficult exercises an employee has to deal with all year.

    It's hard enough to be fair, objective, and completely honest about one's own perfrormance, and I think it at times is doubly hard to ask and to expect that same kind of fairness and objectivity when we are asked to participate in the evaluation of peers and colleagues at work as well. Whether it is in the context of a formal 360 degree evaluation, a less formal after-action or project review, or even in casual conversations with the boss about other team members, (the likely most awkward scenario of all), it is not all easy to be fair, accurate, and really honest sometimes. Judging, rating, evaluating other people's performance is an inexact science at best, and when self-interest factors in, ('If I say Steve did a great job, then does that make me look worse?', or, 'If I say Steve is a slacker, does that make me look like a petty schemer?', often resulting in 'I'll just say Steve did a good job in the most vague terms possible so that I can't be responsible for anything that happens.').

    Beyond the difficulty of rating peer performance, when the questions directly or indirectly go to 'How much should your colleague, Joe or Mary be paid', well then the fun really begins. Check out this video clip below, (email and RSS subscribers will need to click through), where Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook is asked by a reporter if Westbrooks' teammate James Harden should receive what is known as a 'max contract', i.e., a contract for the maximum salary that league rules allow.

    The question, and Westbrook's answer is essentially a little 360 degree assessment played out on camera. Westbrook is asked to 'rate' Harden as a player in the context that matter most in the NBA, the value of the contract that Harden should have. After a long pause, Westbrook answers in the only way he can, (and likely feels comfortable with), by giving a positive but vague review and endorsement of Harden as a player and team mate, (which is obvious to anyone that knows Harden and is familiar with the team), and completely avoids responding to the contract or compensation area. Finally, Westbrook issues a classic 'No more questions for you 'Bro', an indication that he in no way wants any part of participating in a discussion about another teammates contract status.

    Westbrook shows on camera what many of us and our co-workers are thinking when faced with the same types of questions in the workplace, when 360 time comes around I think. Uncomfortable, generic answers, wanting nothing to do with the hard questions, (like compensation). Don't get me wrong, I think peer reviews and 360s can be really important and valuable, but I also think that you have to remember the at times tough spot you put the team in when asking them to do something, (rate each other), that often, they want no part of doing.

    No more questions for you 'Bro.



    Timesheets, Incentives, and Five O'Clock Beers

    Timesheets. Despite incredible advances in biometrics, smart time clocks, and increasing availability of mobile and tablet solutions to make easier employee time tracking and time reporting, many organizations still have to deal with a weekly or bi-weekly struggle of collecting, verifying, or processing employee time sheets. Filling out timesheets stink, and chances are you might have been on both sides of the timesheet pendulum in your career, as someone who was horrible at turning in a timesheet by the deadline, or as someone that had to deal with chasing down slackers that can never seem to get it together by the deadline.

    One organization has come up with what might be the most clever solution yet for incenting staff to get their timesheets filled out and turned in on time - the digital 'Drink Time Sheet'.  The idea? Set up in the office a refrigerator full of free beer, but have it electronically locked, and linked to the office's timesheet system. Once all the week's timesheets are submitted, a siren sounds, the refrigerator unlocks, and the staff can celebrate the end of the week with a few Friday beers.

    Check the video below, (email and RSS subscribers need to click through), to see the Drink Time Sheet in action.


    What do you think? Could this kind of idea work in your organization? Maybe if not for time sheets but for some other kind of administrative, boring, and entirely necessary process that always seems like a struggle to complete?

    Have a great weekend!


    HR Happy Hour Show Tonight: The American Way of Eating

    The HR Happy Hour Show is back live tonight at 8PM ET with what should be a really fun show about a topic, eating in America, that at first blush might seem off topic for a show mostly about work, HR, Talent Managment, and technology, (and sports), kinds of subjects.

    But I think the show tonight, and talking with tonight's guest, Tracie McMillan, author of the recently published ‘The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table’, will be a great opportunity to learn more about how work, jobs, and the overall circumstance many American workers find themselves in effects that most basic element of life - what, how, and where we eat.

    And The American Way of Eating is a look as much about work in America as it is about food in America, and tonight I will talk with Tracie about that dynamic, as well as some of the incredibly fascinating insights into just how that salad you might be eating for lunch today was actually grown, packaged, shipped, retailed, and prepared.

    Listen to the show live starting at 8PM ET on the show page here, using the listener call in line 646-378-1086, or on the widget player below:

    Listen to internet radio with Steve Boese on Blog Talk Radio


    You can also follow the backchannel conversation on Twitter - just search on hashtag #HRHappyHour

    It should be a really interesting show tonight and I hope you can join us!


    Three stories you should be able to tell candidates

    One more take based on the recently concluded NFL Draft, that annual and remarkable spectacle of talent assessment, evaluation, and management that plays out live, and on TV each spring.

    This year, my alma mater, the University of South Carolina was represented exceedingly well at the draft, with 2 players selected in the draft's first round, and a total of 6 players selected overall. For South Carolina, this was by far the most players it has ever had selected in a single year at the draft, and also serves as a kind of reward and validation of the last college football season that saw the Gamecocks finish with a school-best 11 victories, punctuated with a fantastic win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.

    For schools that play at the highest levels of college football, the number of their players that are selected in the NFL draft has several implications. At the surface, it is a measurement of the quality of last season's squad, the more players selected by NFL talent evaluators, the better. But second, and for the colleges perhaps more important for the long term, having players selected for the NFL draft serves as a powerful recruiting tool. For many of the very best and in demand high school players that have plenty of options in where to play their college ball, the track record and history of a school for preparing and placing players in the NFL is an important and powerful factor in the decision process. Put simply, if a school has a history of success in preparing players for the NFL, (Alabama, Ohio State, Miami, LSU, etc.), the more likely it is that top high school talent that sees the NFL as their goal will choose those schools. And a virtuous circle is formed - the school sends players to the NFL, more top prospects that have the NFL as a career aspiration take notice and attend the school, they in turn progress to the NFL, they help the school have success on the field, and on and on. 

    In college football recruiting the 'stories' are easy to see. Players move from the school to the NFL in a highly public manner. But inside organizations, these kind of success stories are often harder to envision and describe to candidates and prospects. While in the recruiting process, the organization typically talks to the fantastic opportunities that await candidates should they choose to join, it can be difficult for the candidate to appreciate or even accept these stories as more than another part of a recruiter's sales pitch. In that light, I think there are three kinds of success stories that HR or Recruiting ought to be able to articulate to these top players, the ones that have lots of other options for their next career move.

    One - Come here, and here's what incredible opportunities are possible if you decide to make a long-term career here. Take a look at Joe Bloggs, he came in at about your same age, at a similar job, and now he is the head dude in charge of XYZ Division.  In fact, I'd like you to meet Joe, let's set up a lunch for you two to talk.

    Two - Come here, and build the skills that you can take anywhere you'd like to go in your career. Do you know, (insert name of the most famous company alumni you have), he/she spent three years here back in the 90s and now they run their own company. In fact, we still work with him/her from time to time and I am sure we can arrange a call if you'd like to learn more about how working here really set them up for their future success.

    Three - Come here, and build the skills that you can take anywhere you'd like to go in your career, leave if you think you need to, but come know that we will welcome you back somewhere down the line. Here's where you tell the story of a high-profile re-bound hire that illustrates the possibility and flexibility that makes choosing your company more attractive to the candidate. The sports world is certainly full of these kinds of tales, of players that left a team only to return later in their careers.

    Bottom line, when selling your opportunity, whether it is to a top athlete deciding on a college, or a top technical developer, both who have plenty of options, being able to paint a compelling and realistic picture of all the possible career scenarios, and how your organization can best help the candidate make the most of them, offers your side the best opportunity to land the talent you need.

    And don't forget, being open and accepting of what the candidate might want to do after he or she leaves your organization might be just as important as what they can or want to do inside your organization.