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    Bench Pressing and Basketball

    With the National Basketball Association player draft fast approaching, fans, observers, and pundits alike love to speculate and predict the player draft order, and imagine the glorious future for their favorite team once this years' version of young Timmy 'The Flint Assasin' Sackett, or some other such prospect joins the squad.

    Readers of this site, along with my pieces on Fistful of Talent, know that sports, and in particular how the talent evaluation and assessment processes that professional sports teams undertake as they consider which players to draft, recruit as free agents, trade, and compensate; make for some compelling stories and often illuminate applicable lessons for those of us with concerned with more mundane but similar workplace conundrums. None of the 'Sports and HR' parallels are more clearly illustrated than annual player drafts that all the major USA professional sports leagues conduct.

    The purpose of these drafts is to help 're-stock' the talent pools in the league with new players, ones that have the capability and potential to raise the overall talent profile of the league and the individual teams. Essentially each season, younger, more talented players (or at least ones judged to have potential to be good players), enter the league while older and/or less skilled/more expensive players exit. It is a kind of a cool, virtuous 'Lion King' style circle of life, but will louder music and more tattoos.

    The trick for talent evaluators and people in charge of player personnel decisions in the draft is how to assess the complex combination of a prospect's performance on the court to date (usually in college basketball, but sometimes just high school, or international play), the player's physical attributes, their personality and character, and finally whether or not that elusive 'fit' between style, physical traits, and mental make-up exists between the prospect and the team.

    You will often see quotes from NBA or other sports execs talking about players they select as being 'Our kind of player', or 'His style fits how we like to play'. These quotes are as much about cultural and organizational fit as they are about hitting jump shots or ability to rebound the basketball. The rules of the game are the same for every team, but how they go about assembling the team and their philosophies about how to best accomplish the universal goal of winning the championship are all unique.

    So in sports, like in most every other line of business, talent assessment and selection is really hard. So NBA teams have come to increase or expand the variables they assess and measure when it comes to the talent evaluation process for potential draftees. One of these variables is the number of times the prospect can successfully bench press 185 lbs, a moderate amount of weight for a well-conditioned athlete, certainly not a power lifter or bodybuilder burden, but also a weight that could present a challenge. The 185 pound bench press is meant to give a generalized assessment of the player's upper body strength, that at least in theory could translate to effectiveness on the court. But bench pressing isn't really basketball, they don't roll out a bench and some barbells in the 4th quarter of a close game. The other advantage to teams in using the bench press test, (and a myriad of other fitness and strength tests they use), is that every prospect takes the same assessments, thereby giving the teams a common data set across the entire talent pool from which to make comparative judgments.

    But the data itself offers a team no competitive advantage - every team in the league has access to the same information. The trick is knowing how to interpret the 'measurables' (bench press, vertical jump, etc.), with the 'intangibles', (character, coachability, likeability), and finally a frank assessment of 'Can this guy actually play?'; in order to make the best talent selections. 

    But back to the bench press, which is the reason I wrote this piece. Yesterday I noticed a tweet from Chad Ford, one of ESPN's basketball writers and analysts commenting on the bench press test results from a few of this year's current NBA draft prospects.  The tweet is below:

    The implication of the tweet is a kind of red flag or warning about those few players unable to successfully bench press 185 pounds. That teams considering drafting these players may pause, and fans of teams that eventually do take these players might need to be concerned that their lack of demonstrable upper body strength (doing something that isn't actually playing basketball), portends poorly for their future performance as NBA players.

    It is hard to say for sure if this poor performance on the test will actually hurt these players draft position, it certainly won't help it, but I think the larger point is about data collection in general. Whether it is an NBA team evaluating a power forward, or a software company assessing the background and skills of a candidate for a development job, our abiliity to collect reams of data about background, capability, demonstrable skills, and even mental make up has never been greater. We have access to powerful analytics tools to crunch the data and perhaps eventually to construct detailed and predictive 'success' models.

    It could very well be the success on the bench press test does suggest future success on an NBA team. Or failure on the test predicts failure on the court.

    But even if we can create those kinds of models, for basketball players or software developers, they will never be fool proof, as people and performance are ultimately likely too unpredictable to ever understand absolutely. We have to be open-minded enough to ignore our own models from time to time.

    You may, even if you are not a basketball fan, have heard of a player called Kevin Durant. He is a star player for the Oklahoma City Thunder, has led the league in scoring, led the USA team to the Gold Medal in the World Basketball Championship last summer.

    In 2007, when Durant declared himself eligible for the NBA draft, he was unable to bench press 185 a single time

    And we know how Durant has worked out. 

    Sure collect, assess, analyze, correlate, model - it's important. But don't forget, bench pressing is not basketball.


    HR Happy Hour Europe - Launches Today

    In what future historians of the grand age of social enlightenment in Human Resources will look back upon and mark as a truly watershed moment, today the HR Happy Hour Show sets a course for worldwide domination with the debut Episode of HR Happy Hour - Europe!

    Specifics: the show is live at 3PM ET (8PM in the UK), and you can listen online here. Follow the conversation on Twitter using the #HRHappyHour tag.

    The show is a joint project between HR Happy Hour, (essentially me), and the great folks from Jobsite, the leading careers and online recruitment site in the UK. Jobsite is dedicated to helping people connect with that perfect next opportunity, and over the years has really stretched the typical ways of thinking about what a 'traditional' job board is all about.,

    It is in that spirit that Jobsite is staging what they term 'Fresh Thinking' events, where Jobsite is bringing together innovative and cutting-edge ideas and people to engage, share, and progress the dialogue around important topics of the day.  The first event, with special guests Amanda Hite and Scott Stratten, focuses on the concepts of social media in recruitment, marketing the organization, and the critical need for engagement of the organization's leaders and staff to make it all work.

    In conjuction with the Fresh Thinkers event, Amanda and Scott, (joined by Jobsite's Felix Wetzel), will join me on the inaugural HR Happy Hour - Europe show today at 3PM ET which is 8PM in the UK.

    You can listen to the show live on the show page here, on the listener call in line 646-378-1086, or via the widget player below:

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    Note - UK and other outside the US listeners can use the Skype feature to call in to the show as well. 

    It should be a fun and lively show as the HR Happy Hour makes it's first step towards what will truly be looked upon as a global media empire!


    The Employee Loyalty Card - Notes from Aquire Structure 2011

    Good morning from Fort Worth, Texas!

    I have been attending the Aquire User Conference called 'Structure 2011' the last two days, and first off I wanted to express my thanks and gratitude to Aquire CEO Lois Melbourne for inviting me not only to attend, but to also present to Aquire's customers, partners, and staff.  A copy of my presentation, about some of the challenges and opportunities that the dynamic, hybrid, and ever-changing workforce presents to organizations, is loaded on Slideshare here, and embedded below, (email and RSS readers will need to click through).

    But more interesting than my presentation, was an idea that sprang from a presentation on analytics from Aquire's Andrew Courtois, and was later kicked around a bit on a special 'Live from Aquire' broadcast of the HR Happy Hour Show, (the part of the show where Andrew joins is about 30 minutes in).

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    Andrew talked about how casino companies leverage analytics to drive revenue and (hopefully) improve customer experience and loyalty via the use of what are called 'Player Loyalty Cards'. The basic premise is a player signs up for a casino loyalty or reward card, agreed to have their playing history tracked by the casino, and in exchange the casino offers different rewards and incentives for regular or additional play.

    Seems like a pretty good deal, right? The player gets the occasional reward or bonus and feels a little more attached to the casino and process. The casino gets access to detailed data on playing trends and history.  But what Andrew shared about one of the ways HOW the casino uses this data was the interesting part.

    By analyzing playing data both in aggregate, and at the player level, the casino comes to 'know' a given player's 'pain point', i.e., the general amount of playing losses that causes to given gambler to quit playing and walk away. By looking at the 'Player Loyalty Card' data, and comparing real-time casino floor information with the data from previous experiences, the casino can, again in real-time, send a host or hostess over to see a player that the data says is about to get up and leave and offer the player a free dinner, a discounted room, or some other reward or incentive to stay a bit longer and (hopefully) continue playing. Sort of devious and also a really smart way to use analytics to drive business outcomes.

    So after Andrew's talk, and on the radio show, we floated around the idea of a similar construct in the workplace, something called 'The Employee Loyalty Card'. What if as an organization, we could create a way to capture all the activities, actions, interactions, projects, contacts, etc. that an employee undertakes inside the company and then somehow find a way to analyze that data against actual historical outcomes in order to take both preventative and corrective actions?

    We all have those anecdotal organizational stories about the 'client from hell' or that manager that is really hard to work with, but sometimes we don't really know the deleterious effect they have on the organization's people. Do high-performing people suddenly start performing worse after getting assigned to a particular project or manager? Do they leave six months later in higher numbers?

    Conversely, we often have a great leader or two that we all feel does a good job of developing and coaching staff, but can we more accurately predict their ongoing impact on the people in the organization, and better still - can we use data to understand how to create more of these great managers? Do we know that 40% of our best performing sales people might have taken training from the same sales manager?

    Could you imagine an 'Employee Loyalty Card?'. A way to trigger HR and organizaitonal leadership when employees hit that tipping or pain point?. A process or technology to collect, analyze, and act on all these diverse employee interactions and actions and then make more informed decisions?

    It was an interesting conversation and I would love to know what you think.

    Thanks again to everyone at Aquire!


    Kid Business Cards and the Permission to Dream

    The most popular post on this blog over the last couple of months was a take on a job application cover letter written by a 6 year-old boy.  I liked the post, (or I would not have published it), but I was really shocked how popular it was. So in the grand tradition of pandering, grasping, and shamelessly playing the 'kid' card again, once I came across this piece, about a Brazilian Ad Agency's project to design and print business cards for the 'dream jobs' of a bunch of schoolkids, I figured, why not share?

    Here is the backstory - Red Balloon, an English School for kids in Brazil, asked the students at the school what they wanted to be when they grow up. Certainly a question we have been asking kids since well, there was potentially a different answer than 'chase saber-toothed tigers and try to kill them with stones in order to survive'.

    Based on the children's answers, the ad agency Ogilvy Brazil designed personalised Kids Business Cardsa few examples you van see in the images  below. The answers, combined with a bit of information and insight about the kids, created a really amazing set of artifacts and a kind of tangible, phyiscal representation of the kids dreams. These cards say - 'your dream is not just in your mind, it can be real, here is a bit of what it might look like'.

    Below is a close up view of one of the cards - for a girl whose dream is to be 'the most pretty ballerina in the world.'

    After the project was completed reps from the ad agency gave this assessment of the outcomes  -

    Result: more kids believe in their dreams and more parents believe in the importance of English for their kids' future."

    I posted about this project mainly because I really loved the creativity and artistic qualities of some of the kids business cards - quite honestly they just look cool.

    But I do think there is a larger point to this, we do ask our kids, nieces, nephews, cousins, students, etc. all the time 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' And we know that 99% of kids won't actually pursue the 'dream job' they identified at 9 years old. While that is certainly normal and expected, I also think that we as parents/teachers/adults sometimes jump too quickly to downplay, discourage, or even fail to even consider these childhood dreams. We are old. We know better. We know that we did not become astronauts, runway models, or relief pitchers for the Mets, (that last one was mine), so it is only responsible and realistic to assume that the random 4th grader won't become any of those things either.

    But in our haste to be 'adults' I think we can forget what it was like to see the world as kids do, a world where still, mostly, anything was possible. Becoming a pop star, soccer hero, or a great inventor with a mansion - these are not at all unreasonable or unreachable dreams. Having these dreams is still 'allowed'. I thought about that when I read about these 'kid business cards'. A quick scan through them shows rock stars, sports legends, captains of industry.  

    All things that for our kids are fantastic and possible.

    Even if we did not become those things ourselves.



    The Corner Office and Curiosity

    This past week on my travels to and from the Lumesse Customer Conference in Austin, Texas, and the MRA HR Event in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, (with an unexpected night in a motel near the Detroit airport tossed in for good measure), I had the chance to catch up on some reading I had been meaning to get to.

    I managed to make it through the entire contents of 'The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOS on How To Lead and Succeed', by Adam Bryant; and about the first half of 'Idea Man', Microsoft Co-founder Paul Allen's memoir.

    Both books are interesting and entertaining reads. In 'The Corner Office' Adam Bryant, the author of the New York Times's series of "Corner Office" columns, frames and shares lessons in achieving success, leadership,and management, taken from his interviews with over 70 CEOs in firms of all sizes, industries and geographies. 'Idea Man' by Paul Allen, is a much more personal story about Allen, his childhood, the early days of Microsoft, and Allen's later ventures after leaving the company he co-founded with Bill Gates.

    I started 'Idea Man' after finishing 'The Corner Office', and almost immediately the most imporant similarity between the two books, and the stories being shared in each, was the idea of the importance of curiousity. Bryant devotes the entire first chapter to his book to the concept of 'Passionate Curiosity', which is filled with different CEOs talking about how curiosity, an almost insatiable need to seek, learn, and understand more about the world, macro-trends, culture, and even hobbies like sports or cooking, is seen as a common trait and predictor of executive success.

    Paul Allen, in describing his earliest experiments with first generation computing technology and programming languages paints a clear portrait of a really energetic and bright mind, not necessarily the most intelligent kid in the class, but one that had a relentless curiosity to figure out how machines and computers worked, and how this understanding could be applied to solve new problems and create new software. That pursuit of understanding, driven by his personal form of 'passionate curiousity', is the foundation for the later success that Allen, Gates and the rest of Microsoft enjoyed later in his career.

    Neither author makes the case that 'passionate curiosity' alone is enough to ensure success; but both make it really clear that a deep desire to seek, explore, and understand more than the immediate, the day-to-day, and the 'what's in my job description' set of tasks and topics is an essential part of both personal and organizational achievement.

    In 'The Corner Office', Bryant quotes Disney CEO Robert Iger:

    "I love curiosity, particularly in our business - being curious about the world, but also being curious about your business, new business models, new technology. If you are not curious about technology and its potential on your life, then you'll have no clue what its impact might be on someone else's life."

    David Novak, CEO of Yum Brands offers this observation:

    "(the best leaders) want to get better. Are they continually trying to better themselves? Are they looking outside for ideas that will help them grow the business? They soak up everything they can possibly soak up so that they can become the best leaders they can be."

    Curiosity. Exploration. Interest.  Looking outside your typical environment and viewing and questioning the world using a different set of eyes.

    All really important. All kind of hard.

    But a trait seen by Bryant in his discussions with 70 CEOs, and lived by Allen, one of the most successful innovators ever, that is really essential to make a mark on your organization, your profession, and possibly the world.

    Have a great weekend!