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    Acknowledging the Competition

    This past couple of weeks the sports world has been chock-full of big time, high stakes contests ranging from the recent Super Bowl to what was in my little sports bubble, an incredibly entertaining and interesting NBA game last Friday night between the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks.

    While in different sports, and certainly having wildly different levels of significance, these contests possessed some interesting back stories, both around how teams and players perceive and communicate about their competition. 

    Two data points to submit -

    Point One - shortly after the New York Giants victory in the Super Bowl, a full-page congratulatory advertisement in the New York Daily News was taken out in acknowledgement of the Giants fantastic victory, and commending the Giants organization for the 'passion' and 'toughness' they exhibited in winning the championship.

    The organization that placed the ad? Not the New England Patriots, the team that the Giants actually defeated in the Super Bowl, but the New York Jets. The Jets, as the 'other' professional football team in the greater New York City area have had a long history of futility, and after some recent better play in the last few seasons, saw themselves as a serious title contender. Sadly for the Jets, their season ended in disappointing fashion, failing to even qualify for the league playoffs, in no small part to a loss to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Giants in a late-season game.

    Point Two - Shortly before last Friday's Lakers-Knicks game at Madison Square Garden in New York, reporters asked Lakers' star Kobe Bryant, an all-time great player, and 5-time NBA title winner what he thought about the recent and surprising play of the Knicks young point guard Jeremy Lin.  Remember, Kobe is a pantheon-type player, one of the greatest ever, and Lin, while a sensation at the moment, has played only a handful of games of note in the NBA.

    From the transcript of the exchange between Kobe and the press:

    "I know who he (Lin) is, but I don't really know what's going on too much with him. I don't even know what he's done. Like, I have no idea what you guys are talking about. I'll take a look at it tonight though."

    [Asked again about Lin] "I don't even know what the [fudge] is going on. What the [fudge] is going on? Who is this kid? I've heard about him and stuff like that, but what's he been doing? Is he getting like triple doubles or some [stuff]? He's averaging 28 and eight? No [stuff]. If he's playing well, I'll just have to deal with him."

    [Would he consider guarding Lin?] "Jesus Christ. Let's not get ahead of ourselves."

    It's hard to say how much Kobe really knew about the Knicks' Lin, and how much of his remarks were meant to make sure that the rest of the league, the reporters, and the fans know that he remains one of the top players in the league, on what is still a good team, and what the [fudge] are you guys doing asking me about some rookie no one's ever heard of before three days ago.

    The difference in the two approaches? 

    The Jets are the second-class citizens in the New York football scene. And their local rivals the Giants have just won their second Super Bowl in 4 years, (and 4th overall). The Jets have been looking up at the Giants for the better part of their history.  Kobe, on the other hand, has been one of the very best players in the NBA for over a decade, winning 5 titles in the process, and Lin, well despite this past week of excitement, has achieved about 1/1,000,000th of what Kobe has done in his career.

    For the Jets management, taking out the ad congratulating the Giants sends a pretty strong message to the players, coaches, and fans that their job is not nearly done, and to see what success looks like well, they don't have to look far.  It is about making sure the Jets understand that and hopefully to keep them motivated to do something about that.

    And for Kobe, the best player on the Lakers and the team leader? His comments are clearly meant to make sure his teammates realize that they are still the Lakers, and he is still Kobe Bryant, and that they, and the rest of the league should not forget that.  A leader on a traditionally great team probably has to take that tack, and to keep up the team's swagger and confidence. 

    What do you think - does your position on the pecking order influence and factor in to what you say about your competition? 

    Does what you say about the competition have any effect on the morale of your staff?

    Postscript - The Knicks, led by Jeremy Lin's 38 points did beat the Lakers last Friday. Kobe played pretty well (34 points 10 boards), but the Knicks had too much #LinSanity going for them.



    If culture eats strategy, then what eats culture?

    I still play Rock-Paper-Scissors.

    For a simple game, it is incredibly nuanced and complex. Like all good games, there is no sure way to win, and no sure way to lose. Some day I hope to hone my skills to the point where I can compete for big bucks on the R-P-S circuit.

    Why mention Rock-Paper-Scissors? Choose wisely

    It came to mind from thinking about two things - one, another run around the park for the popular 'Culture Eats Strategy' meme, (ok, it is not really a meme, I just couldn't think of a better word. Sorry.). This line of thought posits that without the 'right' or 'good' or 'well managed' company culture, that it does not really matter much what the business strategies are, that decreased or lacking employee engagement levels caused by that poor culture will effectively short-circuit and lead to failure even the best, most intelligent strategies. It makes plenty of sense, is fairly hard to argue against, and tends to play to the part of us that simply likes to believe if we create great places to work, great experiences, and happy/engaged/satisfied employees that everything else might just fall into place.

    But like the Rock-Paper-Scissors game, that is non-linear, and where any choice you make can potentially be trumped by another choice, is it possible that while Culture may eat Strategy, that there might be something out there that might eat Culture?

    How about Talent?

    A few days ago mega fast food franchise company Yum! Brands, (think, Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell), announced its latest quarterly earnings, and one of the highlights was the company's strong growth and performance in China, with an expansion of locations and same-store sales up 21% on the quarter. On the quarterly earnings call, Yum! CEO David Novak was asked about the company's successes in the often difficult to crack Chinese market, and his explanation of the reasons behind this excellent performance curiously did not attribute it at least primarily to some kind of superior business strategy, or wonderful organizational culture. No, he talked about Talent. From the transcript of the earnings call:

    I think our whole formula for success in China has been geared on great local management team with phenomenal local operating capability. And we've always had one rule, we never want to expand any further than or faster than our people capability.

    But we're like the Procter and Gambles, the king of marketing talent in the United States. We see ourselves as the leader in operating talent in China. The second big thing on people capability is just our development operations. Our development team -- we have 700 people in our development team. And we have the best retail management base in China. This is a huge competitive advantage as we go forward. 

    Let that sink in a minute. People capability. The leader in operating talent. The main reason Yum! is winning in China.

    Later in the discussion Novak does talk about the importance of flagship locations, and arriving first to local markets, both clearly business strategy type decisions, but the overall emphasis and the main reason for success and ongoing competitive advantage is finding, developing, and pipelining great local managerial talent.

    Talent. Not culture, not strategy, not some innovative marketing or social media outreach.

    It is a very interesting take, and I'd recommend reading the full transcript of the earnings call, (come on, you have time, lay off Facebook for ten minutes).

    What do you think - if culture eats strategy, could it be that talent eats them both?

    Have a great weekend!



    Job Poaching and Designing Engaging Systems

    You've probably heard or read about the class-action civil case to be held in San Jose meant to determine if Google, Apple, Pixar, Lucasfilm, Adobe, Intel, and Intuit in various combinations conspired to eliminate or at least reduce competition for skilled labor by entering into illegal 'anti-poaching' or 'Gentlemen's agreements' where these firms would cease recruiting from each others employee bases.

    While the tech focused sites like TechCrunch have been following the story for quite some time, as far as I can tell, the only HR/Recruiting writer to have a take on the issue was Kris Dunn at the HR Capitalist, with a piece called 'Hey CEO: Your High Level Agreements Not to Poach Employees are Anti-Trust Violations...', where KD quite succinctly and correctly warns HR and Recruitng pros against entering into such agreements, even when the CEO wants to help a 'friend' at a competing firm, or when two firm's leaders kind of give a wink and a nod to each other, both knowing back and forth poaching (usually) ends up in increasing costs, delaying progress, and even (horrors!), having to keep and extra HR or Recruiting pro on staff to deal with all the churn.

    It's an interesting story and I recommend the TechCrunch coverage as well as KD's take on it, but one other aspect of the story, slightly linked, and also covered on TechCrunch, is related to a new 'recruiting' site called Job Poacher. Job Poacher seems to have been at least partially inspired by the high-tech poaching case, and part of that response was to create an anonymous, simple, and direct platform for employees that, well, want to be 'poached' without their current company knowing.

    Job Poacher 'registration'

    Job Poacher is a site that "lets you make yourself available to recruiters, without exposing your identity or giving up your email address. We set you up with an anonymous email address that you control — just like on "Craigslist". 

    After a potential candidate provides the basic information in the 'poachee' profile, their listing appears on the 'Poachees' tab on the site, and interested recruiters can message them via a simple 'Reply' button.

    From then on the prospect and recruiter can connect and figure out if there is any interest, suitability, and so on. 

    There are two things I really like about Job Poacher and I think are worth noting. One, sometimes, maybe almost all the time, looking for a new gig when you are currently employed can be really tough to keep under wraps. Buffing up your LinkedIn profile, dusting off the old personal blog that had been dormant, trading the T-shirt and cargo pants look for some sharper duds are all tell-tale signs that something might be up, and that something often needs to be kept quiet.

    And two, I really like the incredibly simplicity of the registration process. Seven simple bits of information are asked for, presented in a way that makes it seem like less, and in a manner that makes the user feel more like they are telling a little bit of a story about themselves rather than mindlessly filling in another web form that they've done probably hundreds of times. When you look at the form, it makes you want to tell that little story. Even the header, 'I'm brilliant, and I want something better', is miles more engaging than most job sites pitch to 'Fill in the 17 fields below and we will (if we remember) to email you of suitable matching jobs in the future.'

    I know there are a million holes that can be poked in what Job Poacher is doing here, and I am not trying to argue it can or will be an effective site for job seekers or recruiters, but I do think there are some lessons to learn about simple design, responding to a need with that design, and not over-complicating it all.

    What do you think? Would you use a site like Job Poacher?


    Picture Yourself Here

    Have you seen any of these kinds of targeted job ads on LinkedIn recently?

    I am not sure exactly when these kinds of personalized ads started popping up on the professional networking site, but over the weekend while I was scoping out who had viewed my profile, connecting with like minded HR and Technology professionals and contributing to industry discussion and dialogue, I noticed the ad to the right. Like a moth to a flame, or a bargain-hunting performance car shopper to Ashley Schaeffer Imports, I couldn't help but notice my own mug staring back out at me from LinkedIn's right margin.

    Picture Yourself with this New Job, the tag line reads, (interesting use of BOLD and capitalization), and with the addition of my profile picture to the company name, logo and position title, the ad attempts to make me feel somehow connected or even invested in not just the job, but of me having the job.

    Which are entirely two different things. 

    And since LinkedIn is a modern, social, Web 2.0 deal, Apply Now and Share Job buttons come along for the ride. Confession - I did not think to click either one when I first encountered the ad, and now I can't seem to convince LinkedIn to show it to me again. But let's assume, for now, both buttons work as expected, for the purposes of this post, it doesn't really matter. 

    What does matter, at least what I find interesting about this kind of targeted and personalized job ad, is the way it attempts to use information about me, (in this case the information is primarily where I live, as M&T Bank is a Northeast regional bank, with lots of presence in Western New York), my actual image from the site, and some suggestive copy to make me think more about inhabiting this role, rather than just simply clicking a link to a sterile, impersonal ad (that I was not searching for in the first place).

    What the ad immediately made me think of are the recruiting tactics that are often employed by major college athletic programs and coaches in their pursuit of targeted top High School athletes. Often these athletes have lots of options in their choice of college and team/coach to play for, and to help make their case the competing colleges frequently employ custom videos of imagined highlight packages or simulated stadium scoreboard displays or PA announcements that include the recruit's likeness or name. These videos, announcement, and other strategies are designed to make the high schooler think not about being a star Quarterback generally, but being a star Quarterback at that school specifically.  

    Trish McFarlane had an excellent post earlier in the week about recruiting needing to be an individual process, and I think these kinds of personalized, targeted ads, (while admittedly still kind of crude), will eventually serve as an important first step in what becomes the custom, individual process that Trish describes.  It is not hard to imagine the LinkedIn ad getting way more intelligent about what roles you could realistically picture yourself in. Using insight from career paths from similar profiles, career history of members you are connected with, and macro analysis of jobs, industries, or locations that are 'hot', pretty soon I'll bet LinkedIn can map out a realistic and reachable career path for anyone.

    Interesting times for sure. Meanwhile, have a look at a bit of a takeoff on the college recruiting tactics, courtesy of ESPN, (email and RSS subscribers will need to click through).


    Staying classy on the way out

    So we are all coming down from the excitement, drama, and spectacular display of talent from the Super Bowl, (actually I am sort of guessing about all that, as this post is being written about 8 hours before the actual kickoff), and for the last day or so talk about the game, the commercials, the half time show (how was it?), has dominated online and offline discourse. Tiquan Underwood - Source AP

    In all the excitement over the build-up, the game itself, and all the hype surrounding the event, you may have missed or forgotten about one piece of game-related news that broke late on Saturday night, less than 24 hours before the latest Game of the Century. The New England Patriots made a final roster move, releasing backup Wide Receiver Tiquan Underwood, and activating from the practice (reserve) squad, Defensive End Alex Silvestro. Since this move did not involve any well-known players, or figure to have a meaningful impact on the game, it was not really big news. But to Underwood and Silvestro, the move has enormous significance, one player losing the chance to play in the biggest game of his life, (even as only a little-used reserve), and the other given the chance to suit up, run through the tunnel, and take a small part on the stage of the biggest sporting event of the year.

    The Patriots made it clear that the decision to release Underwood was 100% football-related, as in the past some players have run afoul of team rules and curfews on the night before the big game. No, the team executives and coaches simply felt having another defensive line player on the active roster for the game was more important than one extra wide receiver. 

    But the real story in this to me is how Underwood, at least publicly, reacted to what must have been the incredible disappointment after he learned his Super Bowl dreams were done. According to the ESPN.com report of the transaction, Underwood, after learning the news tweeted - 

    "Good Luck To The New England Organization, The Coaches, & All My Teammates. #PatsNation."

    And in a text message to ESPN reporter Ed Werder, Underwood said:

    "I don't want to be a distraction to the game or the New England Patriots.....i will say this, The New England Patriots are a GREAT Organization. I wish them nothing but the best today. This season has been dedicated to Myra Kraft (MHK) Mr Kraft's wife....w/ that being said i hope they pull out the victory in honor of her & because the coaches & players have worked so hard this season for the opportunity to play in Super Bowl 46. Go Pats!!!! #PatsNation"

    That is remarkably classy and mature coming from a guy just a few hours from running out on the field for the Super Bowl, the pinnacle event for his profession, and if he is like most other professional players, the culmination of a life long dream. Underwood may or may not have another chance to get into a Super Bowl, as it stands he is on the edge of even being an active player in the league, but I suspect the classy and professional way he handled this disappointment will help him immeasurably in the rest of his career.

    A team guy, a 'don't make this about me guy', a reminder to keep focused on the overall goals and mission of the team - that is the kind of guy you want on your team, no matter what your sport or business might be.

    Sure, the Patriots might have just shut the door on one of Underwood's dreams, but his actions and comments on the way out might have just opened up some new doors as well.