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    Entries in 8 Man Rotation (84)

    Tuesday
    Oct282014

    How the NBA can teach you (almost) everything you need to know about talent management

    Tonight is the opening of the 2014-2015 NBA season, (also known as the greatest day of the year in my house). I am a firm believer that sports, and particularly NBA basketball, offer some of the best real-world and public manifestations and examples of what HR and Talent pros would refer to as modern organizational Talent Management.

    I am also a firm believer that you too can learn just about everything you need to know about modern Talent Management from close observation of the NBA - the teams, the stars, the coaching, the executive decisions, even the marketing. Sure, I know what you are saying, sports isn't like real life and real business, and you can't constantly keep comparing the two very different worlds. To that I say, you're wrong. Or at least that is the argument I am going to make.

    Here are five (easy, and just the most obvious ones I could think of in the 26 minutes I allotted myself to write tihis post), of how following the NBA can raise your HR game in the major Talent Management process areas.

    Recruiting/Selection - The most obvious parallel between the NBA and 'real' business is probably in recruiting and selection. In both examples you have to make the critical determination of just who is likely to succeed and perhaps more importantly, succeed in your specific business/team/set of circumstances. Even really talented NBA players sometimes find themselves on the 'wrong' team or in a system that does not suit their talents, (see Paul, Chris). You know you have been there too, dealing with a smart, talented employee who for some reason or another doesn't 'fit' or simply needs a change of scenery, (maybe a transfer, a new boss, maybe leaving altogether), in order for them to realize their potential. 

    Learning/Development - Most players get to the NBA (mostly) fully formed, i.e., their skills and abilities are reasonably developed, and only need some refinement and experience in order to succeed. But there are some players, especially players later in their career, that end up adding new elements or skills to their games in order to extend their usefulness and their time in the league, (see Carter, Vince). I would argue that for successful people, just like for NBA players, learning and development needs have two peaks, right at the start of one's career, and again towards the end. What is the HR/Talent lesson? Probably not to neglect the learning and development needs of longer-tenured employees, who still have plenty to offer, but might just need a little more time in the gym learning a new skill or two.

    Performance Management - Coaching doesn't make a ton of difference in the NBA, as success or failure is primarily a function of the talent level of the players. But there are a couple of exceptions to this. Namely, the coaches at the very top, the ones that consistently have the most success, find a way to coax superior performance out of their players, (see Popovich, Gregg). Much like with players, the difference between the very best coaches and average coaches is incredibly significant, (and apparent). The HR pro takeaway from this? The best talent does not always win. The best talent, guided by the best managers usually does win. Don't skimp on trying to build the best team of managers that you can.

    Succession Planning - Lots to learn about succession planning from sports, but the best recent example might be what has been happening to the proud Los Angeles Lakers franchise since the passing of owner Dr. Jerry Buss in 2013. Under Buss' stewardship, the Lakers enjoyed a lengthy run of high performance and numerous championships. After his death, his ownership interests passed to his six children, with each one having an equal vote in team matters. Two of the children, Jeannie and Jim have the most direct involvement with the team, and their performance has been to put it kindly, less than stellar. The franchise seems kind of adrift, they have made several questionable decisions, (see Bryant Kobe), and are facing down what is likely to be their worst season in years. The takeaway here? Even the best performing, best-run companies have to have a plan for when their owner/leader moves on. Nothing lasts forever, but organizations with a deep bench of solid leaders will last longer than most. 

    Compensation - All NBA teams operate under a salary budget (cap), just like your organization does too. Allocating that budget intelligently across the roster is paramount to a team's success in the league. Spend too much on one or two superstar players, (see Bryant, Kobe), and then you're left with filling out the team with a collection of less talented players. But, fail to spend (or offer) top-level talent the top-level money they demand, and watch them walk to a competitor, (see Parsons, Chandler). Hey, that is exactly what happens to some of your best people too!

    Simple, right? Lessons abound everywhere in the NBA where you can see the actual outcomes of Talent Management strategies and decisions play out in real-time, every night, in arenas around the country.

    I am down with the NBA, and not just because basketball is by far the greatest of all team sports, but also for how studying the game can help us be better at what we are charged with doing - helping our organizations manage and utilize talent for successful results.

    Welcome back NBA and Go Knicks!

    Tuesday
    Oct212014

    Talent Attraction: The Real Reason to Keep Top Talent

    A few months ago I posted a recap of 'Why Stars Matter', a recent study out of the National Bureau of Economic Research that concluded the most important contribution that so-called 'Top Talent' makes to an organization is that they increase the organization's ability to recruit even more Top Talent.

    Here is an excerpt from my piece from April, then I will hit you with the reason why I wanted to revisit this topic today:

    ------------------------------------------------

    A recent National Bureau of Economic Research study titled Why Stars Matter, has attempted to identify just what are these 'top talent' effects. It turns out that just being better at their jobs only accounts for a part of the advantage these high performers provide and that possibly the more important benefit is how the presence of top talent impacts the other folks around them, (and the ones you are trying to recruit).

    Here is a summary of the findings of the 'top talent' effects from HBR:

    The researchers found that the superstar’s impact on recruiting was far and away the more significant driver of improved organizational productivity. Starting just one year after the superstar joins the department, the average quality of those who join the department at all levels increases significantly. As for the impact of a superstar on existing colleagues, the findings are more mixed. Incumbents who work on topics related to those the superstar focused on saw their output increase, but incumbents whose work was unrelated became slightly less productive.

    So 'top talent' (mostly) gets to be called 'top talent' because they are simply better, more productive employees. But a significant benefit of these talented individuals is that they help you recruit more people like them, who in turn also are more productive than average, continuing to raise the overall performance level of the organization.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Back to October when we have from the world of sports, specifically the NBA, this effect of 'Top Talent as a recruiting magnet' playing out with one of the league's most well-known and successful teams, the Los Angeles Lakers, and superstars, 5-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant. Except in this case, if Henry Abbott's reporting on ESPN is accurate, the 'Top Talent', i.e. Kobe, is no longer attracting talent, he is in fact, serving to repel other top players (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, etc.), from even considering joining the Lakers when all three players had that option this off season.

    In Abbott's short video he essentially concludes that at this stage of his career, Kobe's personality, need to take most of the shots, (and claim all of the spotlight), and his past history of not being able to co-exist with other top players has made the Lakers, once the destination of choice for NBA legends like Wilt Chamberlain, Shaq, and Magic Johnson, into a place where no top player will consider playing for.

    It is worth watcing the quick (1:20) report from Abbott, even if you are not an NBA fan, just because it serves as a reminder of what the NBER talked about in their research. Once 'Top Talent' stops serving as a magnet for other top talent, then it is probably time to take a long, dispassionate look at what they are contributing to the organization overall. Not just in what they are producing themselves, but how they might be holding the organization hostage so to speak, if they are keeping away the next wave of star talent you need.

    Happy Tuesday.

    Friday
    Aug082014

    You have to get lighter as you get older

    Recent buzz around NBA circles, (no, this post is not ANOTHER one just about basketball, I promise - just hang with it for a second), has been the off-season weight loss of superstar player LeBron James, (see the new, slimmer LBJ from a crop of one of LBJ's Instagram pics for some visual evidence).

    The general line of thinking around LeBron's trim down this off season is that as NBA players get older (and LeBron is not 'old' in the normal sense, but he does have 10+ years in the NBA at this point), carrying less weight helps to keep knees, ankles, backs, etc. less likely to break down over the course of a long season. It is a pretty simple and obvious realization for basketball players and anyone else really - the less bulk you are dragging around makes it easier on the other parts of the body that are tasked with hauling that bulk. And for us non-NBA players, being lighter makes it infinitely easier to just navigate daily life - hustling through airports, getting in and out of your car, tossing the ball around with little Timmy or the frisbee to your adorable little dog. Being lighter just helps sometimes.

    But I think that advice, You have to get lighter as you get older, doesn't just apply in that literal, physical sense, it also has some value in a mental/emotional way as well. We are not just carrying around with us the physical accumulation of all the bad decisions we might have made at the buffet line or the donut shop, most of us our lugging around a pretty sizable collection of guilt or resentment or disappointment or even clinging for too long to some kind of romanticized version of the past that was probably never that romantic back then, and is certainly not ever coming back even if it did exist once. At work, we might be carrying around the excess weight of outdated processes, legacy technologies, and a history of 'that is the way we do things around here' that may no longer have value or relevance to what you and the organization really needs today.

    Letting go of things, both physical as in a weight loss or with cutting loose material possessions like cars or houses or old clothes, or simply dropping bad habits as a way to move forward is not some kind of new idea or concept, and certainly not one I claim any specific insight towards. It's been talked about and done for ages. But I do think in some ways modern technology and social networks and our tendency to want/need/have to be always connected, makes letting go a little bit harder than it used to be. It seems like sometimes the digital connections (combined with the ease of which most of us can be contacted via these networks), make getting lighter harder than in used to be, and harder than it should be. Someone is always out there on the the end of their iPhone and is either trying to actively hold us back or is just making it more difficult to move forward because we know they're watching. And that kind of stinks.

    But putting that aside, I also wanted to mention that LeBron looks really happy in most of these latest 'Slimmer LBJ' pictures. And while it is easy to say that LeBron should be happy all the time, after all he is a mega-rich superstar athlete, he is underneath it all a person like anyone else. He probably isn't happy all the time, even if most of the rest of us can't relate to that. He also, like most of the rest of us in our careers, need to make changes and adjustments to prepare for the next phase of his career that he is moving towards, one where he will soon be an aging player that needs to adapt to remain on top.  

    If getting lighter as you get older and to move forward works for the most famous athlete in the world it will probably work for you too. 

    Have a great weekend!

    Monday
    Aug042014

    Selling your non-glamorous city: 5 observations from 2 days in Cleveland

    I spent a couple of days last week in the lovely city of Cleveland, Ohio to attend the (really fun) DisruptHR Cleveland event, and then took some time doing a bit of a city tour with some really cool people, (see the pic on the right for the crew taken in the Cleveland Indials Social Suite, which was a fantastic place to catch a ball game from).

    Robin, Frank, Tammy, Trish, and me (L-R)

    One of the big themes that seemed to permeate everything about the visit to Cleveland was that just about everyone from Cleveland that I met was pretty heavily invested in convincing me (and everyone else), that Cleveland is, in fact, a really cool place to live, work, play, socialize, etc. Said differently, people from Cleveland are REALLY in to being from Cleveland. They love and are proud of their city, and try really hard to let you know how fantastic it is. Even though they seem to think that most of the rest of the world sees Cleveland as a kind of last century place and not one that holds much allure for non-natives.

    But I think there are probably some ways that are more effective than others in 'selling' your less than glamorous city to potential employees or investors. And since Cleveland is not unique among Midwest, Great Lakes, rust belt kinds of places with having a bit of an image problem, (the place I live, Rochester, NY is right in that mix), it makes sense that lots of HR/Talent pros have to sell their cities all the time. So based on two days of listening and learning from the good people of Cleveland, here are my top 5 observations on the best/worst ways to sell your non-sexy location to someone that is inclined to believe the worst about your beloved hometown:

    1. Don't constantly remind people that they already believe your city is horrible

    Lots of the conversations I had (and a few of the DisruptHR presentations too), seemed to start with a statement like "I know you think Cleveland is old/backward/dirty/boring/horrible/whatever, but I am going to tell you why you are wrong..." And then they would get into the specific elements and attributes of the city that were positive to try and change my (perceived) opinions about Cleveland. But what if I didn't actually have a negative pre-conception of Cleveland? What if I didn't know much at all about the city? Don't make the first notion in my head a negative one with a "I am sure you heard that Cleveland is terrible" statement. Just lead with the strengths and drop the 'I need to change your mind" stuff.

    2. If you have something cool that NO ONE else has, then talk about that. Talk about that a lot.

    Every decent sized city has some amount of the following things: sports teams, art museums, zoos, theaters, fancy restaurants, concert venues, parks, and probably a dozen more things common to cities. While these are all interesting and important, they (typically) don't do much to convince any but the most passionate that your city is somehow superior to some other city. But when you have something really cool, something that no other city can replicate, then you lead with that. In Cleveland one such example is the (very cool) Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The ONLY one of these is in Cleveland. I would spend probably 80% of my time talking about these kinds of unique elements if I was trying to sell someone on my city. "We have a nice library" is not really a differentiator.

    3. Don't fixate on a local problem that visitors are likely not familiar with

    In only about 48 hours in Cleveland I learned that the lack of downtown parking seems to be a REALLY BIG issue. Everyone seemed to mention it at some point, and two DisruptHR presenters talked about it as well. Parking seems to be a big problem, but the only reason I know anything about it is because the natives kept on bringing it up. I would not have known or realized this was an issue on my own. But since the locals seem really worrried about this, now I have in my head that parking is a problem in Cleveland. A better strategy is to not constantly remind visitors or potential transplants of what is a local problem until really necessary. Unless the local problem has something to do with random shootings, carjackings, that kind of thing. Those are the local problems I feel entitled to a little warning about.

    4. People at different life stages want different things

    This is kind of obvious, but still worth mentioning. Where you are in your life and career, significantly impacts the kind of places you are drawn too, and the types of features of a city that seem most attractive. The most successful cities are the ones that offer the kind of variety in housing, entertainment, employment, social, and recreational options that appeal to a wide range of people - from hipsters to young professionals to blue collar workers and to experienced professionals. Once the options that appeal to a group (in general), start to wane and they leave for other options, then a part of the city kind of falls away with it. The most vibrant cities, and sections of cities, have a diverse mix of not just people, but uses as well. If your downtown is all office buildings with limited residences and shops, then it will be a ghost town after 6PM.  I am not sure this is really a Cleveland problem or not, but I think it is important to mention regardless.

    5. Everyone comes from somewhere, and most people have an irrationally elevated opinion of how great their own 'somewhere' actually is.

    I am not sure I have ever been to a city where the local residents are as proud of their city as Clevelanders are about theirs. Everyone I met was really in to being from or living in Cleveland. In some ways, I felt like the visitors were being 'sold' all the time. While being proud of where you live is a great, great thing, I think you also have to be careful (and be a little rational too). Lots of cities are really cool places to live. Lots of cities have most of the same kinds of things you do too. People are nice and friendly all over the place, not just where you live. My point is, sell your city, and what makes it great, but remember that the person you are selling to probably feels the exact same way about their own city too. Keep it in check and be honest - folks will appreciate that more than being fooled. Just ease off on all the parking talk.

    I had a fantastic time in Cleveland. And I can't think of better ambassadors for that fine city than our gracious hosts and guides Frank Zupan and Tammy Colson.

    I do think, in fact, it is true - Cleveland rocks.

    Have a great week! 

    Thursday
    Jul312014

    How far are you willing to go to get better?

    At the (continuing) risk of alienating blog readers who are not the least interested in the connections between sports and HR and the workplace (come on, get with it people), I felt compelled to go back to the NBA well one more time to share a sliver of a fantastic piece in Grantland about the Atlanta Hawks' Kyle Korver.

    For the uninitiated, Korver is a 33 year old veteran player about to enter his 12th season in the NBA, after completing 4 years as a college player at Creighton. He has played for 4 different teams in his career, and was notably traded before ever playing a game in the NBA by the Nets, the team that originally drafted him to the 76ers in exchange for $125,000 - enough cash to fund the Nets' summer league team and buy some office equipment. He then bounced around the league somewhat, making stops in Philly, Utah, and Chicago before joining the Hawks in 2012.

    Since becoming a Hawk, and in particular since the Hawks have adopted a more open, fast-paced, spread the court and shoot 3-pointers type of offensive style, Korver has enjoyed something almost unheard of with professional basketball players on the wrong side of 30 - he is getting better. Korver's scoring average, shooting percentages, and most notably his 3-point shooting percentages have all gone up each of the last 3 seasons, just when most players his age are declining to a point where few even remain in the league.

    To what can you attribute this remarkable late-career renaissance for Korver?

    Probably to three things, two that are basketball specific but have relevance to pretty much any kind of workplace, and one other that is strictly a personal development play, and too has relevance to anyone looking to improve their performance in their job.

    One - The league in general has adopted a style of play that suits Korver's natural talents more so than it did even just 5 or 7 years ago. Teams are favoring a more open game, are spacing the floor to free up 3 point shooting, and relying less on dominant center oriented offense. Through a combination of rule changes and a focus on analytics that values a high percentage 3 point shot over almost any other kind of shot, Korver has found himself a valuable niche in the current NBA. For the rest of us, the lesson is about finding that correct industry or type of work that fits with what we are naturally good at or inclined to enjoy. It sounds really simple, and it should be, but we all have probably spent longer than we care to admit in jobs or at companies that were not 'right.'

    Two - The Hawks, Korver's current team, and their head coach John Budenholzer are installing specific patterns and plays to take advantage of Korver's skills, and that more often than not place him in a position where he or his teammates have the best chance for success. Often non-star players do not get much opportunity to showcae their talents, as most NBA teams orient their game plans around the strengths and preferences of their star players. It is not that role players like Korver are not capable, it is just that they often get limited opportunities. Here is a quote from the Grantland piece:

    No coach has unleashed the full breadth of Korver’s game like Budenholzer. Korver isn’t a traditional pick-and-roll player; he can’t dribble the ball 25 feet to the rim, juking dudes along the way. But Budenholzer has tailored a sort of hybrid species of pick-and-roll to his secret star — a high-speed curling action in which Korver takes a pitch or a handoff, probes the defense with a dribble or two, and makes the next pass from there.

    This is the classic, 'never get a chance to show what I can do' problem that happens in many workplaces. You can either get stuck as too much of a specialist, thus becoming too valuable for the one thing that you do well, but might not be too excited about, or you can fight and push and volunteer for projects that will simultaneously energize you and raise your overall value. Even if you work for the man, sometimes you have to make the man work for you.

    Three - Korver probably works harder at getting better at his job than most of us work at getting better at ours. Work ethic is sometimes a tough thing to assess and then to value. Often it isn't about the level of effort that goes into doing the actual work, in Korver's case actually playing the games, but rather what someone is willing to do when they are 'off the clock' so to speak. What are they working on? What are they reading and researching? How far are they willing to push and explore in order to improve? One more bit from the Grantland piece shows what this means to a guy like Korver:

    Korver is also willing to test himself in unconventional ways. Elliott introduced him to misogi, the Japanese annual purification ritual some athletes have adapted into a once-a-year endurance challenge. Korver and Elliott stand-up paddled 25 miles from the Channel Islands to Santa Barbara last year. Korver may have one-upped himself with themisogi he did this summer.

    Big-wave surfers build lung capacity by holding a large rock, sinking to the bottom of the ocean, and running short distances on the ocean floor. Korver and four friends decided to go back to the Channel Islands, find an 85-pound rock, and run a collective 5K holding the thing underwater. Each participant would dive down, find the rock, run with it as long as he could, and drop it for the next guy to find. Those waiting their turn wore weight belts and tread in water between five and 10 feet deep.

    It took five hours. “We were honestly worried about blacking out,” Korver says. They were also worried about sharks.

    “He wants to turn over every stone, and try every possible thing that might make him better — as a player and a person,” Elliott says.

    Get that? A group 5K, underwater, while carrying a 85 pound rock and hoping you don't black out and/or get eaten by a shark. That is work ethic. That is wanting to get better. That is the kind of approach, in combination with the right system and organization, that allows a 33 year old shooter to keep getting better when decades of NBA history says he should be getting worse.

    How far are you willing to go to get better?