Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


E-mail Steve
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    Listen to internet radio with Steve Boese on Blog Talk Radio

    free counters

    Twitter Feed

    Entries in 8 Man Rotation (69)


    When things don't work out: Lessons from the New York Knicks

    My beloved New York Knicks wrapped up a disappointing 2013-2014 season last night with a win, but despite the win and some solid play in the season's late stages the season ended with a playoff-missing 37-45 won-loss record.

    Since I spent a ridiculous amount of time this season watching the Knicks I better have gotten something out of it (or I will be really even more depressed), so I figured I would share five quick lessons from disappointment from the 2013-2014 Knicks debacle of a season.Knicks coach Mike Woodson, in his standard 2014 repose

    1. Be careful with celebrations and self-congratulation

    Last year the Knicks had a surprisingly strong season, winning 54 games and also winning their first playoff series in about 20 years. They were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, but still went out with a feeling of "We've had a great season!" But the good feelings and accomplishments from a prior success don't really mean anything when it comes to tackling the next challenge. This year's Knicks team had a lingering hangover from the celebrations of prior accomplishments that themselves were not all that great. Lesson? Don't celebrate too long and especially for 'wins' that are not all that remarkable.

    2. Sometimes you are the worst evaluator of your own capability and potential

    Prior to the season, a computer analysis of their prospects predicted the Knicks would finish with a 37-45 record, and miss the playoffs. And that prediction was predictably mocked and derided by the team's players and coaches. But as we see, this is exactly the terrible record the Knicks ended up with. The lesson here? When a neutral, no-skin-in-the-game third party (like this computer), gives you an assessment of your performance and capability, you should at least consider its point of view and findings. Like the Knicks, most of us are pretty bad at self reflection and examination.

    3. You can't fix other people's problems

    One of the major off-season moves the Knicks made was to acquire via trade former Toronto Raptors forward (and former 1st overall draft choice from 2006), Andrea Bargnani. In Toronto, Bargnani was essentially hated, and the Raptor fans even made celebratory videos when his trade to the Knicks was announced. While Bargnani might be a nice guy, he is not a very good NBA basketball player, despite 'seeming' like he should be (he's tall). Bargnani's performance with the Knicks, (before getting injured and missing the last half of the season), was almost exactly in line with his career average performance level from seven years in Toronto. Bargnani was a mediocre-at-best player that the Knicks somehow felt in their system could perform at a higher level. The lesson is that they were wrong.

    4. Past performance is not indicative, except when it is

    Last season's 54 win Knicks team was powered, in part, due to career-best performances by two players, Point Guard Raymond Felton, and shooting guard and NBA 6th Man of the Year, J.R. Smith. For various reasons, both of these player's performances were substantially better than their career averages, and consequently helped lead the Knicks to what was really an over performing 2013 finish. In 2014 instead of repeating that level of relative over achievement, both players regressed back to their typical or expected performance levels, (and at times, even below that). They both returned to who they are. Your takeaway? Veteran employees don't usually and suddenly start performing much better or much worse than their career history suggests. And when or if they do, you can expect a return to the mean level of performance (good or average) eventually.

    5. When things are really bad, you have to send a message

    Towards the end of what would be a lost season, the Knicks signed NBA coaching legend (and former Knicks player) Phil 'Zen Master' Jackson to be the team's new President. While this was too late in the campaign to make much of a difference in 2014, at least it sends a message to the team, the fans, and the other execs that the Knicks are at least finally realizing they are a dysfunctional mess. Will Jackson be able to actually turn the Knicks around next year? Hard to say but the lesson from ownership to the team and for you as well is clear: When there is a performance problem, you can't expect it to just work out on its own, you have to take some steps to shake up the organization, the culture, the staff, etc. in order to get at and improve the problems.

    Ugh, I am just as drained from this (silly) post as I have been watching this disaster of a Knicks team this season. But talking/writing about it is a little cathartic, I think. I guess that is the last lesson from this terrible team - no matter how bad things get it helps to vent a little bit about it.

    Have a great day!


    Is "In which month were you born?" a valid interview question?

    Quick 8 Man Rotation take for a busy Tuesday. Check out the chart below, a birth month distribution of about 240,000 professional soccer players taken from a database that tracks player signing and transfers and was compiled by David Bauer:

    Notice anything strange in the pattern distribution?

    How about the unusually high (relative) percentages of professional soccer players born in the first quarter of the year, particularly in January (11.3%), and the relatively lower percentages of players that were born at the end of the year (down to a low of 6.5% in December).

    It might not seem like that much of a disparity, but consider a similar chart that shows the birth month distribution of the entire population of the European Union, (below), and you can see some striking differences.

    As you can see from the total EU chart, people are born more or less consistently across the months of the year, with only small differences in percentages born in the highest percentage months.

    But professional soccer players? They show a striking and increased likelihood to be born in the first three months of the year.

    This phenomenon is attributed to the traditional soccer (and other sports as well) youth development process that groups players of the same age (Under 10, Under 16, etc.), for training and competitions.

    The theory then is that at those younger ages the physical size and skill differentials between an Under 10 year old player born in January and one born in December are really large, and noticeable. The player born in January then receives more attention, better coaching, more opportunities, etc., as he/she is simply deemed a better prospect than the player born in December. This then plays out again and again over time resulting in more of the 'early year' born players making it to the professional levels.

    No one knows if this is really true and explains the birth month disparity of professional soccer players compared to the overall population, but it does seem at least plausible.

    So circle this back to your HR/Talent shop. Does this kind of analysis make sense for you to consider? Is there a similar performance effect that can be seen in other types of occupations besides professional soccer based on birth month distribution? Are comparatively "older for their grade level" people likely to turn out to be better at more than just playing sports? Do you care about the birth month of a candidate or an employee?

    I don't know. I guess it seems unlikely. But even so there is still a takeaway from this data which is this: If you want little Junior to grow up to be a pro soccer player, you may want to plan around a January birth date, (if it isn't too late).

    Have a great Tuesday.


    The analytics takeover won't always be pretty

    Seems like it has been some time since I dropped a solid 8 Man Rotation contribution here on the blog, so to remedy that, please first take a look at this recent piece on ESPN.com, 'Fears that stats trump hoops acumen', a look at the tensions that are building inside NBA front offices and among team executives.

    In case you didn't click over and read the piece, the gist is this: With the increased importance and weight that a new generation of NBA team owners are placing on data-driven decision making and analytical skills, that the traditional people that have been the talent pool for NBA team management and executive roles, (former NBA players), are under threat from a new kind of candidate - ones that have deep math, statistics, and data backgrounds and, importantly, not careers as actual basketball players.

    Check this excerpt from the ESPN piece to get a feel for how this change in talent management and sourcing strategies is being interpreted by long time (and anonymously quoted) NBA executives:

    Basketball guys who participated in the game through years of rigorous training and practice, decades of observation work through film and field participation work feel under-utilized and under-appreciated and are quite insulted because their PhDs in basketball have been downgraded," the former executive, who chose to remain anonymous, told ESPN NBA Insider Chris Broussard.

    One longtime executive, who also chose to remain anonymous, postulated that one reason why so many jobs are going to people with greater analytical backgrounds is because newer and younger owners may better identify with them.

    "Generally speaking, neither the [newer generation of] owners nor the analytic guys have basketball in their background," the longtime executive told Broussard. "This fact makes it easy for both parties to dismiss the importance of having experience in and knowledge of the game.

    The piece goes on to say that since many newer NBA owners have business and financial industry backgrounds, (and didn't inherit their teams as part of the 'family business'), that they would naturally look for their team executives to share the kinds of educational and work experience profiles of the business executives with which they are accustomed to working with, and have been successful with.

    The former players, typically, do not have these kinds of skills, they have spent just about all their adult lives (and most of their childhoods), actually playing basketball. A set of experiences, it is turning out, no longer seems to provide the best training or preparation for running or managing a basketball team. 

    But the more interesting point from all this, and the one that might have resonance beyond basketball, is the idea that the change in hiring philosophy is coming right from the top - from a new generation of team owners that have a different set of criteria upon which they are assessing and evaluating talent.

    Left to tradition, hiring and promotion decisions would have probably only slowly begun to modernize. But a new generation of owners/leaders in the NBA are changing the talent profile for the next generation of leaders.

    The same thing is likely to play out in your organization. Eventually, if it has not happened yet, you are going to go to a meeting with your new CHRO who didn't rise through the HR ranks and maybe is coming into the role from finance, operations, or manufacturing. In that meeting your 19 years of experience in employee relations might be a great asset to brag on. Or it might not be.

    And you might find out only when you are introduced to your new boss, who has spent her last 5 years crunching numbers and developing stats models.

    Have a great week!


    Big Data - on the basketball court today, tomorrow in your office?

    Super piece over at Grantland the other day titled The Data Flow Continues: NBA D-League Will Monitor Player Heart Rate, Speed, Distance Traveled, and More, about some of the steps that the NBA, (and its affiliated minor league the D-League), are taking that leverage wearable tracking devices to monitor player movements, player vital signs, and evaluate things like player fatigue levels and stress during the course of play.

    These new devices, ones that go beyond the already in-place sophisticated video technology that records player actions like direction of movement, speed, acceleration and deceleration, and move into more precise measurements of a player's biological and physical status and condition, seem to offer NBA teams a rich and copious set of information that can inform in-game strategy, (Is LeBron really tired, or does he just look tired?), and off season training and conditioning plans.

    But of course the potential backlash for the NBA and its teams is that no one, not even highly compensated NBA players, will be terribly excited about not only having their actions tracked, but also their physical reactions tracked as well.

    But if we move off of thinking about this kind of physical tracking as something that is limited to jobs or activities like playing basketball we could easily see how this kind of technology and data collection and mining approach could have applications in other domains.

    Wouldn't you like to know, Mr. or Ms. HR/Talent pro, how a given manager's team members physically react when they are in a performance coaching session, or getting any kind of feedback on their work? Do the team member's hearts start racing when their boss enters the room or begins one of his soliloquies? Do certain team members react and respond differently to the same managerial techniques? And wouldn't that information be valuable to feed back to the manager so that he or she could better tailor their style and approach to fit the individuals on their team?

    I know what you are saying, no way are employees going to agree to be wired up like subjects in some kind of weird biology experiment. Too intrusive. Too much potential for the data to be lost. Too many chances for the data to be held against them.

    The NBA players are probably going to make similar arguments, but eventually they will succumb.

    I will leave with a direct pull quote from the Grantland piece, and as you read it, think about how naturally you could substitute 'organizations' for 'NBA teams'.

    Bottom line: None of this stuff is going away. Data of all kinds are already piling up at a rate that is overwhelming NBA teams, and the pace and variety of data available will only increase. Teams are going to have to change hiring patterns, and likely hire additional staff, to mine anything useful out of all this information. And the holy grail, to me, remains what these tracking devices can tell us about health — about preventing injuries, predicting them, monitoring players’ training loads, and keeping them healthy.

    Have a great weekend!


    Why do old coaches get fired?

    Taking a (needed) break today from the seemingly endless series of 'Robots that are coming to take your job and destroy everything you love' posts and getting back to something far, far more important - sports!

    I caught an excellent piece on the AJC College Football blog featuring college coaching legend, and the current head football coach at my alma mater, the University of South Carolina, Steve Spurrier. Spurrier, also known as the Head Ball Coach, has has a legendary collegiate playing and coaching career. He won the Heisman Trophy as the nation's best college player in 1966, had a 10-year NFL playing career, and then has had a stellar college coaching run starting at Duke, then Florida, (winning a national title in 1996), and finally at South Carolina. At Carolina, Spurrier has led the Fighting Gamecocks to three consecutive 11 win seasons and become the most successful coach in school history.

    But now, at 68 years of age, some observers are wondering just how much longer Spurrier can continue to put in the work and successfully compete at the highest level of college football, and in a position that is notorious for insanely long hours, tremendous pressure to win, and significant demands on ones time. Or, said differently, some are asking, 'Is Spurrier, or any coach of more advanced years, still able to get the job done?'

    To that, in a recent AJC piece, Spurrier offered what I think was one of the sharpest observations about age and on the job performance, and one that resonates and applies just about in every field.

    Check out the take below:

    “I will tell you what is neat. You look around at college basketball now, and there’s Jimmy Boeheim, who is almost 70 years old. He has got the only undefeated team in the country. Larry Brown is at SMU. He’s 73, and I think they’re a top 10 team. Mike Krzyzewski is in his upper 60s and so forth. Coaches don’t get fired for being older coaches. They get fired for not winning. 

    Love that take from the Head Ball Coach. 

    Coaches, (or usually pretty much anyone working in a company/industry that cares about winning), don't get fired solely because they seem too old or that somehow the game or business has passed them by. Coaches (young and old) get fired because they don't win. Winning makes everyone look better, younger, smarter.

    More from the HBC:

    "It all comes down if you are winning and losing, if you’re recruiting well, and if your program is on the upbeat and it’s positive. That’s what we all shoot for and obviously it’s not that easy to do.

    “But the age of a coach really has nothing to do with it.”

    This may seem like a kind of throwaway concept, or just something really obvious, i.e. keep performing at a high level and usually anyone's job is safe. But as I know I have posted about on the blog here, and has become an increasingly prevalent dynamic in many US businesses, employees are getting older and older, and the percentage of people age 55 and up still in the workforce keeps climbing.

    We could all do for reminding ourselves from time to time that unless there are some really specific and challenging physical elements to the job, that often age, by itself, simply does not matter when evaluating performance. And we have to get used to working with, learning from, and leveraging these older employees.

    Old coaches get fired not for being old. They get fired for not winning. Which is the same reason young coaches get fired.