Quantcast
Subscribe!

 

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 (123)

    Tuesday
    Feb092016

    Goal alignment sounds boring, but it can get you fired (NBA coaching edition)

    My favorite sport is basketball, my favorite league is the NBA, and my favorite team is the New York Knicks.

    Yesterday, my beloved Knicks relieved their head coach, Derek Fisher, of his duties about 2/3 of the way through his second season as head coach, with the Knicks currently possessing a 23-31 record, good (or bad) for 12th place in the NBA's Eastern Conference and about 5 games out of the 8th place, and the final playoff spot in the East.

    There were various reasons for Knicks' team ownership and management to make the move to release Fisher, but I want to focus on one in particular that has been cited in many of the reports of Fisher's firing. It's a classic HR/Talent Management concept as well - dull sounding goal alignment - the basic, but as we will see overlooked in the Knicks' case, idea that organizational goals should be defined, communicated, and understood throughout and down the organization. Playoffs? Playoffs?

    The goal in question that at least partially served as a catalyst for Fisher's demise: for the team to finish in the top 8 places in the Eastern Conference and make the NBA playoffs, one season (and a few new players) removed from last year's franchise worst 17- 65 record, and dead last finish in the East.

    Here's an excerpt from one report on the firing on how management and Fisher's boss, Knick team President (and NBA coaching legend), Phil Jackson were disapponted in some recent comments from Fisher regarding the Knick's goal of reaching the playoffs this season:

    More importantly, however, ESPN reports that Fisher wasn't developing as a coach quick enough for Knicks management. Some of that pressure may have been because the Knicks, for stretches, looked like a playoff team. Yet in the midst of a rough patch, Fisher, during an interview, said missing the playoffs wouldn't be a "disappointment."

    "No. Disappointed in what?" Fisher said in an interview on ESPN radio. "We’re a developing team with a ton of new players. ... We have to be reasonable about who we are and where we are and accept what is and not get caught up in what we should be and allow other people to define what our success is."

    Let's unpack that a little, exspecially for folks who don't follow the NBA as much as I do, (everyone).

    At the start of the season the Knicks were incorporating several new players, their best player (Carmelo Anthony), was working his way back into form following an injury/surgey last year, and after only 17 wins a yar ago, probably could not have been reasonably expected to compete for a playoff berth this year. Jackson and Fisher, both veterans of the NBA, had to have known this, even if they said different things publicly.

    But then a few things broke in the Knicks favor in the first half of the year. Anthony rebounded well from injury and was playing some good basketball, rookie Kristaps Porzingis was MUCH, MUCH better than anyone would have expected, and several new players made contributions to the team. The team was actually in contention for a playoff spot until their recent swoon - losing 9 of their last 10, culminating in the firing of Fisher yesterday.

    So the organizational goal at the beginning of the season was probably something along the lines of 'Let's be better than last year, let's develop some new players, and let's figure out which players are not going to cut it.'

    About half way in the season, due to some unexpected and better play, at least to Jackson and managment the goal shifted to 'Let's make the playoffs this season.'

    But somehow Coach Fisher either didn't get the message, or, didn't buy in to the new goal as one that was reasonable, and one upon which his performance should be evaluated.

    Against the first set of goals for the season, even at 23-31, Fisher's performance would have at least been 'acceptable.' The team is better than last year, rookie Porzingis has been a pleasant surprise, and (mostly) Fisher has found a way to be competitive game in and game out.

    But against the revised or re-calibrated goal of making the playoffs this season? Well it seems almost certain after losing 9 of 10 that the Knicks are not going to achieve that. Fisher publicly stating that missing that goal 'would not be a disappointment' said to Knicks management that their was a disconnect between what the organization was working towards and what one of its key managers, (Fisher), had in mind. And so Fisher had to go.

    It's ok for leaders to change course, set a new goal mid-stream, or ask even more from people who are performing well. But if those folks you are asking to do more and be better are not fully on board? Well then you have pretty different definitions of 'success' in the organization, and that ultimately will drive a wedge between leadership, management, and employees.

    Note: I have probably watched 45 or so of the Knicks 54 games this season. I don't think they are a playoff team either.

    Tuesday
    Jan122016

    Reacting to a sudden change in leadership

    It's Monday night as I write this and of course just like you I am watching an NBA game and thinking about work, workplaces, and management. 

    The game in question is the Spurs vs. Nets and why this particular game is interesting (aside from it involving the always fun to watch Spurs team), is that it is the first game for the Nets following the (kind of) sudden firing of their head coach Lionel Hollins and the re-assignment/demotion of their GM Billy King on Sunday. The Nets players were certainly aware of their 10-27 record and position as one of the league's worst teams, but they would not have had much if any advance warning of the imminent sacking of their coach.From the Nets better days

    Fast forward about 36 hours and these Nets have to take the court against the Spurs, one of the NBA's elite franchises, and possessors of a 32-6 record and winners of 5 NBA titles in the last 20 or so years. But the Spurs success is not what matters for my point today, but rather how the Nets players, and by means of extension, any of us react to a sudden change in our own organizational leadership.

    The way I see it you, me, the guys playing for the Nets can react one of three possible ways to the news that the boss, the big boss, or the really, really big boss is suddenly gone, and there is a little bit of uncertainty about what is going to happen next.

    1. Panic - even though I advised yesterday that in most cases that it is probably too late to panic, some folks inevitably will. In the Nets example, the player's agent will immediately start working the phones, looking for a potential new team for the player and leak stories to the media that the former coach never really gave the player a fair chance or used him in a way that best exploited his talents. For us 'normals', that means an instant LinkedIn profile update and bending the ear of everyone who will listen that the former leader 'never liked me' or 'always had it in for me.' 

    2. Enthusiasm - Some players on the Nets will see the change in leadership as a way to get a fresh start, and to try and impress the new leaders with extra effort and diligence to their tasks. These guys are probably ones who felt like for whatever reason they were not able to be their best selves under the old regime. They will in the short term work extra hard, and spend more time talking about the potentially bright future instead of focusing on the disappointments of the past. This reaction is usual reserved for younger players who are in the early stage of their careers and don't have much time or emotional commitment with the outgoing leadership. 

    3. Insubordination - The worst of all three potential reactions, and the one that can possibly cause lingering damage, is outright insubordination. Veteran players, especially ones with long-term, guaranteed contracts could consider themselves pretty insulated from any negative consequences and out and out work against the new leadership. This is particularly dangerous because very often the new leaders need the support of the organization's most senior and influential players. But these players, and the similarly long-tenured staff at any organization, often have outsized levels of power inside the group, and any new leader is going to have to find some common ground with them in order to try and fix what needs fixing. 

    When there is a sudden, and possible unexpected change in leadership everyone in the organization immediately begins to evaluate their own position, their place in the organization, and the health of the organization overall.

    If you are a role player or a favorite of the old regime, it may indeed be time to start working your network and calling in some favors, as your days may be numbered as well. But if you were a solid worker who always thought you could do more but were never given the chance it could be your time to try and step up and fill in some of the leadership and talent vacuum.

    If you are the new leader suddenly thrust into power, you'd do well to assess the folks on the team and sort out what group they seem to be falling in with before too long. Some will be with you, some will be against you, and some will just be a mess. It is good to know who is who. 

    Either way, these kinds of quick changes in leadership force us to be at least somewhat honest about our own place in the organization, and perhaps more importantly, force us to consider if we have a future with said organization as well. 

    Complacency can be a real bastard. It sometimes takes some dramatic change to wake us up.

    Thursday
    Dec312015

    Best of 2015: Wearable tech at work: Three lessons from the NBA

    NOTE: As 2015 winds down, so will 'regular' posts on the blog. For the next two weeks, I will be posting what I thought were the most interesting pieces I published in 2015. These were not necessarily the most popular or most shared, just the ones I think were most representative of the year in HR, HR Tech, workplaces, and basketball. Hope you enjoy looking back on the year and as always, thanks for reading in 2015.

    Next up a piece from October titled Wearable tech at work: Three lessons from the NBA, that was my favorite kind of post to write - taking an example from the sports world and thinking about what it means for the mainstream kinds of workplaces most of us inhabit.

    Wearable tech at work: Three lessons from the NBA

    The NBA season starts tomorrow!  

    It could not have come soon enough for this NBA junkie. While my beloved Mets have made things interesting with a surprising run to baseball's World Series, I live and breathe for NBA basketball. This is for two reasons primarily. One, the NBA is simply the best, most exciting, most watchable sport there is. And two, basketball provides a tremendous source of insights for all things HR and the workplace - leadership, recruiting, talent management, assessment, compensation, and increasingly - the use of advanced performance analytics for evaluation, talent management, and strategy development.

    Case in point, the increased use of player movement and performance tracking technology to better understand patterns, tendencies, and importantly, fatigue and diminished output/effort in a player. Check this excerpt from a recent piece on the topic from Grantland, From BMI to TMI: The NBA Is Leaning Toward Wearable Tech, then some comments from me after the quote:

    The NBA is putting its own money into the study of wearable GPS devices, with the likely end goal of outfitting players during games, according to several league sources. The league is funding a study, at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, of products from two leading device-makers: Catapult and STATSports.

    The league declined comment on the study. Most teams already use the gadgets during practices, and Catapult alone expects to have about 20 NBA team clients by the start of the 2015-16 season. The Fort Wayne Mad Ants wore Catapult monitors during D-League games last season in an obvious trial run for potential use at the parent league.

    Weighing less than an ounce, these devices are worn underneath a player’s jersey. They track basic movement data, including distance traveled and running speed, but the real value comes from the health- and fatigue-related information they spit out. The monitors track the power behind a player’s accelerations and decelerations (i.e., cuts), the force-based impact of jumping and landing, and other data points. Team sports science experts scour the data for any indication a player might be on the verge of injury — or already suffering from one that hasn’t manifested itself in any obvious way.

    The piece goes on to make some interesting points about how teams can use the devices in a practice setting in order to make decisions about player rest and practice strategy. But since the NBA player's are represented by a union, in-game use of these devices will have to be collectively bargained according to the piece. What can we extrapolate to 'normal' workplaces from the NBA's experiments and experiences with these kinds of wearables?

    I can think of three main things:

    1. Union shop or not, organizations are going to have to take data privacy, usage, and access issues very seriously and head-on. Players that are angling to secure their next contract might not want widespread access to their performance data if it begins to show some performance degradation that might not be apparent to the naked eye. If you want any employee to wear a tracking tool like this, you have got to ensure the 'right' level of privacy and control for your situation.

    2. Your primary use case for wearable tech should be a positive one. And probably your secondary use case as well. If wearables are going to be used to prevent injuries, help workers find efficiencies, or better align tasks to workers, (and even to a specific day or time), then it is likely you will have a better chance at employee adoption of this kind of tech. If employees think your primary goal of these devices is to identify the 'weak links' in the organization in order to apply discipline, (or to weed them out), then the reaction is going to be less-than-enthusiastic. There is already a pretty large 'Big Brother is watching' inherent bias you need to overcome, don't make it worse by treating wearable tech at work like some kind of house arrest ankle bracelet.

    3. Wearable data has to be interpreted in context. Every basketball game is unique. The opponent, the combinations of players on the court, the external conditions, (travel, amount of sleep, diet, etc,), all vary from day-to-day and game-to-game no matter how hard coaches try to have things consistent. Careful analysis of player tracking data and performance has to include and attempt to understand how external factors impact performance. Player tracking data is going to create tremendous amounts of data for team management to analyze - on top of the pretty large data sets they already have been crunching. And when this kind of data is available to every team, the competitive advantage ceases to be simply having the data - the advantage shifts to the organization that is the best and extracting insight from the data.

    I am sure there will be more to unpack as player movement and tracking data becomes more of a mainstream form of analysis, but for now, these are the big takeaways for me.

    I love the NBA. You should too. Everything you need to know about HR an Talent can be learned in 48 minutes a night.

    Trust me... it will be a great season!

    NOTE: This was the last of the 'Best of 2015' posts. Hope you enjoyed looking back on the year. HAppy New Year to everyone and we will see you back with fresh content next week.

    Tuesday
    Dec292015

    Best of 2015: The culture of performance, and firing by form letter

    NOTE: As 2015 winds down, so will 'regular' posts on the blog. For the next two weeks, I will be posting what I thought were the most interesting pieces I published in 2015. These were not necessarily the most popular or most shared, just the ones I think were most representative of the year in HR, HR Tech, workplaces, and basketball. Hope you enjoy looking back on the year and as always, thanks for reading in 2015.

    Next up a piece from June, titled The Culture of Performance, and Firing by Form Letter, a simple example of how organizational culture (needs to) manifest itself in approaches to talent management.

    The culture of performance and firing by form letter

    Super look at just one of the ways that a 'performance is the only thing that matters' culture that is professional American football manifests itself over at Deadspin last week in the piece This is the the letter you get when you are cut from an NFL team.

    Take a look at a typical player termination letter from one of the league's clubs, the Houston Texans:

    A couple of things about the letter, and then i am out for the rest of a summer Monday.

    1. First up, in a really hands-on job like 'NFL Player', physical ability to perform issues are number 1 and 2 on the 5 possible termination reasons. For the rest of us who are not NFL players, this could equate to keeping up our skills, learning new ones as business and technology shifts, and importantly, not 'faking' it in terms of what we say we can do.

    2. Reason 3, and the one that this example from 2006 shows, says basically, 'You are just not good enough, i.e., the other guys on the team are better'. No details, no wordy explanations or nuances. Just a cut and dried 'You're not good enough.' That's cold, but again, completely aligned with the organizational values and culture. Performance trumps everything. Want a high-performance culture? Then you have to be ruthless in trimming the organization of people who don't meet the standard. And you as a leader can't let it bother you too much either.

    3. The organization also has a broad right to terminate you for 'personal conduct that adversely affects or reflects on the club'. Heck, that could be just about anything, since it is the club who gets to evaluate the 'impact' of your behavior. In other words, we (mostly) care about your physical condition and your performance, but we can fire your butt for just about anything we want at any time. Heck, that sounds a lot like many of the places us 'normals' work too. Employment at will is a great deal for sure. Until you get fired, well, just 'because.'

    Hiring, promoting, rewards, and even terminations all play a big role in defining, supporting, and communicating an organization's values and culture. If you are going to go all-in on high performance, well, you need to remember the dark side of that decision too.

    And firing by form letter is one example of that.

    Have a great week!

    Friday
    Dec182015

    What to do when your best employee stops being coachable

    Interesting tale on coaching, power dynamics, and the implications of chasing 'top' talent above all from the world of sports (Shock!), that is going down at one of the world's most famous and influential soccer clubs, Real Madrid. 

    If you don't follow world soccer, all you really need to know is that Real Madrid consistently ranks amongst Europe's (and the world's) best club teams. They regularly compete for Spanish league and European Champion's League (a competition open to only the top club teams from across Europe), and their roster is filled with top-level talent, most of whom feature for their national sides in the World Cup and other national contests.  Simply put, Real Madrid is an elite club filled with elite players, none of whom more talented and famous than Cristiano Ronaldo, one world soccer's most talented players.

    Ronaldo has won the Ballon D'Or (award for the top soccer player in the world) three times, and has served as the captain of his Portuguese national team since 2008. In short, Ronaldo is the epitome of 'top talent' - he is a soccer player sure, but his level of success and prestige could be in any field really, for the point I am (finally) about to get to.

    Turns out that Ronaldo, as one of the best players in the world, is not all that keen on being 'coached', even when the coaching seems directly related to a recent performance issue.  From a piece posted recently on the Irish Independent on Ronaldo's reaction to a suggestion for potential performance improvement from Real Madrid's manager Rafa Benitez:

    A request from Real Madrid manager Rafa Benitez  for Cristiano Ronaldo to undergo studies to improve his free-kick technique has worsened the fragile relationship between the pair according to reports in Spain. The Portuguese star is hailed as one of the finest dead ball specialists in the world, but his struggled to find the net as regularly in recent times. Ronaldo's strike against Malmo last week during the 7-0 Champions League rout of the Swedish side was his first goal from a free-kick in seven months.

    According to José Félix Díaz of (Spanish paper), El Chiringuito, Ronaldo's opinion of the under pressure Spaniard (Benitez) plummeted after attempting to improve his free-kick precision by asking the Portuguese superstar to undergo a biometric study.

    The reporter claims the Madrid star left the room when this was suggested.

    A lot to unpack here, but let's try to tease out the important points in concise fashion:

    1. Ronaldo is the best player on a very successful team

    2. Ronaldo has (or late) been struggling in one specific performance area - scoring goals from direct free kicks, something at which he in the past has been very proficient

    3. His manager, (essentially his boss for the rest of us), suggests some advanced work and analysis to get at the root of the issue, and (ideally) to generate some changes in Ronaldo's technique and preparation in hopes of improving his performance on free kicks

    4. (Allegedly), upon hearing these suggestions from his manager, Ronaldo storms out of the room, declaring the meeting is over

    Essentially, Ronaldo has ceased being coachable. His past success, stature, and position of value over replacement, (if you get rid of Ronaldo you are almost certainly not replacing him with anyone nearly as talented), have left him, at least in his view, immune to coaching or any other attempts at manager-led performance improvement. Ronaldo is Rafa Benitez' and Real Madrid's problem now, but you might one day have a similar problem with a top performer on your team. Let's admit it, after a while most of us once we hit a level of good performance are not all that excited to be told how we should be better. So what can you or any manager do when faced with this situation? 

    I can think of a couple of things, and also one important 'look in the mirror' type question as well.

    1. Play the 'example' card - By not taking direction and coaching from Benitez, Ronaldo is also sending a message to the rest of the team that it is ok around here to not be receptive to coaching. While that may not matter to a player as talented as Ronaldo, there are not many, (really hardly any), other players of his caliber around. You can try to appeal to the star's sense of example or legacy here. You can appeal to the star's ego a little bit too by playing the 'Just try this so you can show the younger/newer/less talented than you guys what THEY need to do to get better. 

    2. Be patient with failure before the 'try it this way' speech - I heard a really interesting interview with the actor Alec Baldwin recently on whether or not actor's (many of them possessing giant egos like our pal Ronaldo seems to), appreciate taking direction on their performances from movie and TV directors. Baldwin's take was that he did appreciate direction, but he liked it to come naturally or more organically. He liked the ability to try a scene three or four times for the director before the director interjects with a coaching nudge, a 'how about we try it this way?' approach to getting to the director's desired outcome. The idea is that talented people can take coaching, but they sometimes need more time and space to accept the coaching than the average performer.

    3. Ask yourself if you are 'managing' because you are the 'manager' - Big talents, big stars like Ronaldo are at times a threat to those ostensibly 'above' them in the organizational hierarchy. Ronaldo knows that Real Madrid can't easily replace his talent, but could fairly easily replace his manager Benitez with a similarly qualified manager if the need were to arise. Benitez knows this too. And often in sports, as is probably the case  in corporate life as well, a manager will feel threatened by this power imbalance, and 'invent' coaching interventions for the star talent just to attempt to assert his/her 'official' authority in the relationship. This is the 'I am the coach, and he/she needs to listen to me no matter what' kind of thinking. But if you are the manager/boss, you need to really careful if you push this too far. Talent (still) runs the world. And you will only start to seem petty and paranoid if you continually are coaching talent that has mostly figured everything out on their own.

    Most managers never have someone as great as Ronaldo to 'manage'. The interesting question in all this I think is what it really suggests about what the best managers are all about.

    Is it coaxing that last 1% of performance out of a 99th percentile talent like Ronaldo?

    Or is it helping raise the game of the vast majority of the 60th - 70th players on the team and bringing a few of them up into the 'top' performer category?

    Think about it.

    Have a great weekend!