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    Entries in 8 Man Rotation (89)

    Wednesday
    Dec102014

    Prepare to be disappointed

    The full title of this post really should be 'Prepare to be disappointed: The 2014-2015 New York Knicks', but I wanted to at least try not to scare away any potential readers, particularly ones that get tired of the 8 Man Rotation 'Sports and HR' posts.

    I promise this post isn't really about the Knicks or sports, not completely anyway.

    The backstory:

    I arrived back home at HR Happy Hour HQ at about 7:55PM ET last night and realized that it was about 5 minutes before the tip off time for the Knicks, (my favorite NBA team since forever, my favorite holiday picture from my childhood features a 5 or 6 year old me sporting New York Knicks pajamas that Santa had bestowed), who were matched up against the New Orleans Pelicans, (not a very good team, but better than the Knicks, much like just about every other team so far this year is better than the Knicks). 

    As I quickly gathered up some snacks and a needed beverage, scurrying to be in my favored easy chair for the start of the game the thought that popped into my mind was that all I was really doing was preparing to be disappointed - the Knicks are one of the worst teams in the league and have lost a number of close games recently, the kinds of losses that really sting for longtime fans (and I suppose the players too). Heading into last night's game, there was no logical reason to expect the Knicks would be able to defeat the Pelicans, I didn't think they had much of a chance anyway, so all I was doing by planning my evening, (partially), around watching the game was really just preparing to be disappointed by the eventual Knicks loss.

    OK, that was a lot of nonsense about basketball to get me to the point, so here goes.

    I have ceased letting Knicks loss after loss bother me. Sure, I would rather they were better, I would enjoy more frequent wins. But I get that this is not going to be a very good year for them. And so as a hedge against the Knicks stumbling and bumbling, I have adopted the much better (and much more fun to watch), Atlanta Hawks as my proxy team for the season. 

    The Hawks have a solid winning record so far this season, play an upbeat and entertaining style of basketball, and, importantly, have never been a significant or hated rival to my Knicks. They have always just been another team in the league, so supporting them is not really traitorous to my team, but rather serves as a way for me to keep invested in something I enjoy, (NBA basketball), while not allowing the terrible Knicks team to ruin the overall experience of the sport.

    So now the point (no one has kept reading until this point I am thinking).

    The Knicks, and there relentless way of disappointing me and their other fans probably represent a lot of our real lives too. Jobs that we really can't stand. Managers that are always on our cases. Co-workers that let us down, (at best), or stab us in the back (more likely). Significant others that just seem to do the same annoying things over and over again. And if you have kids, well, I don't need to delineate all the ways they manage to exasperate, frustrate, and yes, even disappoint us. 

    How do we deal with all that, with all that disappointment?

    I think we have to find the version of the Atlanta Hawks in all these varying situations.

    The part, even if it small or insignificant, that is pretty reliably positive. The element that we can latch on to in a bad situation and take something positive from. 

    There is something about your crappy job that has value. Your slacker boyfriend probably takes good care of your cat. There is likely at least one person amongst the clowns you work with from which you can learn something.

    This isn't about seeing the bright side in a given, bad situation, it is about seeing a different side.

    I am stuck supporting the terrible Knicks because they are my team. But I can still take enjoyment from the Hawks, (up until they play the Knicks), without being a traitor.

    And you can find something to love about your job while not betraying your very real hatred for it.

    Ok, that is it, I am out.

    Note: It is halftime of the Knicks-Pelicans game. The Knicks are only down by 2. Maybe I won't be disappointed after all. 

    Wednesday
    Dec032014

    The Performance Curve

    If you are a fan of baseball you might be familiar with the maxim or rule of thumb that states for Major League players that an individual player's performance (hits, home runs, wins as a pitcher, etc.), tends to 'peak' at around age 29 or so (give to take a year or two), then most often declines until the end of their careers.

    This phenomenon, most often raised when a team elects to offer hundreds of millions of dollars and 5+ year contracts to players on the wrong side of 30, has been pretty well observed, studied, and documented over the 100+ years of data about Major League player performance.

    Since charts make everything better, take a look at the generalized performance by age chart from a 2010 study published on Baseball Prospectus:

    The specifics of the Y-axis values don't really matter for the point I am after, (they represent standard deviations from 'peak' performance', but simply looking at the data we see for both the original study sample (veteran players with 10+ years of data), and 'less restricted' players, (more or less everyone else), that performance peaks in the late 20s and declines, predicatbly, from there. Keep this data in mind the next time your favorite team drops a 7-year, $125M contract on your best 31 year old slugger. Those kinds of contracts, for hitters or pitchers, almost never work out well for the team. And again, the reasons are completely obvious and predictable. Almost all players skills begin to decline by age 30. All players are in decline by 32.

    What does this predictable and observable performance curve for baseball players mean for you as an HR/Talent pro?

    I think at least three things can be taken from the baseball performance curve that apply more generally.

    1. While baseball, and sports in general, allow more precise and discrete measures of performance that allow us to pinpoint when performance 'peaks', this phenomenon applies in many other scenarios as well. You, or your managers, know after how long in a given role that an employee's performance has likely hit its apex, and continued tenure in that role is likely to results in lessened performance. Put more simply, you can't keep people, especially good ones, in the same roles for too long. They get bored, they figure it all out. And after too long, they start to tune out. The time to move people to the next role isn't when they are on the decline, it is when they are just peaking.

    2. In baseball gigantic contracts are often bestowed on players in their late 20s or early 30s, mostly on the basis of several years of prior high performance. While this on first glance seems to make sense, it almost always results in a bad deal for the team And again, the reason is not usually the fault of the player. It is just that 100 years of data show that almost all players are simply not as productive from ages 30-35 as they are from ages 25-30. The lesson here: We need to remember that most compensation should be about ongoing and future performance, and not predominantly as a reward for what has already happened. Past performance is not always, maybe not even all that often, a great predictor of future performance.

    3. Baseball player performance is very predictable, as we see in the above data, and there really is no excuse for baseball team management to pretend that is not the case. Decades of data make it plain. I think soon, maybe even fairly soon, the kinds of data and predictive data that organizations will have about employee performance will be similarly robust and powerful. Just as baseball team execs find it very difficult to heed this data, it will be tough for HR and business leaders to 'listen' to their data as well. But the best-run organizations, the ones that make the best use of their resources will be the ones that do not fail to heed what the hard data about performance and people are telling them.

    Ok that is it, I am out 

    Trust your data.

    And don't give 32 year old first basemen $100M contracts.

    Wednesday
    Nov262014

    OFF TOPIC: Basketball Shots, Ranked

    There are many ways and methods by which one can direct the basketball into the basket.

    Here is the ranking of many of these methods, from least interesting/appealing up to most awesome.

    The Finger Roll

    20. Basic layup

    19. Reverse layup

    18. Standard jumper

    17. Corner three

    16. Willis Reed's two buckets in Game 7 of the 1969-70 NBA Finals

    15. Heave from 30+ feet to beat the buzzer

    14. Basic dunk

    13. Put-back slam dunk

    12. Two-handed set shot (see Schayes, Dolph)

    11. Underhand free throw (see Barry, Rick)

    10. Catch-and-shoot 3-pointer (see Miller, Reggie)

    9. Jump Hook (see McHale, Kevin)

    8. Reverse pivot step-back jumper (see Sikma, Jack)

    7. Alley Oop jam (see Griffin, Blake, (among many))

    6. Fall back, baby (see Barnett, Dick)

    5. Running two-hand dunk (see King, Bernard)

    4. Teardrop (see Jackson, Mark)

    3. Sky Hook (see Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem)

    2. Mid-range bank shot (see Duncan, Tim)

    1. The Finger Roll (see Gervin, George)

    Note: The blog is taking the rest of the week off. Have a fantastic Thanksgiving weekend and if you are not in the USA, well, pretend you are in the USA and take a few days off.

    Tuesday
    Nov252014

    Great players win early

    I remain convinced that everything, everything (pretty much) you need to know about HR/Talent Management/The Workplace you can learn from watching the NBA. I even said as much a few weeks back.

    The dynamics of NBA basketball exhibit remarkable similarities to many of the most common workplace situations: Relatively small working teams, (even in large organizations, most work gets done in much smaller groups), a need for the team to function cohesively, and, importantly, plenty of opportunity (and need for), individual expressions of creativity and high performance.Yao

    With that setup, I want to call out yet another example of how understanding the NBA can help you with HR and Talent management, this time a look at how early-career NBA player performance can help you in evaluating tricky things like how long should it take a new hire to be 'fully productive' and an even more challenging question - 'What is the performance ceiling, or potential of this new hire?'

    At Deadspin, they took a look at the early career results, (defined by team regular season win totals), for high draft choices (in HR-speak 'Top talent'), over the last 15 or so years. What they found after examining the data is for the most part is that really truly great players begin to show positive results for their (almost always 'bad') teams, by their third season in the NBA.  Here is an excerpt from the analysis, then a couple of comments from me about how you might be able to consider this data in a 'normal' workplace context.

    This is a look at regular season wins. Taking just the regular season gets us out of theringsssssss mentality. The NBA playoffs are the most meaningful of any sport's, but geting 66 wins out of Mo Williams, Boobie Gibson and Delonte West is a version of greatness that hasn't been explored as deeply as it probably should. (Steve here - this is a reference to the stiffs that LeBron James carried on his back in his first stint with the Cavaliers).

    So let's draw a totally arbitrary line in the sand at 50 wins, and plot out not just who gets there, but when they get there, the idea being that in those first few years, we can isolate talented players on inferior teams. As it happens, the hunch mostly bears out: In today's NBA, good players win, great players win early.

    The Deadspin piece goes on to list the players that meet this (admittedly subjective) criteria - 50 wins by year three, the player was a high draft pick, and the 'new hire' played significant minutes from the beginning of their career. And the list reads like a 'Who's Who?' of current NBA stars - Chris Paul, LeBron James, Kevin Durant etc.  The point is not really that LeBron and Durant and Paul are great players, it is pretty easy to tell that by just watching them, but rather how that greatness actually manifests in organizational success, i.e., wins.

    The point is (quoting from the piece), 'Good players win. Great players win early.'

    What takeaways about new hire productivity and longer-term potential might you be able to glean from the data about NBA stars? I have three quick ideas:

    1. The 'learning curve' for really talented, special performers is likely much, much shorter than for average performers. They will 'get' the basic elements of the industry/organization/role really quickly, and might be bored if your typical onboarding/training program feels too slow and too restrictive. 

    2. Great, transformative talent will likely demonstrate that talent in some manner pretty early in the process. It might be a great new idea for a product/service, an improvement in an existing process that saves time or money, or simply how they begin to elevate the performance of those around them. But the point is, you likely can tell pretty quickly if you have a potentially great performer on your hands.

    3. But in order to one; not be bored with a slow training cycle, and two; even have the chance to demonstrate great ability and potential, the new player on the team has to be given some opportunity to do just that. In the NBA study, the new players had to have averaged 28 (out of 48) minutes of game action, i.e. they had to essentially be starting, featured players even though they were new. The same is true in any workplace really. In order to contribute meanigfully, you have to have a chance or platform to do just that. The overwhelming tendency is to shield new hires from the most complex and important projects until they are 'ready', but by doing that you might be preventing both their chance to demonstrate their true capability and potential. 

    It's all about the NBA. It is. I will convince you eventually. Ok, I am out.

    Have a great day! 

    Wednesday
    Nov122014

    To fail this often, you have to be pretty good

    Quick post from the Western NY satellite office of The 8 Man Rotation - wanted to point out an important NBA milestone that happened last night: Lakers star Kobe Bryant set the record for most missed shots for an NBA career.

    From the ESPN piece on the 'achievement':

    Kobe Bryant made history Tuesday, setting the NBA record for missed field goals.

    The Los Angeles Lakers star set the mark with 6:22 left in the fourth quarter of a 107-102 lossto the Memphis Grizzlies. He missed a 14-foot fadeaway jumper from the left side, giving him 13,418 career missed field goals, one more than Boston Celtics legend John Havlicek

    Asked about the record, Bryant, who scored a game-high 28 points on 10-of-26 shooting and finished with 13,421 misses for his career, smiled and said he wasn't aware of it.

    "Nah, I don't follow that stuff, man," he said.

    How does he explain setting the mark?

    "Well, I'm a shooting guard that's played 19 years," he said, shrugging and smiling. He later added, "Like I said, 'shooting' guard, 19th year."

    Wow, over 13,000 missed shots in a career, more than any other player. You would think that this ignominious mark speaks pretty badly of our man Kobe. But before you come down too hard on the Mamba, take a quick look at the next half-dozen or so names on the 'Most career missed shots' leader board

    John Havlicek - (Celtics legend from the 60s and 70s, Hall of Fame member)

    Elvin Hayes - (The Big 'E', great scored and rebounder in the 70s, Hall of Fame member)

    Karl Malone - (The Mailman, Utah Jazz legend, possibly greatest power forward ever, Hall of Fame member)

    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - (the NBA's all-time leading scorer, Hall of Fame member)

    Michael Jordan - (probably greatest player of all time, Hall of Fame member)

    I think you get the idea here. In order to be able to miss so many shots, you have to be an amazingly good and valuable player. Players who can't actually perform are not kept around long enough to climb very high on this kind of 'failure' list. 

    The bigger picture takeaway from the 'Kobe has missed more shots than anyone' story?

    That in many fields (sales, content marketing, natural resource exploration, showing price pigs at the county fair....), failure might come just as often, if not more, than success. You have to be out there competing, hustling, working it in order to fail so often. And your best performers, maybe even you, are naturally going to fail, sometimes often. But that might be ok.

    I will leave this story with a quote from Kobe, asked to comment on over 13,000 misses over 19 years:

    "You've got to go out and figure that out and play and do the best you can, and whatever happens, happens. You can't be held captive by the fear of failure or the fear of what people may say."

    If you are open, take the shot.

    Have a great Wednesday!