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    Entries in basketball (40)

    Monday
    Feb112019

    From the NBA: A reminder that people build culture, not the other way around

    It's been too long since I dipped back into the 'Sports and HR' space, (probably not long enough for some readers), but over the weekend I caught an excellent piece on my new favorite NBA team, the Brooklyn Nets, by Harvey Araton at the New York Times, and knew it was time to break out a sports and HR take, as well as a re-sent on one of my other favorite themes - the intersection of talent, strategy, and culture in organizations.

    First, let me get something out of the way. I mentioned the Brooklyn Nets are now my new favorite NBA team and I feel like, for the one or two readers that care, the need to explain why I am dropping my life-long team, the New York Knicks, down on the pecking order. In short, their recent trade of Kristaps Porzingis, the franchise's best player in decades, and for the last three seasons, the only player who made the terrible Knicks worth watching, was the final straw for me, and I imagine many other frustrated Knicks fans. The Knicks are awful at playing basketball. But that can be tolerated if the players are giving their best effort, seem to care about improving, and are at some level fun and likable to watch. But when the team ownership and management is so inept, it makes any efforts the players put forth mean almost nothing, then that's when I just have no tolerance and no more patience. The clueless Knicks management created such a toxic mess that even their marquee star, Porzingis, wanted out. And I don't blame him. Ok, enough about that, and back to the Nets and culture and talent.

    In the Times piece, "Behind the Nets’ Success Is a Carefully Crafted Culture and, Finally, a Clue", Araton profiles Nets executive Sean Marks, one of the main architects behind the Nets slow climb from the depths of the league, to their current position as a contender for a playoff appearance. I won't bore you any more with the basketball reasons why the Nets are performing better, but I did want to highlight what is probably the most important line in the Times piece - an observation of Mark's skills as a leader provided by legendary NBA executive R.C. Buford, under whom Marks worked for a time when he was with the San Antonio Spurs - an organization also legendary for their 20+ years of high performance. Of Marks, Buford observed - “In every role he’s had, he’s been a culture builder".

    I like that line because it illustrates and in fact emphasizes that organizational culture, either with a sports team, or in any of our organizations, is something that exists and is informed through people, and the explicit actions they take, the behaviors they demonstrate, and the actions and behaviors, (and the kinds of people) who are not accepted, (at least not for long). Culture, such that it is, has to be a by product of people, and often, as wee seen in the Nets' case, of leadership of people like Marks. This may seem like a really obvious point to make, but I still feel like too much of what we say, think, and discuss about organizational culture makes culture something that exists somehow outside of specific decisions and actions of people. And, none of it ultimately works without adding to people like Marks with more of the kind of people that can help build culture. Some other time I will expand on how the Nets young core of talented players are doing their part to help.

    Culture can't exist without people. People buld culture. And leaders create strategies that can succeed in that context and be executed by those people.

    Let's go Nets.

    Have a great week!

    Friday
    Nov302018

    Accepting bids for sneaker sponsorship deals

    (Kinda) big news in NBA and sneaker culture circles this week with the news that the Toronto Raptor star Kawhi Leonard has reached an agreement to become a spokesperson for the New Balance sneaker company, part of the venerable brand's strategy to compete in the basketball sneaker market.

    Per ESPN reports, Leonard will receive north of $5M per year to rep New Balance, a figure that places the deal in the top 15 or so most lucrative NBA player sneaker endorsement deals. Nice bit of change for sure.

    The announcement reminded me of something I'd been thinking about for some time. Namely, why can't 'normal' folks get access to or at least be considered for these kinds of sneaker, (or any kind of footwear or apparel) deals as well?

    For example, take your humble correspondent here. In the last several months I have acquired several pairs of Greats Brand shoes to wear to events, conferences, speaking engagements, etc. These shoes are awesome. Stylish, comfortable, reasonably priced when compared to so-called 'designer' fashion sneakers. They are the bomb. 

    You'd think with all this glowing praise I am heaping on Greats, that I have some kind of sponsorship or endorsement deal with the brand. In fact, I do not. But that is the point, or the question I suppose. Why shouldn't I have an endorsement deal with Greats, (or Brooks Brothers, which is the only kind of suit I wear, or Adidas, of which I have about way too many pairs to count).

    It's not as crazy as it seems. Read about how many marketers are moving away from expensive agreements with social media 'stars' with huge (often fake) followings, and engaging more with what has been termed 'micro-influencers' in their marketing and branding programs. 

    So why can't I, or you, be one of these 'micro-influencers?'

    The answer is you sure can be. Or at least I can be anyway.

    So Greats or Brooks Brothers or Diet Dr. Pepper or Adidas or Miller Lite (don't judge), I am available. If Kawhi is worth $5M per year to New Balance, I figure I've got to be worth what, half that?

    Hit me up...

    Have a great weekend!

    Wednesday
    Aug082018

    Culture, Experience, Dedication (and a little summer basketball)

    Warning - This post seems to be about basketball. It is not entirely about basketball. Maybe 87%.

    Basketball is largely a year-round sport these days, but during the period from the end of the NBA's official Summer League in Las Vegas, (absolutely the most fun trip I make every year), and the beginning of training camp for the new season, usually there is not much happening in the sport. For hoops junkies like me, the eight or ten weeks or so with no real basketball to watch can be a little bit of a bummer.

    But four years or so some enterprising entrepreneurs decided to try to fill that hole in the basketball calendar with a new concept - a $1M dollar, (since increased to $2M) winner-take-all single elimination tournament called, simply, The Basketball Tournament (TBT)  The teams that comprise the field in TBT are made up of some combination of former college players not good enough for the NBA, professionals playing in one of the numerous pro leagues in Europe, Asia, the the Middle East, and a smattering of retired players looking for one more run with some good competition, (and a chance to grab a share of $2M).

    TBT has kind of caught on among hard-core basketball fans, and for a couple of weeks in July, (supported by coverage on the ESPN networks), TBT becomes almost the most interesting story in the basketball world. Assuming, of course, we are not waiting for LeBron to pick a new team.

    But the real story of the four years of TBT has been the story of the team named Overseas Elite, the still undefeated and now four-time winner of TBT, and winners (remember this is a winner-take-all event), of $7M over their run, a prize shared by players and coaches. Overseas Elite, a team made up of players who have almost no NBA experience at all, most of whom were not even decent NBA prospects, and who now play professionally in places like Dubai and Morocco, has delivered a stunning 25-game win streak, (again, this is a single elimination competition), across four tournaments, while defeating many teams that on paper, had much more talent than they possess.

    Here's the part of the post where we shift from a sports story to an HR/Talent story.

    So to what can we attribute Overseas Elite's string of remarkable success?

    Three things that have resonated with Overseas Elite and can be applied to building teams in just about any endeavor?

    Culture- When Overseas Elite, then the 3-time TBT champion, had to fill two open roster slots for the 2018 tournament, they didn't just seek out the best of most talented players they could find. “We don’t pick just any guys,” team leader DJ Kennedy said. “We pick guys who fit our team as far as high character and not being selfish and guys who can really mesh together.” 

    Experience - With most of the roster consisting of relatively older players with years of experience at the pro level from playing around the world, Overseas Elite always played with poise, didn't panic when things were going against them in a game, and over four years and 25 wins under pressure, have found ways to win every time. Knowing what to do in almost any situation only comes from hard-earned experience, and often this experience can make the difference against a more talented team. Our lesson? Don't underestimate or undervalue experience on your own teams in your organizations. Having been there before is a kind of skill you just can't teach.

    Dedication- Amazingly, in the world of TBT and professional basketball, six of Overseas Elite's 10-man roster have been with the team for all four tournaments and have won four championships. Sure, these six guys have stuck with the team because of all the success, (and prize money), but have the success and prize money been a by product of the core of the team remaining intact over the four year run? Probably some of both I guess. While it is hard to know for sure what the real value of this kind of 'core team' consistency is, it has to have at least some value. If you trust the process on the recruiting and hiring side, and you have a decent strategic plan, then letting the team stay together to figure things out can lead to more sustained success over time.

    Ok, so this post was mostly about basketball. Apologies. But I love the story. I hope that Overseas Elite can keep it going next summer. I for sure will be watching.

    Have a great day!

     

    Monday
    Apr302018

    One podcast, forty minutes, three solid talent management lessons

    Regular readers should know by now I am a huge fan of the podcast format. Perfect for when you're in the car, waiting in the Dr. office, on the treadmill, on a plane - or really anywhere when you have a little bit of time. Of course my primary interest in podcasts is the one I co-host, the HR Happy Hour Show, but I also listen to plenty of others during the course of a week.

    Recently I caught an episode of a basketball-themed podcast, The Woj Pod, hosted by legendary scoop-chaser Adrian Wojnarowski from ESPN. On the show, Woj interviewed Steve Clifford, longtime NBA head and assistant coach, who recently was let go as head coach after a pretty decent 5 year run with the Charlotte Hornets. Sure, this was a basketball pod, but the best part of the conversation almost had nothing to do with basketball - but rather when Clifford shared some of the leadership and talent management lessons he's learned from a three decade career in basketball coaching. These lessons, while 'learned' by Clifford in the context of a basketball team are pretty valid for just about any leadership, coaching, and talent management scenario, I think.

    I will just break them off, one by one, without too much additional commentary, as like all the best leadership advice, these concepts pretty much are really easy to both understand, and to visualize how they would fit in your context and organization.

    1. Never address your team unless you really have something important to say - Clifford used the example of a coach halting a practice to assemble the entire team and saying something silly or obvious like 'Guys, we need to hustle more'. Professional basketball players, and likely the experienced folks on your team too, don't need you to repeat the obvious. They need you to help them navigate issues, understand challenges, and align the organization with the bigger picture. Wasting the team's time with nonsense is the sure path to them tuning you out.

    2. If someone asks the people on your team about you, the answer you are aiming for is 'He/she wants me to succeed' - Clifford made the important point that pro basketball players all care about their own development, careers, and future opportunities as much, if not more than the team's success. It's silly to ignore that, the best coaches find ways to balance to the two sometimes competing goals and motivations. And the key to to that is not exactly 'caring' about the players/employees, (it is fine to 'care' about them, don't get me wrong), but what you really need to do to get the best effort out of the players is for them to think and see evidence that you want them to be successful. And sometimes that means tough, hard to hear feedback, but most players, (and hopefully) most employees, will see that not as you don't care about them or don't like them, (again, neither matters all that much comparatively), but that you ultimately are invested in their career success.

    3. Leadership and coaching is not the same thing as skill development - Last point on this again had a basketball context in the pod I referenced, but does carry over to the real world too. For pro basketball players, developing new skills or improving their skills has to be seen as one of the basic elements that can lead to career success. But Clifford sees that as largely the responsibility of the player, with support from coaches and other members of the staff. The head coach/organizational leader really is responsible for understanding each player's skills, assessing how individuals fit best within what the team is trying to achieve, and to reach back up to Item #2 above, how to position each player for the best chance at success. And one more sub-point to this, Clifford made a great point about how it is important for players to not lose sight of their strengths while they simultaneously look to develop new skills.

    Solid stuff I think, and a pretty good use of about 40 minutes while I made a half-hearted attempt at improving my cardio fitness on Sunday.

    Have a great week!

    Wednesday
    Nov292017

    Take that for data: Who you hire and fire signals your culture

    Apologies in advance for the pretty deep NBA-themed take with a back story that you may not be familiar with unless you are a NBA League Pass junkie like me. But I will try (as always) to share enough of the sports side of the tale in hoped that the connection to HR and the real world makes sense. Or at least almost makes sense.

    Here's the sports side of the take. 

    On Monday, the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies fired head coach David Fizdale, their coach of slightly more than one season, after the team lost its 8th straight game and fell to a record of 7-12 on the season. Of note, one of the team's best players Mike Conley, (probably their best player), has been injured and has not played in the last 7 games. 

    Last season, Fizdale's first in charge, the team finished 43-39, and lost in the first round of the playoffs giving the coach a total record of 50-51. 

    Oh, two more things to toss into the blender before we try to connect this story to something the rest of us can relate to. One, Fizdale has a ton of respect around the league with high-profile players and coaches, (LeBron James, Vince Cater, Gregg Popovich who shared their surprise at the firing and admiration of Fizdale). Here's LeBron's reaction after hearing the news:

     

     

    And two, Fizdale has been at odds with one of the Grizzlie's top players, Marc Gasol, the two reportedly not seeing eye-to-eye on many aspects of how the team was being led. In the NBA, star players have a ton of influence and power, as there are not that many of them, and teams know they need two or three of them to have a chance to compete.

    Oh, there's a three, (sorry), in Fizdale's last game in charge, a loss to the Brooklyn Nets, Fizdale benched Gasol for the entire 4th quarter, (an unusual move for a coach to bench a star player in a close game). Gasol was quoted widely after the game indicating that the benching had never happened to him before and he was ticked off.

    A day or so later, word leaked out the Fizdale was fired.

    Got all that?

    So here's the thing about the Fizdale firing that we should think about in the context of our own organizations. Fizdale was fired for (at least 75% of the reason anyway), for not getting along with one of the team's best, and most popular players in Gasol. The reasons why the two didn't gel are unclear, but what was clear was that the coach Fizdale was probably tired of clashing with the player, and sitting him on the bench in a close game was meant to send a message to Gasol, the rest of the team, and more importantly, to team management and ownership that he (Fizdale), runs the team on the court, not Gasol, or any of the other players.

    And for that, or for mostly that, Fizdale was fired. Team management and ownership essentially sided with the player, leveraged the (convenient) recent losing streak as a primary reason for the firing, and made their star player, who is under contract until the end of 2020 and owed about $65M more from the team, happy.

    The clearest signs of any organization's culture is who is hired, who is fired, and by extension, the reasons why people are fired.

    Fizdale was fired for a personality and/or philosophy clash with one of the team's stars. And for that, he had to go. The message about the Grizzlie's culture is clear.

    Players, (at least star players), come first. The team has invested truck loads of cash in these players, the team needs them to perform in order to win (and sell tickets), and the team has concluded the best way to accomplish that is to keep the players happy.

    I will repeat it, the clearest sign of your organizational culture is who gets hired and who gets fired.

    The Fizdale story shows us what kind of culture the Grizzlies want to have.

    Take a look at your last 10 or 20 hires and fires and think about what signals these decisions are making to the rest of the employees, to candidates, to customers, and to the world.

    Finally, I will let you go with this small tribute to Fizdale - his now classic 'Take that for data' rant after a close playoff lost last season. (Email and RSS subscribers click through)

     

    Good luck coach on your next gig.