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    Entries in basketball (38)

    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.

    Thursday
    Jul062017

    Five HR and Talent lessons from the first five days of NBA free agency season

    Basketball is the world's greatest sport and the National Basketball Association provides the marquee platform and competition for the world's best basketball players. Being an NBA-level player is incredibly difficult and rare. There are about 450 people in the world at any given time who can call themselves active NBA players.

    And so it is that the competition among the 30 NBA teams for this batch of rare talents is fierce. Since there can be only five players on the basketball court at any one time, (and ofter, in important playoff games teams may only use on 7 or 8 players total in a game - side note, that is where the phrase '8 Man Rotation' is derived), identifying, attracting, and signing the very best NBA talent possible for your team is absolutely essential to have any chance at success. I can't really think of another business, (maybe the movie business), where talent acquisition and talent management is more important than in the NBA.

    In case you don't know, the NBA's annual 'Free agent season' started on July 1. This kicks off the period of time following the end of the season when players whose contracts have expired are free to negotiate with all teams for a new deal. There's tons of process/rules/labor agreement minutiae too, but none of that matters to this post. All we care about is the talent/team/agent/press/media dance that culminates in many of the NBA's stars signing new contracts.

    And lucky for us HR/sports nerds - much of the talent marketplace dynamics in the NBA play out in public with hundreds of basketball blogs, thousands of NBA geeks obsessively refreshing their Twitter feeds, and NBAtv spending literally hours upon hours discussion individual player moves. And really lucky for us, is that many of these NBA player/team contracts offer up valuable lessons and reminders for our own HR and Talent Management work - particularly when we are dealing with hard to find talent that are in high demand.

    Ok, enough preamble. Here are five of the more interesting NBA feee agent signings so far this year, and what we can take from them.

    1. Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics - 4 years / $127M

    Why interesting? Hayward, an emerging star and the face of the franchise for an up and coming Utah Jazz team, leaves the only team he knows (and a bunch of guaranteed $$ on the table due to the NBA's labor rules that allow current teams to offer higher compensation to retain a player than new teams can offer them to switch), to join the Celtics, shocking many Utah fans.

    HR/Talent angle: After stripping away team competitiveness, compensation, and potential, (kind of a toss up between Utah and Boston), Hayward elected to sign with Boston largely because the Celtics' coach Brad Stevens was Hayward's coach back in college at Butler University. The two formed a tight bond a decade ago that has lasted to this day. The HR lesson here? Make sure you know and leverage the relationships between people in your organization and the hot candidates you are trying to lure away from the competition. In this case, that one relationship likely swung the near-term futures of two franchises.

    2. Kevin Durant resigned with the Golden State Warriors - 2 years / $53M

    Why interesting? Durant, arguably the best player in the league and playing for the best team, signed a significantly smaller and below market deal than he could have demanded, (and received). Why? He wanted to allow the team more flexibility and salary cap space to try and retain as many of his Warriors teammates as possible, in order to strengthen their title defense chances next season.

    HR/Talent angle: I know we are talking about multi-millionaires here, but even for them, not everyone is completely motivated by money. Durant is so happy to be playing on the best team, in a fun location, and in a winning culture that those things possess value, at least to him, beyond just the $$. If you can get a lot of the 'not money' things right in the organization, you may be able to have a chance at competing for talent against your better-funded rivals.

    3. Steph Curry resigned with the Golden State Warriors - 5 years / $201M

    Why interesting? Remember the bit above about Durant accepting a below market contract for the good of the overall team? Well, two-time league MVP and champion Curry has been playing on a significantly below market deal based on his performance for the last several year. This was driven in large part by Curry's early career injury problems that for a time cast some doubt on his long-term potential. But since then, he has emerged as the leader of the Warriors, and probably no worse than the 3rd best player in the league overall. This new deal, for the maximum money allowed, will serve to 'make good' on his out performance of his last contract.

    HR/Talent angle: Really excellent talent might be able to be persuaded to work for less than market rates for a time, if the other things your company can offer them are attractive enough. But they won't/can't do that forever. At some point super-talented people need to be paid fairly, maybe even a little bit better than fairly, in order to 'make good' to them as well. All the company culture in the world won't pay someone's rent, and we should all keep that in mind.

    4. Joe Ingles resigned with the Utah Jazz - 4 years / $52m

    Why interesting? You might not have heard of Joe Ingles, but he has quietly emerged after a late start to his NBA career as an extremely versatile and productive player for a developing Utah Jazz team. He's also friendly with (now former), Jazz star Gordon Hayward, (see above), and by signing Ingles early, (and paying him really well), the Jazz hoped that would be another chip they could leverage in their efforts to retain Hayward. 

    HR/Talent angle: As we know now, the Jazz management couldn't convince Hayward to stay, so let's hope for their sakes (and jobs), that the $52M investment in Ingles works out. There is always a lot of chatter and talk about the importance of having friends at work, but I wonder if this example makes us pause a little bit on that, at least in terms of elite talent. I am not sure the very best performers at any line of work get all that worked up about having friends at the workplace. The best talent makes its own friends, if you get my meaning. If you do, you are smarter than me. 

    5. Jeff Teague to the Minnesota Timberwolves - 3 years / $57M

    Why interesting? This move, signing a veteran point guard in Teague, combined with a prior trade for All-star Jimmy Butler is sending a signal to the league that the Timberwolves want to compete for playoff places and championships now, and not in 5 years. Last year the team failed to live up to its pre-season hype, and part of the reason is that its primary star players (Towns and Wiggins) are so young and inexperienced. Bringing vets like Butler and Teague signals a different, 'win-now' approach.

    HR/Talent angle: This is kind of the NBA version of the startup company that needs to bring in some pro managers to help run things arc. The young talent or founders have all the great ideas, can generate a ton of excitement and buzz, maybe can secure the first couple of funding rounds, but when things start to get a little dicey, (and they almost always do), the inexperience of the leaders starts to hurt. It's important for HR leaders to take that kind of measure of leadership groups, particularly in new companies, and think hard about when, where, and how to get more experienced voices at the table before things go sideways. See Uber in case you want to read up.

    There will be more to come from NBA free agency in the next couple of weeks. Even though I am really depressed that their are no more 'real' NBA games on for a bit, I am looking forward to heading out to Las Vegas in a week or so for the annual 8 Man Rotation trip to catch some live NBA Summer League action.

    The NBA - there's nothing like it, and for HR/Talent pros, there's plenty we can learn from it too. 

    Monday
    Apr242017

    VIDEO: Take That For Data

    Yes, I know this is a few days old, and yes I know the 'Take That for Data' meme has probably already flamed out from your Twitter feed, but there still may be someone out there who missed Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale's epic rant following a playoff loss to the San Antonio Spurs last week.

    Tiny bit of backstory to set this up.

    In the game of interest, (which the Spurs won), the Spurs were granted a massive advantage in free throw attempts - with one Spurs player Kawhi Leonard shooting 19 free throws himself, more than the entire Memphis team. After the game Coach Fizdale reflects on the loss, and the officiating in an already classic 2:45 minute rant.

    Check the video below, and make sure you make it to the end,  (email and RSS subscribers click through), then some comments from me about why this was a really interesting take, (that have nothing to do with basketball).

     

     

    Not one but two great meme lines in the rant!

    But the walk off line, 'Take That for Data' is the one that stuck with me. Mainly because in the same video where Fizdale asserts 'I'm not a numbers' guy, he proceeds to rattle off 12 different statistics from the game - data points that strengthen his argument that the game was poorly officiated and that disadvantaged his team.

    Why does this matter at all to anyone except hard core NBA fans?

    Because Fizdale in his little rant makes plain the challenge and the tension that often arises in organizations and with leaders when they are pressed to take a more data driven approach to business/HR/talent when they are not naturally inclined to do so.

    Don't tell me this is all about the data, then make decisions or drive toward outcomes that are incongruent with the data itself. 

    Or said differently, if you are going to be the hero in your organization that will push the 'data' agenda, then be prepared to have your data be called out and your conclusions challenged when others have a shot at interpreting the data as well.

    Take that for data.

    Have a great week!