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    Entries in Sports (165)

    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!

     

    Thursday
    Dec212017

    Do sports build character or reveal it?

    Regular readers will know how much of a sports guy I am, as I have probably spent about a third of my time writing about sports related topics on the blog over the years. And I spend way too much time in the Winter/Spring on NBA League Pass and poring over the box scores. But it's good to have a hobby I guess.

    Yes, I love sports but I also don't take them too seriously. I didn't back when I was playing organized sports, and I don't now as a fan and as a parent of a son who participates in a few high school sports. Sports are awesome, but they are just games in the end. And generally not all that important.This may or may not be my HS team

    That perspective is why I never really liked the often repeated maxims (usually spouted by coaches, and most frequently football coaches) about how sports build character, create leaders, or somehow make people 'better' by virtue of their participation. Like somehow 'commanding' a huddle miraculously transforms someone into General Patton or Margaret Thatcher or Abe Lincoln. I just never bought in. Some of the biggest jamokes I know played sports in high school. And also some of the most successful, accomplished people I know as well. I don't think sports participation really meant all the much in determining any of that.

    Turns out at least one recent research study has come to the same conclusion. In an Institute of Labor Economics paper titled 'Do High School Sports Build or Reveal Character?', authors Michael Ransom and Tyler Ransom examine three large, national, and longitudinal data sets of high school students to come to the conclusion that high school athletes are no more likely to attend college, earn higher wages, or participate in the labor force than non-athletes.

    Here's an excerpt from their findings:

    We revisit the literature on the long-run effects of high school sports participation on educational attainment, labor market outcomes, and adult health behaviors. Many previous studies have found positive effects in each of these dimensions by either assuming that sports participation is exogenous (conditional on other observable characteristics), or by making use of instrumental variables that are unlikely to be valid.

    We analyze three separate nationally representative longitudinal surveys that link participation in high school sports with later-life outcomes: the NLSY79, the NELS:88, and the Add Health. We employ an econometric technique that empirically tests the sensitivity of the selection on observables assumption and find that estimates of the returns to sports participation are highly sensitive to this assumption. Specifically, we find that, for most educational and labor market outcomes, if the correlation between sports participation and unobservables is only a fraction of the correlation between sports and observables, the effect of sports participation cannot be statistically differentiated from zero. Thus, we conclude that a causal effect of sports participation is unlikely, and that most of the findings of the literature that report beneficial impacts represent the effects of selection into sports.

    Or, in simpler language the authors conclude that the kinds of people who are likely to be successful later in life for whatever set of reasons/attributes that make people successful sometimes participate in high school sports, and sometimes they do not. They may be part of the drama club or the chess club or maybe the 'leave me alone, I am just doing time until I can get out of here' club. But sports themselves do not function as some kind of magical leadership development or success training program that make athletes more likely than non-athletes successful later in life.

    And this conclusion goes against most of the mainstream thinking (at least it seems to me) about the true benefits and value of sports, particularly youth sports.

    Sports are awesome. They are fun. You can make some great friends and learn some things too.

    But lots of other things are awesome, fun, social, and provide great learning opportunities too. It is good to keep that in mind, especially if you are involved at all and at any level in youth sports.

    Happy Thursday. Have all your holiday preparations nailed down yet?

    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.

    Saturday
    Oct282017

    'Melos, ranked

    In honor of the recent return of NBA basketball and in homage to a (now former), and often unfairly mailgned New York Knick, Carmelo 'Melo' Anthony, I present this unresearched, subjective, unscientific, and 100% accurate list of 'Melos, ranked.

    Here we go...

    6. Oklahoma City Thunder 'Melo     

     

     

    5. Denver Nuggets 'Melo

     

    4. New York Knicks 'Melo

     

    3. Syracuse Orange 'Melo

     

    2. Team USA 'Melo

     

    1. Hoodie 'Melo

     

    Of course you can disagree with this ranking, but sadly you would be wrong.

    Happy Saturday.

    Go Knicks.

    Wednesday
    Sep272017

    Protests, free speech, and how the 'Work/life blend' people got it wrong

    Your right to free speech in the workplace has largely been a settled matter, at least here in the US. 

    Essentially, you don't have any such right in the workplace. Or said differently, if you attempt in going too far in exercising what you think should be your right to free speech in the workplace, the company that employs you can and possibly will relieve you from your position without much deliberation and without recourse.

    And most employees, I think, more or less get that. They understand the tradeoff, they know that the company does not exist to create a forum for employees to exercise their rights to free speech as and when they like. 'On the clock' time belongs to the company. Computers, phones, and other company owned devices shouldn't be used for activities that are not a part of your 'official' role.

    Like I said, most of us get that. Back when email was first introduced into organizations as a work tool, we (tried) not to use it to email all of our non-work friends. We (tried) not to make a bunch of personal calls from the office phone. And (if we were smart), saved any break room or water cooler talk to last night's game or episode of The Sopranos. 

    The time and place for provocative, controversial, or potentially divisive speech or conversations was pretty much understood to be when you were not at work, and not in the workplace. And that worked (reasonably) well for most folks for a quite some time. 

    Even as technology modernized, and tools like PCs, home broadband connections, and later smart phones and social networks became more ubiquitous, there still was a decent understanding that work time was work time, and non-work time, (and freedom of speech time), was non-work time.  But just like water finds its way to fill up all available space, work too, tries to find its way into more and more of our personal space.

    Over time, it made sense for many companies and for their employees to think a little more fluidly and creatively about 'work' and 'non-work'. The above mentioned technologies, along with more employee's desire to be more present and fulfilled in their personal and family life, and in the last seven or eight years and increasingly tight labor market have all combined to drive many workplaces and roles to be designed much, much more flexibly than in the past. 

    Lots of folks no longer think about work as a place they go and a set of tasks they perform at specific, defined times each day. Usually Monday to Friday by the way. But the tech and the demands of work and employee desires have made it so that 'work' is not so much a place or a time but rather just a thing(s) someone does.

    Who cares if you take the conference call from your kitchen table or if you work on the presentation at 9PM on a Saturday or that you skip some boring all hands meeting to catch Jr's soccer game? When work isn't a time or a place and it just is something you do, then when and where you are at any given time is irrelevant. You do what you need to do (at an acceptable quality level or not).

    But what happened next is that more and more organizations and people too came to find that all this flexibility and fluidity came with an unexpected cost. 

    Work, like water, never stopped flowing. Even when we were almost certain we were not working. Like when we were at that soccer game. Or on vacation. Or at 9AM on Sunday morning. Work became a constant companion, in a way that non-work, despite skipping out from the office to catch a 3rd grade recital never did.

    As the balance between work and not work shifted more and more towards work, then we were suddenly informed by small but loud subset of 'experts' that we needed to stop talking about work/life balance, (which we were told we could no longer achieve), and focus on something called 'work/life blend'. 

    The 'blend' agenda, was/is more or less an admission no longer can work be safely and easily partitioned off from non-work. Sure, you might be able to get away with taking an hour away from your email when you are at the recital but you better check in when you get home or at halftime of the soccer game. Weirdly, being available, accessible, and responsive all the time has become a badge of honor and value for lots of folks. And more and more an expectation of their employers.

    Once you buy into the 'blend' argument, then work is never really something you can completely place aside. Not for long anyway.

    And that might be perfectly fine most of the time for most people. Being able to not be tied to a specific workplace location for specific times has been an incredible benefit for lots and lots of people, (and has increased attendance at elementary school plays immeasurably).

    But recent events in the news help remind us that this 'blend' also comes with a cost beyond just 'My Saturday night might be interupted by an email I have to answer'. The 'blend' also comes with a potential loss of one of the freedoms that most of us take for granted. 

    When you buy in to the idea that 'balance' and by implication 'separation' between work and non-work is no longer possible, then you have tacitly bought into ceding more of your rights and protections than you probably think.

    We've heard and read a lot of talk about how no one's freedom of speech fully extends to the workplace.

    What happens when the workplace extends out to us, to everywhere we go, to everything we do?

    Enjoy that blend.