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    Entries in Sports (137)


    LISTEN: A classy way to make a career move - SVP's 'One Last Thing'

    Take seven minutes sometime this weekend and listen to ESPN Radio Host Scott Van Pelt bid farewell to the radio audience on today's final episode of the popular SVP and Russillo Show. Van Pelt is moving on to a (on paper) bigger role at ESPN, with his co-host Ryen Russillo set to take over solo host duties next week.

    In just a short seven minute monologue SVP hits all the right notes; he thanks and recognizes the team of contributors and behind the scenes folks that helped make the show possible (singling out specific and personal areas to highlight), he admits that bringing on a talented and creative co-host in Russillo forced him to be a better host himself, as he didn't want to be outshined on his own show, and is honest about realizing that in just about any successful career, there is a combination of luck, good timing, a great team, and hard work necessary to achieve whatever dreams and goals that one has.

    The clip is embedded below, (email and RSS subscribers may need to click through). It's worth a listen even if you are not a fan of the SVP and Russillo show or a fan of sports at all. 

    Great message on reflecting, caring about your team, and looking forward to the next thing, all in just seven minutes.

    Have a great weekend!


    DINOSAUR ALERT: When the new leader doesn't 'Get' social media

    You know what says 'I am pretty much out of step with most of the major developments and trends of the last decade or so?"

    A quote like this:

    I don't like social media. I don’t like it at all. I don’t know anything about it. I don’t do it, I don’t use it, I really don’t want anybody to know where I’m at all the time or what I’m eating.

    That might be a perfectly reasonable and harmless opinion if it was coming from say, your Grandma, or if it was uttered by someone 5 or 7 years ago when it still was not totally clear that Facebook and Snapchat and Instagram and Twitter would scale to the levels that back then would have seemed impossible to comprehend.

    And in business and marketing that might be an acceptable position on social media from someone buried in the innards of the organization, with no external-facing role or responsibility, and limited ability to influence others on social networks. I would still probably argue that most professionals can extract value and work on personal/professional development goals using social media as a tool, but in a big picture sense if the assistant accounting manager doesn't believe in Twitter or LinkedIn, that really is not that big a deal for the organization.

    But the above block quote wasn't taken from a recent conversation with Grandma, or from an article in Time Magazine in 2006, or even from some late night TV show random 'person on the street' skit. No, this quote was from the new Head Coach National Football League club the San Francisco 49ers, a Mr. Jim Tomsula. The new head coach doesn't 'get' social media, doesn't participate, and quite frankly can't understand why any of the rest of us do either.

    And this might not be a big deal, at least taken at face value, in the context of a football coach. After all, NFL head coaches are notorious lunatics workaholics, often spending 80 - 100 hours a week on the job, watching film, preparing game plans, and running practices. When you work crazy hours under crazy pressure like that, who has time to worry about Twitter and Instagram and the like? Cerainly not Jim Tomsula.

    But I think it is kind of a big deal, when a new, high-profile leader in the organization like Tomsula expresses those kinds of dinosaur-like opinions about social media. Sure, he, or any other prominent organizational leader doesn't really have to be some kind of Twitter personality, but in 2015, they need to at least acknowledge and hopefully understand something about the business importance of social media. And as a leader of people, many are very active on social media, (the 49er players, mainly), Tomsula has to be able to take his head out of the sand and at least attempt to relate to these players and understand their use of social media from their perspective. 

    And lastly, when a leader like this expresses these kinds of backwards opinions it begs the question of whether or not they will be open to any kinds of newer, innovative approaches to business, leadership, and their specifc industry. A huge shift in professional sports management over the last 20 years has been the dramatic rise in importance of advanced statistics and analytics for measuring both player performance and in the creationof game plans and strategies.

    Will this modern and new approach be embraced by a leader like Tomsula? Or will he not 'get' that either, and wonder why anyone would waste their time running regression analysis on last week's play selections instead of monitoring the players push around the blocking sled for the 897th time.

    A leader not 'getting' social media is fine. Maybe. But what it might say about the leader's ability to 'get', anything not exactly in line with their view of the world is more troubling still.

    Have a great week!



    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!


    Your culture is defined by who you're willing to re-hire

    First the news on how owner and Class A jerk, James Dolan continues to destroy my single, favorite sports team, the New York Knicks.  From the Deadspin piece The Knicks and their Owner James Dolan, Are Shameless Garbage:

    Earlier today, James Dolan announced that Isiah Thomas, who once sexually harassed one of his co-workers while he was head coach of the Knicks, was going to be named president of the WNBA’s New York Liberty. To most people, putting a sexual harasser in charge of a women’s basketball team is a bad look, but the Knicks would like those people to know that they don’t care about bad looks.

    For those who might not be familiar with the entire back story, the facts of the case are these.

    1. Isiah Thomas was once the Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks from 2006 - 2008

    2. In October of 2007, a Federal Court in Manhattan, in response to a claim by a female former team executive, Anucha Browne Sanders, ruled that Thomas had sexually harassed Sanders, and that Madison Square Garden, the owner of the team, improperly fired her for complaining about the unwanted advances.

    3. Sanders was awarded $11.6 million in punitive damages from the Garden and James L. Dolan, the chairman of Cablevision, the parent company of the Garden and the Knicks. Of that figure, $6 million was awarded because of the hostile work environment Mr. Thomas was found to have created, and $5.6 million because Ms. Browne Sanders was fired for complaining about it.

    4. After finally being fired by the team in 2008, Thomas has drifted in and out of several basketball roles, serving as a college coach at Florida International for a bit, and recently as a TV commentator.

    5. And now, yesterday, the aforementioned James Dolan, who still presides over the Knicks and their Women's NBA team, the New York Liberty has not only re-hired the sexual harrasser Thomas, he has also placed him in a position of authority for the WNBA's Liberty. If you were a player or coach on the Liberty you can't be feeling really happy about reporting to a confirmed workplace sexual harasser like Thomas.

    I think if I had to pick one, singular data point from the sea of human capital data and information that is available to organizations today that reveals the most about an organization's culture and what it is they believe in (if anything), it would be which former employees that they are or are not willing to re-hire. 

    Initial hiring is kind of a crap shoot, even the best shops make 'bad' hires every so often. And really great organizations are sometimes guilty of waiting too long to pull the lever on a termination, even when it is justified or the person is just not working out. It happens.

    But the bad hire on a re-hire? That should NEVER happen. The people you are willing to re-hire and who you are done with forever tells anyone what kind of an organization that you want to be. You know exactly who these people are, what they can do, and whether or not you would be proud to have them represent your organization.

    The Knicks, it seems, want to be an organization that no one can take pride in.


    Adapt or die, or at best become irrelevant (NBA edition)

    Of course you are following th human drama that is the NBA playoffs as closely as I am. That is a given. The playoffs are where the best teams rise to the top, the stars (and future stars) get their opportunity to shine, and is the case with many sports, more casual fans tune in to watch, as the games are now more important.

    If you are one of those casual NBA fans you might not be aware of one of the aspects of how NBA basketball has changed in recent years - namely the increasing volume and importance of 3-point shooting in the modern NBA game. In the past, most teams were designed (and attacked) from the 'inside-out', i.e. with dominant big men like Kareem, Hakeem, and Shaq dominating the play as their teams tried to feed them the ball close to the basket in order to take easy shots. 

    But in the modern NBA most of the better teams have taken a different approach to offensive basketball, one that still values close to the basket attempts as in the past, but increasingly relies upon and values taking and making the 3 point shot. Take a look at the chart below that shows how each NBA team stacked up this year with 3 point shot efficiency, then some (not all sports-related) comments from me after the data:

    One thing more hard-core NBA fans will notice is that the most proficient 3-point shooting teams, (Golden State and Atlanta), were also the teams with the best records in the league this season. And all of the top 10 or so 3-point shooting teams qualified for the playoffs, with several of them being considered real contenders for the title. Conversely, most of the teams on the far right of the chart, (the worst 3-point shooting teams), were in the conversation all year for 'worst teams in the league'. 

    So enough basketball, let's talk why this might matter more broadly and in non-NBA contexts. There are at least three lessons from how the modern NBA has (almost) completely changed its collective attitude towards the 3-point shot that are relevant for normal folks with responsibility to make their organizations better.

    1. There remains, despite easily and broadly available evidence of how increased proficiency at the 3-point shot leads to better team success, a still fairly significant set of team executives, coaches, and even pundits, who bemoan the growing importance of the long-range shot and long for the days of the 70s and 80s where more 'traditional' basketball was played. Teams that continue to leave these kinds of thinkers in positions of leadership and influence, (Lakers, Knicks), are simply going to continue to struggle to compete with more progressive and adaptive teams.

    Lesson - leaders who don't or can't adapt will take down the entire organization with them.

    2. The adoption of the 3-point shot as a primary strategic choice by the more successful teams is largely and compellingly backed by data. On the obvious level, it does not take a math wizard to know that a made 3-point shot is 50% more valuable than a traditional 2-point basket. And it is easy to calculate that making only 33% of 3-point shots produces the same number of total points as making 50% of traditional 2-point shots (with 50% being the normal barometer for 'good shooting'). But despite the data being that simple to digest and understand, as we saw in point one above, lots of folks remained unconvinced for way too long. 

    Lesson - 'Proving' your thesis with data to folks that are likely to be skeptical needs to be distilled into terms and concepts they will understand. In the NBA example talk about Winning, not 'True shooting percentage'. In your example, talk about sales, profits, market share, concepts your leaders will naturally embrace.

    3. Basketball has been played for 100+ years. The NBA has been around since the 40s and the 3-point shot was introduced to the NBA game in the 70s. But it has taken about 40 years for the leading thinkers in the game to more fully embrace the shot as the strategic weapon it has become in the modern game. The simple math I alluded to above has not changed in all that time. Why did it take so long to take hold? Hard to say.

    Lesson - Even the most mature industries and companies can still innovate and be disruptive (and disruptive). Even a simple idea like 'What is the best way to play basketball?' is subject to improvement re-imagining. It is never too late. Until it is too late that is.

    Do not fail to heed the lessons of the 3-point shot....

    I am on record as saying you can learn everything you need to know about work, the workplace, people, and business from careful study of the NBA. I remain correct in this belief.

    Happy Thursday.