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    Entries in Sports (104)


    What Richard Sherman reminds us about high performers

    If you are a sports fan, or perhaps even if you are not, you probably heard or saw coverage of Sunday's NFC Championship game, (that is American football for the non-USA readers), and particularly of the epic post-game rant/interview from the Seattle Seahawks' Richard Sherman, a member of the winning team.

    To set a little context, in the final stages of the game, the opposition San Francisco 49ers attempted a pass into the end zone that had it been completed would have won their side the game. The Seahawk's Sherman was able to deflect the pass attempt from the 49ers Michael Crabtree and the ball was then intercepted Sherman's teammate, sealing the victory for Seattle.

    Check the video of the interview then some comments from me (Email and RSS subscribers will need to click through)

    I love this guy. Let's break it down for what is reminds us about people and performance.

    1. Some people just want to be a little better than the worst performer in their peer group

    You know this guy, he is pretty easy to spot. Never stands out at all, is definitely not anywhere close to being a great performer, but usually does just enough to nose in front of the office's weakest link. He is the antelope that realizes that he doesn't need to outrun the cheetah, he only needs to outrun the slowest other antelope in order to survive. Eventually, he becomes the slowest antelope himself, but that can take some time. They are usually pretty fun to be around though.

    2. Some people want to perform at their highest/most productive/most efficient level

    This is actually most people I think. They want to learn, want to get better, want to challenge themselves (most of the time). They usually are good to very good performers. They are your 'B' students, slightly above the curve. They are also generally pretty fun to have on the team. They do some really good work and most notably, they rarely make waves. Some part of them sees being the best version of themselves as being a good team player. A team full of 'B' students, in a mature or slower moving market might be perfectly fine for long term stability and performance.

    3. Some people want to perform at their highest level, actively seek out who they perceive to be the best performers in their peer group, and do what is necessary to outperform them.

    This is our friend Richard Sherman I think. Really driven, consumed with not only becoming the best they can be but also consumed with the measurements that validate they are the best, (and desirous of the accolades that come with being the best). These types stay up at night working, planning, and scheming on how to beat the other guy and are not going to rest until they do. And once they do, they are not shy about telling you about it. We sometimes don't like these kind of guys because, like in the Sherman video, they come off as arrogant, cocky, and kind of unlikable. We chastise them for their hubris and lament that they are not 'team players.' But make no mistake, these are the types that drive progress, at least until they flame out, stop producing the results that led to their arrogance, (while remaining arrogant), and alienate that core group of 'B' students that everyone likes.

    Richard Sherman is clearly a '3' on my little scale. Note that in his 25 second rant he hits the two main elements necessary for this kind of mindset approach. He talks about being the best there is at what he does, AND, calls out his competition, reminding everyone that he is aware of who he has to be better than, and that he is not just using some kind of internal measuring stick to judge his own progress.

    Not everyone can be a Richard Sherman, but I think every organization needs at least some of that type in order to win. Because in life and in business we like to forget sometimes that winning is not only a matter of being the best that we can be, but also involves beating the other team.

    Happy Tuesday. 


    HOT SPORTS TAKE: What is more important than culture?

    It's been a huge few days in the sports world - with the NFL playoffs over the past weekend, the NBA finally getting interesting, and the wind up of the College football bowl season and final BCS Championship game. there has been plenty of fodder for sports talk shows, articles and columns that feature that essential element of sports coverage these days known as the HOT SPORTS TAKE

    This is where some blowhard, (in the case of the blog you are currently reading, that blowhard is me), goes on some silly, shouty rant about a coach, or a player, or a team, or sometimes an official about how they variously choked and lost the big game, is actually a terrible, mean, no-good person, and by losing the game and/or being a mean person they have therefore insulted America or tradition or the scared honor of the lunkhead sports stars of a bygone era. The rise of the myriad number of online sports sites has certainly contributed to the genre, but by no means is this a recent phenomenon.

    Actually come to think of it, my take probably doesn't completely merit the HOT SPORTS TAKE definition, as I really am not in a snit about any specific player or coach or team, but rather wanted to use a sports analogy (again) to back up one of my workplace/talent management takes from the past. Namely, that in contrast to the tiresome (and incorrect) cult of 'Culture Eats Strategy' I contend, still, that talent trumps everything. Talent is more important than strategy. Talent is definitely more important than culture.

    What completely non-scientific and impossible to prove or disprove evidence am I going to cite?

    Just a random call to the 'I can't remember which show but they are all the same so it doesn't really matter sports talk show' following the recent NFL playoff games.

    (Transcript lightly edited due to my failing memory and to better make the point I am trying to make)

    Host: Next up Jim from Hoboken. Go head Jim.

    Caller: Hi Mel - I just want to say I hated the body language of the Chiefs/Eagles/Bengals (doesn't matter and I can't remember) at the end of the game. They just don't have a winning mentality. They just don't have any team chemistry. It's like they don't like each other.

    Host: Winning mentality? Chemistry? They fumbled three times and had 12 penalties. What's the 'winning mentality' have to do with that?

    Caller: But Mel, the play calling was terrible. They gave up on the run in the second half!

    Host: They had a receiver drop the ball in the end zone for what should have been an easy touchdown. That play would have put them ahead in the game with less than 4 minutes left!

    Caller: And all the penalties Mel. They couldn't seem to stay onside all game!

    Host: Their top three lineman were all out hurt and they had to play rookies and reserves.

    The reason they lost the game was simple. The other team is better. They have better players. They have more TALENT!

    You fans want to go on and on about whether the Quarterback likes the Running Back or the coach's play calling is shaky or there were bad calls by the officials but all that stuff doesn't matter.

    What matters, in this order, is Talent first, execution second, coaching and play calling third, and last by a mile is whether or not the guys like each other or chemistry (Note: this is the rough equivalent of 'culture' for the HR types). But make no mistake about it, the team with the most Talent wins these games 9 out of 10 times. 

    And don't forget that.


    I continue to believe Talent trumps all - whether it's on the football field or in the executive boardroom.

    Great players make great plays.

    Happy Wednesday. 

    (First official 8 Man Rotation post for 2014 logged)


    SPORTS WEEK #4 - Visualizing data - sports and otherwise

    Note to readers: As I have had a really busy Summer and early Fall preparing for the now recently concluded HR Technology Conference, the posting frequency here has been pretty diminished lately. Additionally, I find myself well behind my regular number of 'sports' posts that form the basis of my contribution to the annual 8 Man Rotation E-book on sports and HR. So I have declared this week of October 21 to be 'Sports Week' on the blog. I'm shooting for 5 days of sports-themed posts to make sure I don't get dropped from the 8 Man crew. So if sports takes are not your thing, check back in a week of so, when I will probably have another equally inane theme working.


    As I wrap up 'Sports Week' on the blog I figured for a Friday I would keep it simple take the easy way out and point your attention to the always interesting, frequently amazing Information is Beautiful site where the contenders for their annual Information is Beautiful awards are being featured.

    The awards are meant to showcase and honor excellence in data visualization, infographics, interactive data presentation, and tools with which to analyze and interpret data and information. And, as luck would have it, several of the submissions in the Data Visualization category have sports themes, as sports continues to be a ripe area for advanced data analysis, and for new ideas about how to examine and interpret existing data sets.

    The chart on the right side of this post, a graphic that presents some analysis and comparisons of the playing statistics of the 2013 NBA All-Stars naturally caught my attention, and there are similarly well-crafted and visually appealing submissions about soccer, bike racing, baseball, and more.

    But beyond the mundane world of sports, there are more serious and probably more important visualizations and tools that you should check out over on the Information is Beautiful site.

    With the seemingly endless amounts, types, and increased speed with which we are becoming inundated with data about our business, our workforces, our labor market and more, it has become more and more important that the ability to understand and present complex data in a relevant, meaningful, and accessible manner is a skill set any successful modern leader will need to possess.

    Sure, the charts and tools that are over at the Information is Beautiful site might be a little bit beyond your capabilities with design, and might be a little too much for the presentation of the more banal kinds of data we often deal with as HR and Talent pros, but there is certainly lots in terms of ideas and inspiration that anyone can take from such visually stunning displays.

    Ok, that's it, 'Sports Week' is wrapped, be sure to come back next week for an equally hard hitting series on the types and properties of the various Halloween candies and treats.

    Have a great weekend! 


    SPORTS WEEK #3 - No one cares what you don't have

    Note to readers: As I have had a really busy Summer and early Fall preparing for the now recently concluded HR Technology Conference, the posting frequency here has been pretty diminished lately. Additionally, I find myself well behind my regular number of 'sports' posts that form the basis of my contribution to the annual 8 Man Rotation E-book on sports and HR. So I have declared this week of October 21 to be 'Sports Week' on the blog. I'm shooting for 5 days of sports-themed posts to make sure I don't get dropped from the 8 Man crew. So if sports takes are not your thing, check back in a week of so, when I will probably have another equally inane theme working.


    No matter who you are, where you work, and the time/budget/resources/talent that you have at your disposal to carry on your campaigns for conquest of the world the unassailable fact is that someone out there has access to more/better/faster/smarter than you. 

    Unless you are a recruiter or Talent pro at Google. Then you have already won, and there is no need to read any further.

    But if you are not in that prime position of recruiting for or managing talent at the clear market or geographic top dog then from time to time you run into what are 'competitive disadvantages' in your efforts to find, attract, coach, develop, retain, and squeeze the best performance from your workforce.

    Someone else can offer a better starting salary to college recruits.

    Someone else has a better, more comprehensive benefits program.

    Someone else has won a few of those 'Best Places to Work' awards, (the ones you can't be bothered to fill out the application for).

    Someone else has a reputation for sticking with their strategy, even when times are tough, and not announcing layoffs three days after posting record earnings.

    You get the idea. No matter how great you are, someone out there is probably doing it better.

    You can let your relative disadvantage be that crutch you rely on, and the excuse you fall back on when explaining why you can compete with the better funded, faster, sexier, and generally 'not that different that you, just not as obviously dysfunctional' others in your space.

    Or you can take a page from the Triqui Indian (or Mexico) boys basketball team, and not only compete, but win and dominate an international competition while PLAYING BAREFOOT.

    From a CNN piece describing the team and the tournament:

    Despite most of the team being of short stature and playing barefoot, the Triqui Indian boys from Mexico won the championship -- and the hearts of many -- at the International Festival of Mini-Basketball held in Argentina.

    Their coach, Sergio Zuniga explains that playing barefoot is a reflection of the poverty in their community in the state of Oaxaca.

    "The boys train barefoot, they always walk barefoot. There are no resources to buy shoes," Zuniga commented in an interview with the Basketball Federation of the Province of Cordoba, where the tournament was held.

    The seven games against six local teams ended with incredible scores: 86-3 over Celestes; 22-6 against Cordoba University; 72-16 against Central; 82-18 over Hindu; 44-12 against Monteeis and 40-16 over Regatas de Mendoza.

    The National Sports and Physical Culture Commission of Mexico named the team as the "Barefoot Giants of the Mountains."


    A team of poor, short, and certainly disadvantages and barefoot kids from the mountains of Mexico remind us that whatever barriers or obstacles or 'It's not fair' complaints that we might offer up are just about always pretty hollow, and kind of meaningless.

    The message?

    Find a way. Don't settle. Don't let the competition beat you before the game has even started.

    And don't underestimate the determination of a foe that by virtue of playing through some remarkable challenges have become much, much tougher than you realize.


    SPORTS WEEK #2 - It's good to have enemies

    Note to readers: As I have had a really busy Summer and early Fall preparing for the now recently concluded HR Technology Conference, the posting frequency here has been pretty diminished lately. Additionally, I find myself well behind my regular number of 'sports' posts that form the basis of my contribution to the annual 8 Man Rotation E-book on sports and HR. So I have declared this week of October 21 to be 'Sports Week' on the blog. I'm shooting for 5 days of sports-themed posts to make sure I don't get dropped from the 8 Man crew. So if sports takes are not your thing, check back in a week of so, when I will probably have another equally inane theme working.


    Quick bit of background for the non-NBA fans that might be reading this.

    There are two NBA franchises that call Los Angeles home - the Lakers, who have been one of the most successful teams in all of North American sports over the decades, and the Clippers, who have been one of the least successful, inept, and downright sad organizations in their history. Additionally, both teams play their home games in the same arena - the Staples Center. 

    If you are a casual or even a non-fan of the NBA chances are you at least know the famous Laker teams led by all-time legends like Jerry West, Kareeem Adbul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kobe Bryant.

    You have probably not ever heard of the Clippers. The Lakers have consistently played for and won championships, while the Clippers at best have been a faceless also-ran, and at worst, have been the laughing stock club of the league.

    But in the last couple of seasons the fortunes and outlooks are starting to shift, just a little for the Los Angeles teams. The Lakers, beset by injuries and the aging of their star players are in a downward trend, while the Clippers, with much younger and dynamic stars are more optimistic than ever about their chances to compete for the NBA title.

    To add to the Clippers' sense of optimism, the team hired a new coach, the respected Doc Rivers, who has won a title as coach of the Boston Celtics, and is widely regarded as one of the top 5 coaches in the sport. The presence of a leader like Rivers, along with the group of young and talented players has the Clippers thinking big for the upcoming season.

    But before the Clippers can 'win' the NBA, they need to first climb out of the shadow of their much more well known, and successful (at least historically), co-tenants of the Staples Center, the Lakers.

    And Doc Rivers has, before the first game of the new season has even tipped off, fired the first blow on his home turf - by ordering the Lakers' 16 NBA Championship banners that hang from the Staples Center rafters be covered up with posters of members of the current Clippers squad when the Clippers are playing their home games. 

    Some details from the Ball Don't Lie blog:

    The Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers both moved into the Staples Center during the 1999-00 season, the only NBA teams to share an arena. Since then, the Lakers have hoisted five NBA championship banners to add to their 16 in total, alongside two other conference titles in that span. In that time the team has also added two more retired numbers to the jerseys that hang at the top of the arena, bringing that total to nine, while also hoisting two tributes to the championship Minneapolis Lakers and late Hall of Fame broadcaster Chick Hearn.

    In that time, the Clippers have accomplished … well, they made it to the second round a couple of times.

    New Clippers coach Doc Rivers is attempting to change that. After the laissez-faire turn of former coach Vinny Del Negro, the former Boston Celtics coach has decided to instill a defensive mindset and more consistent offensive philosophy for a Clippers team that disappointed with a first round exit in last year’s playoffs. And to drive a team-first point home, he’s asked the Staples Center to cover the Lakers banners when the Clippers take hold of the arena. From the Los Angeles Times.

    Said Rivers, "Listen, I think this is our arena when we play," Rivers said. "So I just thought it would be good that we show our guys. No disrespect to them. But when we play, it's the Clippers' arena as far as I know."

    To the non-sports fan this may seem pretty insignificant, as in, 'So what, the Clippers are covering up the Lakers banners when they are playing. Big deal.' 

    But to a professional team, and their fans, these championship banners symbolize excellence, dedication, sacrifice, hard work, and ultimately team pride.  To cover them up is a like an insult or a gesture of disrespect, (at least that is how I would interpret the move).

    But from Rivers perspective, the decision makes complete sense. His team can't even think about winning the NBA title until they begin by 'winning' their home court. And unique to the Clippers, winning their home court means conquering one of the most successful, and world famous sports franchises of them all, the Lakers.

    Life is better, or at least more interesting with a few enemies.

    Batman needed the Joker. Luke Skywalker needed Darth Vader. Maverick needed Iceman.

    I am sure Rivers and the Clippers want to be the 'new' Lakers in Los Angeles, but to get there they are going to have to see their neighbor as more of their enemy.

    And to crawl out from under the Lakers' shadow, covering up the banners that testify to Laker success is a smart move. Sure, it may tick off the Lakers, but that is the idea I think. You can't climb to the top without making a few enemies along the way.