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    Entries in Sports (117)


    Germany, Spurs: Welcome to the Machine

    The German men's national team won the World Cup with a 1-0 victory over Argentina yesterday, completing a march to the title that at times seemed almost incredible and surreal, (their 7-1 demolition of host nation Brazil in the semifinal), and absolutely workmanlike (the title match, their group stage tussles with Ghana and the USA).

    But no matter how any individual game for the Germans developed, in the end they were always able to find the right combination of talent, strategy and tactics, and individual moments of inspiration and excellence needed to raise the most prized trophy in all of world sports. For US fans, continuing to warm up to the highest levels of a sport that almost (it seems) every American child has played at least some in the last 20 years, watching the German team in this World Cup had to be at least somewhat reminiscent of the recent San Antonio Spurs NBA Championship.

    While there were certainly some differences between the two team's achievements, the similarities, at least to me were pretty clear, and might (apologies in advance to anyone already sickened by 'What can we learn about career management/leadership/workplaces from LeBron James returning to Cleveland' posts), I as a member of the 8 Man Rotation feel obliged to call out a few keys to both of these victories, and to take a stab at what broader application might be found therein.

    Talent and system are not the same as culture, (and are more important) - Tim Sackett had a great take at Fistful of Talent last week about 'system' hiring and it is well worth a read. Both the Spurs and Germany 'play the right way', i.e., organize their players and approach the game in a particular way in that each player understands their role, and how it contributes to the overall goals of the team. While each team has recognizable and extremely successful individual players, (Duncan and Parker on the Spurs, Muller and Klose for Germany), none of the games and the strategy ever seemed to be about these individuals. From beginning to end each team approached and played the games as a team. Not once in the NBA Finals or in the World Cup late stages did I recall hearing any commentator say something like 'The Spurs (or Germany), will only go as far as player XYZ takes them.' It was always a team effort, not one that relied on one or two talents. In fact, many of the players on the Spurs for sure, probably only succeed because they are in the Spurs system, and they have found the right fit for their talent.

    In the long run, discipline and belief trumps emotion - In the pre-game of the World Cup semifinal the home team Brazil had cranked up the emotional meter to 11 - they had 70,000 fans behind them, they 'felt' like it was their destiny to win on their home soil, and even held up the jersey of their injured and unable to play star Neymar in the pre-game line-up. It would have been easy for Germany to succumb to that emotional and psychological pressure, and give up and early goal or two. Instead, the German side stuck to their plan, withstood the first 10 minutes or so of Brazil's efforts, and then set on a goal scoring flurry not seem ever before in a World Cup semifinal. Similarly, in the final game of the NBA Finals, the two-time defending champion Miami Heat jumped out to an early lead against the Spurs, only to find the Spurs back to just about even by halftime, as the Spurs system and discipline proved more that Miami could match. When you have a system, and the right talent that has bough in to the system, then the lesson is to stick with it, don't panic when your opponent seems to have the upper hand, and double down on what you know will be successful in the long game.

    Most of us are really bad at evaluating talent - The Spurs had the NBA's best regular season record. The German side are full of top-level players from the world's most famous clubs. Yet neither was favored to win their respective championships prior to the final series or game. The Heat, with best player in the world LeBron James, and Brazil with their history of success (and home nation status), were expected to lift the trophies that ended up being held by the Spurs and Germany. We kept looking for excuses why the Spurs or Germany could not win (the Spurs were too old, Germany had not won the World Cup in 20+ years, and never outside of Europe), that we let ourselves be fooled. Even the leaders of these great teams might not understand talent completely. The World Cup winning goal was set up and scored by two players that were not even in the starting team of 11. I think this is is often the same thing that occurs in day-to-day talent assessment and evalution. We are trained to look for the reasons why someone won't or can't succeed, instead of focusing on the things that they are talented and strong at, and thinking about ways to leverage the skills they have. 

    Bottom line - Spurs = Germany = a great way to think about how systems and strategy lead you to find the right talent you need to succeed.

    Look for more sports takes later in the week, (I know you can't wait), from the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

    Have a great week!


    The Obligatory World Cup Post - #8ManRotation

    My annual contract with the 8 Man Rotation Group, LLC (not a real thing, but we do have an annual FREE Ebook on Sports and HR - you can get the latest version here), obliges me to post at least once about the World Cup and what similarities, parallels, or HR and workplace takeaways you might be able to glean from the tournament (which I really do enjoy), so here goes...

    Talent almost always trumps all - Despite some interesting and surprising 'upsets' in the early round matches, (the USA getting out of the 'Group of Death', the legendary Spanish side failing to play to expectations), by the later stages of the event, the best/most talented teams had risen to the occasion. In the first knockout round the 8 teams that had been on top of their opening round groups, all defeated the second place in their group teams that they were matched against. And then in the quarter-final round, the four teams that advanced (Brazil, Germany, Argentina, and the Netherlands), were among the pre-tournament top four favored sides. Winning at the World Cup, and in most every business as well, remains mostly about having a group of talented people working together towards the same goal. And since every team wants to win the World Cup, the tie-breaker is talent. Not fighting spirit, not fan support, not a 'unique' culture - it's talent.

    The more people needed to create the finished product, the less individual stars matter - Soccer is played by 11 people per side, thus making any single individual's ability to impact and influence the outcome of the match relatively less than say basketball, where a single star player is often the difference between winning teams and losing ones. Sure, each of the top 4 teams have their share of 'star' players, but in a 90 minute match these players can often go for very long stretches of play without even touching the ball, much less making game-altering plays. Soccer is often about discipline, strategy, organization as much as about singular talent. So while talent (usually) trumps all, it is really kind of a collective talent level that I'm talking about. Many of the top sides have seen their star players go down to injury, yet their overall talent level and team organization has allowed them to continue to thrive. The HR lesson here? Once about 10-15 people are involved in any project or initiative, you might be better off passing on the 'star' talent in favor of raising the overall talent level of the group. 

    Performance is relative (and a function of expectations) - Just like how for most publicly traded companies their quarterly performance in terms of absolute revenue or earnings means much less than how those figures compared to Wall Street's 'expectations' of what those results would be, a team's performance in the World Cup usually is assessed against some kind of nebulous collective expectation of what that performance would be. Case in point -the USA team played four matches in the World Cup. They won one, drew one, and lost two. The win was against probably the worst opponent of the four. The draw happened when the USA allowed a shocking goal in the 95th minute of play (essentially the last kick of the game). But yet after the USA was eliminated from the tournament, the general consensus was that the USA had a successful tournament and is on the right track for the future. But objectively, a record of 1-2-1 in four games is pretty terrible. But against expectations, it was a success. We see this effect at work all the time - someone's just sort of average performance is viewed as wonderful if they have a track record of being incompetent. Someone else's good performance is not appreciated if they had somehow done a little better in the past. We'd probably be better off trying to forget the recent past, let go of 'expectations' and try to evaluate people and performance for what they are.

    Anyway, there it is, my 8 Man Rotation 2014 World Cup post is in the books!

    Happy Tuesday.


    Diverse teams can (literally) better take the Heat

    Did you happen to catch Game 1 of the NBA Finals last week between the San Antonio Spurs and two-time defending NBA champions the Miami Heat? In the game, won by the Spurs 110-95, probably the most notable element was the Spurs arena air conditioning system failing in the second half. This led to soaring arena and on-court temperatures which (likely) contributed to Heat star LeBron James' serious leg cramps, a condition which forced him to leave the game in the 4th quarter, and factored significantly in the Spurs win.

    While each athlete's ability to tolerate or withstand the increased temperatures is probably difficult to predict, the Spurs team seemingly had a slight advantage adapting to the tough conditions. Why? Possibly because of the team's diversity. The Spurs are the NBA's most diverse team in terms of the player's nationalities, featuring guys from places like France, Argentina, the US Virgin Islands, Australia, and Italy.

    Many of these players have considerable playing experience in leagues and competitions in Europe, where in-arena air conditioning is much less common than it is in the USA. As such, these players were able to draw on that experience that the diversity of their backgrounds helped to provide, to successfully adapt to the unusual conditions in Game 1. 

    Here's a quote form Spurs guard and native of France, Tony Parker:

    "I felt like I was playing in the European Championship. We never have AC in Europe so it didn't bother me at all."

    The Spurs Manu Ginobili, an Argentine, had this to say about the heat (and the Heat):

    "I don't think we (the Spurs) suffered as much. And for sure I played for more years in situations like this than with AC on the court. Not a big deal in that case."

    As the Heat, and in particular James, were unable to adapt to the tough conditions, the Spurs were able to go on a late 31-9 scoring run and win the game by a comfortable 15 point margin. And in no small part, their diverse set of contributors were a key factor in the game's outcome.

    It seems obvious that people from different backgrounds will have a different set of life experiences, sensibilities, and likely have ways to adapt and react to situations in a beneficial manner - all traits in evidence during Game 1 last week from the diverse players on the Spurs roster.

    We all know, or have been trained to accept, that increased diversity is generally a good thing for workplaces and teams, but rarely do we get to see such a public and clear set of circumstances where having that diversity directly leads to increased organizational performance and better outcomes.

    In this case, Game 1 of the NBA Finals, we saw loud and clear how having a more diverse team allowed the Spurs to succeed in conditions that really were not all that foreign (pardon the pun) to many of their players.

    A good lesson and a fun game to watch as well. Unless you are a Heat fan.

    Have a great week!


    Ebook: The 8 Man Rotation - The 2013 Season

    It's here!

    It's finally here!

    No, not summer and sunshine and three months spent slacking off while half of the office is nowhere to be found, I mean the next installment of the world-famous free Ebook on Sports and HR - The 8 Man Rotation - The 2013 Season.

    What is The 8 Man Rotation?

    It is a group of your HR pals, Lance HaunTim SackettKris DunnSteve Boese, and Matt Stollak who made it a habit throughout the year serving up the HR/Talent version of the 'hot sports take', helping you to see and then exploit what happens in the sports world in your HR shop.

    Whether its breaking down what the NBA draft means for your recruiting efforts, explaining why hiring lower division college athletes always makes sense for your organization, or learning from the greatest sports teams and players about setting performance goals, and lots more - chances are high that if there is a way to connect sports and HR/Talent, you will find it in the 2013 Ebook.

    Compiled and edited by mighty Matt 'akaBruno' Stollak, the 2013 Season is (probably, I can't be bothered to check), the longest, and most comprehensive of all the 8 Man Rotation editions, coming in at a ridiculous 165 pages, all about the intersection of HR, Talent Management, Recruiting, Leadership and sports. And in 2013, we have a great introduction from HR pro and noted New Orleans Saints fan, Robin Schooling.

    Of course you don't have to read all 165 pages (you should), you can bounce from topic to topic, and article to article, as Matt did a great job organizing a year's worth of sports takes into a coherent volume.

    So please check out The 8 Man Rotation - The 2013 Season here, and I will even embed the Ebook below in case you don't want to click away from your favorite blog.


    Thanks again to Matt for all the work (good job, good effort) and to the guys for keeping up the 8 Man tradition.

    Have a great weekend!


    The Juergen Bomb: Three reasons why a new leader makes a strategic firing

    A couple of weeks back I riffed on NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's decision to crack down amazingly tough on (disgraced, probably racist), soon-to-be former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling following the release of audio tapes that revealed once and for all time how horrible a person is Mr. Sterling.

    Commissioner Silver went full nuclear on Sterling - fining him the maximum allowable amount according to league policy, banning him for life from the Clippers and all NBA matters, and moving (along with the 29 other league owners), to force a sale of the Clippers by Sterling. You can check out my piece linked above for the full take, but essentially I think Silver's response to this first real leadership test was spot-on, and in particular, because it set a decisive tone for his leadership style and approach moving forward.

    Fast forward to last week, and we have another pretty high profile leadership (this one mixed in with some tasty talent management) situation from the world of sports - specifically from the United States Men's National Soccer team. In case you missed it, US coach Juergen Klinsmann made news when he dropped US soccer star (and the National team's all time leading scorer), Landon Donovan from the squad of 23 players that will compete in the upcoming World Cup. While Silver's handling of the Sterling mess has been universally lauded and wildly popular, Klinsmann's decision to essentially fire Donovan from the National team has been met with plenty of second-guessing, and is certainly not popular with several of the remaining (and influential) team members. This was a tough managerial decision around talent, and since my job as part of the 8 Man Rotation crew is to help you break down the connections between sports and your job as an HR/talent pro, here are three reasons I can think of why it makes sense for a new leader to make a strategic fire a la Klinsmann:

    1. The obvious one - dropping a veteran, established talent that seemed 'safe' by just about every stretch of the imagination signals out to the rest of the team (sports or otherwise), that the new leader is really in charge, and more importantly, has the security and management support to make tough decisions. Much speculation about Klinsmann's decision to drop Donovan from the World Cup squad was that the coach wanted to use that spot to give a younger, less experienced player a great developmental opportunity for what seems to be Klinsmann's true goal - mounting a serious challenge in the next World Cup in 2018, a competition which the then 36 year old Donovan would certainly not factor.  

    2. A strategic fire can often shake up a content workplace. The US team has been sort of running in place for the last few World Cup cycles. Sure, they have the occasional moments of success and games that make you think they are finally going to be serious contenders at elite competitions. But then they inexplicably fall to some lesser opponents, fail to seriously compete when facing the world's top teams, and generally seem comfortable just qualifying for the World Cup. Klinsmann does not want to reward that kind of status quo, that decade of mediocrity. The remaining players simply need to play better, or Klinsmann will find replacements. Dropping a former star, who still may be able to contribute, signals that performance standards across the entire organization are going up. The other players might think, "Crap, if he was willing to cut Landon, he definitely will drop me if I don't start scoring goals."

    3. The leader takes ownership of overall team results - especially if the results are poor. The primary reason in sports that coaches like to 'play it safe' and 'go by the book' is that they don't want to accept blame for failure, since they 'went by the book', whether it is in player selection or game strategy and tactics. In American football, the vast majority of coaches will punt the ball away on 4th down when the data clearly show that running an offensive play to try and keep possession of the ball is almost always the better statistical move. But if the coach plays it safe, and the team loses, he/she can usually shift blame to the players or some other external circumstance. Make 'risky' decisions like unexpectedly cutting a star player like Donovan and have them not pan out? All the blame, or at least a large part of the blame, will land on Klinsmann's shoulders. And I think that is a good thing, more coaches/leaders need to be willing to claim responsibility for failure (and accept the consequences too).

    Ok, that's it - I'm out.

    Go USA. Try not to lose to any country with less than 1% of our population this time.