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    Entries in Sports (143)

    Friday
    Nov062015

    Grantland, Simmons, and how talent (still) is hard to hold on to

    Last week media giant ESPN decided to abruptly shutter the website Grantland, the sports and pop culture site, (and which was  pretty literary for a sports and pop culture site), that had been founded and led by Bill Simmons. Simmons was let go, (or more accurately, informed his contract would not be extended), in the spring, following a series of clashes with ESPN management over Simmons' comments about the NFL and its commissioner Roger Goodell.

    After a few months of muddling along, Grantland, now devoid of Simmons (and many other talented writers and editors who left Grantland after Simmons), has now been shuttered for good by ESPN, who in a statement indicated they have 'decided to direct our time and energy going forward to projects that we believe will have a broader and more significant impact across our enterprise.'

    Without Simmons, there really could be no Grantland, and certainly ESPN doesn't need a Grantland wihout the founder, leader, and most popular personality on board anyway. The 'core' site of ESPN.com is one of the web's most visited properties after all. Any Grantland talent that remains with ESPN can be absorbed by ESPN.com.

    But despite the demise of Grantland, it is still worth making a couple of observations about what happened with Grantland/Simmons, and how this episode in Talent Management / Employee Relations might offer a couple of lessons or things for the average HR and Talent pro to consider.

    1. No succession plan, no future

    While Grantland had dozens of staff, including some acclaimed, award-winning writers, the face, inspiration, and key to the entire endeavor was Simmons. There was simply no other, singular, talent that emerged over Grantland's four year run that could rival/replace Simmons in this role. It could be argued that once ESPN released Simmons from his duties earlier in the year, that they always knew Grantland would be closed soon after. But if they had developed or at least identified a plausible candidate to assume Simmons' place as the leader of Grantland they would have had more options. Simmons dominated Grantland to an extent that it made no sense to continue it without him, regardless of if ESPN would have like to see it continue.

    2. The best managers understand the role and importance of the best talent

    The job of leadership is to get talent to produce and create, and this does not work by threatening with rules or by levying discipline. And managing the very best talent is probably the hardest challenge for the manager, even harder than managing out poor performers. How much leeway do you give the best talent? How many rules do you allow them to dodge or break? How much freedom do you give top talent to create, unencumbered by roadblocks and rules? 

    What for organizations is next in importance after finding and hiring the best talent? Finding and hiring the right managers that can confidently, carefully, and diplomatically get the best work out of these talented folks while at the same time keep the other 95% of the workforce from hating them.

    3. The best talent, brand-building talent, is very hard to find and keep

    ESPN certainly helped build Simmons into the star media personality he has become. But ESPN also certainly had underestimated the value and power of Simmons popularity. Over the years ESPN seemed almost as interested in controlling and keeping Simmons toeing the company line as they were in supporting and positioning Grantland for success. That attitude might be effective (and needed), for the 95% of the staff who are just good to very good, but it almost never works or sits well for that 5% of employees who are really elite.

    There are very few talents like Simmons out there. And the more that management tries to tell these talented people what to do and how to act the more they are going to be alienated and look to move on.

    Talent still runs the world. Even if leaders like to think otherwise sometimes.

    Have a great weekend!

    Saturday
    Oct312015

    10 reasons why you should quit the NFL for the Premier League

    I am up early on a Saturday taking in Barclays Premier League match between my beloved Liverpool Reds and Chelsea, the defending Premier League champions currently mired in a slow start to the new season. I watch a fair bit of sports on TV, (I have pretty much no life), but after many years of increasing interest and appreciation of top-level soccer, I have mostly given over my Fall and Winter weekends to the Premier League, and have pretty much lost interest in the much more popular, (here in the US anyway), American football games (both college and in the NFL).

    Why is that? Why have I basically given up on American football, with only a passing interest in the country's most popular sport? Here are 10 reasons, just off of the top of my head. And if you are saying to yourself, 'Who cares what sports Steve likes?', I would answer, 'Probably no one. But it is my blog. And I am up early on a Saturday and this is what I feel like writing about.' So there.

    Ok, here are 10 reasons why I, (and maybe you too), should quit the NFL for the Premier League:

    1. Soccer has about 3 rules you need to understand in order to appreciate the action. Sure, there are more rules than that, but the essential ones are very few, they are pretty simple, (we teach 4 year olds how to play using these rules), and you can grasp them in about the first 15 minutes of watching a game. American football, and the NFL in particular, has about 3,593 rules, many if not most of them are incredibly complex, vary in their application, and even 'experts' of the game often fail to understand them. NFL football is akin to the worst of governmental or corporate bureaucracies - hopelessly dense, complex, and often unexplainable.

    2. Because of this complexity in the rules, NFL games are interrupted dozens of times (and on EVERY punt or kickoff it seems), by penalty flags, interminable on-field conferences amongst the numerous game officials, and delays in the game for video reviews, often frame-by-frame, of controversial plays. Again, the NFL resembles the worst in big corporations in that the games are really just a few seconds of actual things happening that are interrupted by meetings of paunchy, middle-aged men discussing and attempting to explain what just happened. 

    3. Let's talk about the actual game action then. A Premier League game consists of two 45 minute halves with the clock running constantly, with a few minutes of 'extra' time usually added for injuries and other delays. Add in a 15 minute halftime break, and the normal (meaning EVERY one), Premier League game takes a bit under 2 hours to complete, start to finish. It is a perfect amount of time to dedicate to a sporting event, a movie, a dinner with your in-laws  - pretty much anything. NFL and especially college football games regularly require 3 to 3.5 hours to complete. And for the amount of actual action that occurs in a game, (see Point 4), 3.5 hours for a sporting event is just insane.

    4. It has been estimated that the average NFL game, the game that takes about 3.5 hours to complete, and has 60 minutes of official game time, actually has only between 7 - 8 minutes of action, i.e., where the players are actually PLAYING football. The rest of the time consists of players walking back to the huddle, standing in the huddle, walking back to the ball from the huddle, and waiting for the quarterback to scream a series of incomprehensible commands and making wild gesticulations. The ball is then put into play for a few seconds, (the average NFL play lasts about 7 seconds), and the entire process is repeated. Unless it is interrupted by a penalty flag and a corporate board meeting by the aforementioned old men. Football is 3.5 hours of almost nothing happening.

    5. Premier League soccer (and all soccer really), consists of 90 minutes of almost constant action. There are no 'time outs', there are fewer delays for penalties and fouls. When there is a foul the one on-field referee in charge makes the decision, and the ball is put back into play quickly. There are no meetings to talk about the fouls, there are no lengthy delays to 'check the video replay', and there are no 'coaches challenges' like in American football. Soccer realizes, correctly, that it is a GAME, and not every tiny decision needs to be examined under a electron microscope.

    6. While the rest of this post is a little cheeky, this point is pretty serious. While injuries happen in all sports, and sometimes they are serious injuries, for the most part soccer at all levels is much, much safer than football. Despite all the advances in protective equipment, the nature of football leaves almost EVERY player injured at some point. While NFL players are grown men, and are compensated well to accept these risks, the culture of American football extends much further into society, where the participants are neither grown men or compensated at all for these risks. This season alone 7 high school football players have died from direct football related injuries. Read that again. SEVEN high school kids have DIED from playing football. I find it incredible that 99.9% of American society is ok with that. 

    7. In the US, Premier League games (that last a total of 2 hours like I mentioned), are played in the morning across all US time zones. That means you can wake up early, take in a couple of matches, and still be free by Noon or so to do whatever it is you SHOULD be doing on the weekend instead of sitting on the sofa watching sports. You can get your fill of game action and still not be a jerk to your family or friends who don't care about your fantasy team and want you to be an actual contributing member of society on Saturdays and Sundays, and not some loser who is constantly checking his phone to see how many receiving yards Odell Beckham Jr. has racked up. 

    8. The match commentators for the Premier League games are exceedingly better and more entertaining than their NFL counterparts. Premier League commentators use words like 'comprehensive' and 'beguiling' and describe players with phrases like 'He is a wily campaigner'. NFL game analysts mostly like to talk about what team coaches said to them in meetings the day before the game. When NFL commentators try to move past the obvious 'The team that makes the least mistakes will win today', and get into the intricacies of the game action, 'Tampa rolled their high safety over to the weakside to guard against the naked bootleg action from Seattle', almost no one watching the game has any idea what they are talking about.

    9. And speaking of TV coverage, in the US anyone with a decent cable sports package has access to EVERY SINGLE Premier League game on LIVE. Every game is on TV. In the NFL, America's most popular sport, the only way you can get access to every game live on TV is to subscribe to the satellite TV provider DirectTV and order a premium NFL package to get access to all the games live. There are a couple of ways to get access to streams of NFL games as well. But in 2015 the fact that I as a subscriber of Time Warner Cable, one of the largest cable companies in the US, can't order up or subscribe to any NFL game that I would like to see on my TV is absolutely insane.

    10. (I promise this is the last one. If you have made it this far well, bless your heart). The pinnacle of the NFL season, the Super Bowl, is primarily enjoyed by millions not for the actual game, 'Who is playing again?', but for the TV commercials. The actual game is just a side note for the commercials, the halftime show, the endless tweets and columns about which big corporation 'won' the game by having the best TV spot, and the discussions of what kind of plausible excuse can you come up with to call in sick to work the next morning. Aside for the fans of the two teams playing, and the people who have bet on the game, no one really cares which team wins the game. Let's talk more about that Doritos spot instead.

    That is it. I am out. Thanks for indulging me. 

    And by the way, Liverpool 3 - Chelsea 1 - Full Time. Go Reds.

    Happy Halloween.

    Monday
    Oct262015

    Wearable tech at work: Three lessons from the NBA

    The NBA season starts tomorrow!  

    It could not have come soon enough for this NBA junkie. While my beloved Mets have made things interesting with a surprising run to baseball's World Series, I live and breathe for NBA basketball. This is for two reasons primarily. One, the NBA is simply the best, most exciting, most watchable sport there is. And two, basketball provides a tremendous source of insights for all things HR and the workplace - leadership, recruiting, talent management, assessment, compensation, and increasingly - the use of advanced performance analytics for evaluation, talent management, and strategy development.

    Case in point, the increased use of player movement and performance tracking technology to better understand patterns, tendencies, and importantly, fatigue and diminished output/effort in a player. Check this excerpt from a recent piece on the topic from Grantland, From BMI to TMI: The NBA Is Leaning Toward Wearable Tech, then some comments from me after the quote:

    The NBA is putting its own money into the study of wearable GPS devices, with the likely end goal of outfitting players during games, according to several league sources. The league is funding a study, at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, of products from two leading device-makers: Catapult and STATSports.

    The league declined comment on the study. Most teams already use the gadgets during practices, and Catapult alone expects to have about 20 NBA team clients by the start of the 2015-16 season. The Fort Wayne Mad Ants wore Catapult monitors during D-League games last season in an obvious trial run for potential use at the parent league.

    Weighing less than an ounce, these devices are worn underneath a player’s jersey. They track basic movement data, including distance traveled and running speed, but the real value comes from the health- and fatigue-related information they spit out. The monitors track the power behind a player’s accelerations and decelerations (i.e., cuts), the force-based impact of jumping and landing, and other data points. Team sports science experts scour the data for any indication a player might be on the verge of injury — or already suffering from one that hasn’t manifested itself in any obvious way.

    The piece goes on to make some interesting points about how teams can use the devices in a practice setting in order to make decisions about player rest and practice strategy. But since the NBA player's are represented by a union, in-game use of these devices will have to be collectively bargained according to the piece. What can we extrapolate to 'normal' workplaces from the NBA's experiments and experiences with these kinds of wearables?

    I can think of three main things:

    1. Union shop or not, organizations are going to have to take data privacy, usage, and access issues very seriously and head-on. Players that are angling to secure their next contract might not want widespread access to their performance data if it begins to show some performance degradation that might not be apparent to the naked eye. If you want any employee to wear a tracking tool like this, you have got to ensure the 'right' level of privacy and control for your situation.

    2. Your primary use case for wearable tech should be a positive one. And probably your secondary use case as well. If wearables are going to be used to prevent injuries, help workers find efficiencies, or better align tasks to workers, (and even to a specific day or time), then it is likely you will have a better chance at employee adoption of this kind of tech. If employees think your primary goal of these devices is to identify the 'weak links' in the organization in order to apply discipline, (or to weed them out), then the reaction is going to be less-than-enthusiastic. There is already a pretty large 'Big Brother is watching' inherent bias you need to overcome, don't make it worse by treating wearable tech at work like some kind of house arrest ankle bracelet.

    3. Wearable data has to be interpreted in context. Every basketball game is unique. The opponent, the combinations of players on the court, the external conditions, (travel, amount of sleep, diet, etc,), all vary from day-to-day and game-to-game no matter how hard coaches try to have things consistent. Careful analysis of player tracking data and performance has to include and attempt to understand how external factors impact performance. Player tracking data is going to create tremendous amounts of data for team management to analyze - on top of the pretty large data sets they already have been crunching. And when this kind of data is available to every team, the competitive advantage ceases to be simply having the data - the advantage shifts to the organization that is the best and extracting insight from the data.

    I am sure there will be more to unpack as player movement and tracking data becomes more of a mainstream form of analysis, but for now, these are the big takeaways for me.

    I love the NBA. You should too. Everything you need to know about HR an Talent can be learned in 48 minutes a night.

    Trust me... it will be a great season!

    Thursday
    Jul022015

    Three Talent Management Observations from the First Day of NBA Free Agency

    I continue to be on record as stating that HR/Talent pros can learn just about everything they need to know about talent management, leadership, team dynamics, managing for performance, and a million other things from careful observation of professional sports - and most notably the NBA.

    Yesterday was the first full day of the league's free agency period - the time where teams are free to recruit, negotiate with, and sign to new contracts those players whose contracts had expired - thus making them 'free' agents. As usual, Day 1 of free agency led to a flurry of announced and rumored deals between NBA teams and the most coveted of these players, three of which I want to mention here, as they all reveal some interesting insights towards talent and how top talent and exemplary organizations think.

    1. LeBron James and the 1-year deal - While the norm across the NBA on Day 1 of free agency has been for the most prized free agents to agree to 4 and 5-year deals for very large dollar amounts, (Kevin Love, Draymond Green, DeMarre Carroll, etc.), the league's very best player Lebron James is reported to only be willing to accept a 1-year deal from his current team, the Cavaliers. This short-term deal, while being riskier for James, (in case he gets injured), secures his leverage with team ownership, as he can demand that the Cavs do everything possible to field a contending caliber team, with the threat of losing James looming at the end of each season. Keep LeBron happy and you get to keep him. So while lots of talented players are willing to take 4 and 5 years, the best player doesn't need that security, he would rather keep the power shifted in his direction. The same probably holds true for the best, most-talented pros in any field. You need them more than they need you.

    2. Gregg Popovich will not call you at midnight - Popovich, the longtime coach of the San Antonio Spurs, one of the league's most admired and successful teams of the last 15 years, eschews the practice of attempting to begin wooing free agents at the stroke of midnight on July 1, the official starting point of free agency. According to Pop, "I'm not calling anyone at midnight, I'll be in bed. And if that's the difference in someone coming or not coming, then I don't want them." That stance cements two points in the recruiting process for the Spurs. One, they don't need to try and impress free agents with the (silly) gesture of the midnight phone call. And two, they realize that any player that requires that kind of a gesture in order to have their ego massaged is probably not the kind of player the famously unselfish and team-first Spurs are interested in having anyway. This is a great example of an organization living up to and reinforcing their specific culture in the recruiting process.

    3. LaMarcus Aldridge is not impressed - One of the most in-demand free agents this year is LaMarcus Aldridge, formerly of the Portland Trailblazers. In his meeting with the Los Angeles Lakers, a storied team that has recently fallen on hard times, Aldridge came away unimpressed. The reason? The Lakers presentation focused too much on off-the-court opportunities that the Los Angeles market can provide, and not enough on how the team plans to actually get better at playing basketball.  Aldridge has his pick of about a half-dozen teams, the market price for a player like him is pretty well defined, so money is not really an issue, so it actually boils down to the work and the opportunities to be on a competitive team that matters to him. The Lakers are trying to play off a reputation that might have mattered 20 years ago, but is lessened in its value today. Lesson here? You might have been a top place to work in 1998, but that matters almost nothing today to talented pros who want to grow in their careers. 

    As these three short examples indicate, the power dynamics at play between organizations and the best talent are always fascinating to watch. While different, they all lead us to just about the same place - he/she who holds the power gets to make the rules. And that balance is just that, a balance. Which means it can shift, subtly at first, but sometimes dramatically, leaving the unprepared side to wonder what the heck just happened.

    Have a great July 4th holiday weekend in the USA.  

    Quick editorial note - I am on the road for most of the next two weeks, making my first trip to China and Hong Kong in preparations for next years' first ever HR Tech China Conference. So posting may be a little sporadic over that time.

    Friday
    Jun262015

    Ways to describe basketball talent, ranked

    Following up yesterday's post on last night's NBA Draft, (and yes, the subject of that post, one Kristaps Porzingis was indeed selected by my New York Knicks, long may the Porzingis era reign), with a new edition of the ever-popular Ranked series on the blog.

    Today, after watching about 5 hours of draft coverage, (and pre-draft and post-draft shows), I offer up ways to describe basketball talent, ranked:

    10. Efficient

    9. Wingspan

    8. Fluid

    7. Motor

    6. Elite-level athleticism

    5. Second jumpability

    4. High ceiling

    3. Toughness

    2. High basketball IQ

    1. Tremendous upside

    Quick note - If any readers are heading to the SHRM Annual Conference next week in Las Vegas, your humble HR Happy Hour Show hosts, (myself and Trish McFarlane), will be co-presenting a session on HR Technology implementations, (I promise it will be more fun than it sounds), on Tuesday June 30 at 7:00 AM. We will have some HR Happy Hour Show swag to give out as well as busting some common myths about HR technology. Hope to see some of you there.

    Have a great weekend!

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