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    Entries in Sports (129)


    Athletes don't need media, and what that might mean for the rest of us

    Fresh off the recently concluded Super Bowl where one of the pre-game sub-plots that we heard about incessantly was Seattle Seahawks star Marshawn Lynche's reluctance/defiance in his 'engagement' with the collected media types at the event. Lynch, whether due to some kind of genuine shyness or anxiety, or because he simply wanted to be kind of a jerk, would not answer media questions prior to the game. He simply answered every question with "I'm just here so I won't get fined." And that lack of cooperation/participation, made some members of the media insane with anger.

    I'm writing this post while waiting for the NBA All Star Game to tip off, and while sitting through the (really long) pre-game show, I hit upon this piece, about NBA superstar Kevin Durant's frustration with dealing with that sport's media types. In the piece, Durant, who is usually portrayed as a really nice, and genuine guy, is quoted as saying:

    "You guys really don't know (expletive)," Durant told reporters in his final interview session before Sunday's All-Star Game.

    Durant was later asked what stories he would like the media to focus on more.

    "To be honest, man, I'm only here talking to y'all because I have to," Durant said. "So I really don't care. Y'all not my friends. You're going to write what you want to write. You're going to love us one day and hate us the next. That's a part of it. So I just learn how to deal with y'all."

    For ages, sports media were intermediaries - they connected sports teams and star athletes to their adoring public. As recently as 10 years or so ago, there was almost no way for most athletes to engage with more than a handful of fans at a time, (before and after games, at autograph signing, etc.), without having to rely upon mass media and the reporters that were the conduit to the mass media outlets.

    And reporters loved this. They loved having access, being important, being on some level the voice of both the athletes (by sharing their quotes), and of the fans, (by asking the questions of the athletes that the fans only wished they could). For 100 years this was how things worked. 

    But like pretty much everything else in the world, social networks, and smart phones, and wifi everywhere, and personal branding concepts are flipping that relationship between athletes and sports media, or at least eliminating most of the reasons the relationship needed to exist in the first place. Star athletes like Lynch and Durant can (and have) amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on various social media networks, can send messages to these followers anytime they like, and enjoy the fact that one of their tweets is likely to reach many, many more eyeballs than a reporter's bylined article in the sports section of the New York Times

    So it isn't really surprising that stars like Lynch and Durant are increasingly taking a more disinterested, even adversarial posture with the sports media. They feel, perhaps rightly, that the media are out to paint them in a less-than-positive light, and in a modern world where stars can and do build and nurture their own fan bases, the risk and low reward of dealing with traditional media is just not worth the hassle.

    So if anything, I would expect more and more athletes taking Lynch and Durant's approach to media in the future.

    What might this new tendency for star athletes to shun traditional media mean for us 'normals?'

    Two things come to mind. The first one, and maybe the sort of obvious one, is that traditional middlemen, like many sports reporters, have little use in the modern, social world. No one needs a random reporter from Si.com or ESPN to ask any star player 'How did it feel when?' questions and then post the athlete's responses. The star can post their own tweet, or pic on Instagram, or whatever, to let their fans know 'How it felt.' The only middlemen that have a future it seems, are the ones that are based on an app and an algorithm, (Uber, AirBNB). People as middlemen? Not so much.

    The other thing I think worth considering is the more general idea of how status and power and influence are determined or accrued. In sports, it used to be a really, really big deal for an athlete to get on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine or on a Wheaties cereal box. And while those achievements might still matter in 2015, I wonder how much they have fallen in prestige compared to say, getting 1M Twitter followers or 500K views of a YouTube video of the athlete in action?

    And for us, us regular folks, how much in the future will working at the 'right' companies matter to our long-term career objectives, or will building our own identity, persona, brand, and portfolios, independent of corporate interests mean even more?

    Like Durant and Lynch don't need the mainstream media to communicate their message, or validate their success, I wonder if we are soon moving to a time when accountants, marketers, HR pros - whomever, won't need that same kind of validation from corporate owners.

    Think of Durant's quote about sports media again. 

    Y'all not my friends. You're going to write what you want to write. You're going to love us one day and hate us the next. That's a part of it.

    That quote could just as easily be about GM or Apple or Microsoft or your company.

    Have a great week!


    Good stats, bad team

    I am still basking in the limelight from yesterday's launch of The 8 Man Rotation: The 2014 Season E-book, (if you missed the launch announcement, you can check it here), so I knew I had to drop in some kind of a sport-related take as a follow-up.

    There is a phenomenon in sports, most notably in NBA basketball, knows as 'Good Stats, Bad Team', which referred to the sometimes over-inflated to the positive personal statistics, (points, rebounds, etc.), that some players accrue largely by virtue of playing for a bad, losing team.World B. Free

    The explanation for this situation is pretty sound and understandable. Even the worst NBA teams are likely to generate near 100 total points and 45 - 50 total rebounds, even while losing. And someone on the team has to take shots, score points, grab rebounds, etc. So often a good player, playing on one of these bad teams, can look statistically to be almost a great player just by looking at their stats. He might get 5 or 6 more points per game and 3 or 4 more rebounds than if he were on a more competitive team, and surrounded by more talented teammates. This might not seem like that big a deal, but even small increases in points and rebounds are a big deal in the NBA - they translate to more valuable contracts, possible All Star game appearances, and recognition as an 'elite' player amongst fans and peers.

    So NBA team management has to be careful when dealing with these kinds of 'Good Stats, Bad Team' players, and attempt to quantify the impact on their performance when considering adding such a player to an already good team. You can take a look at Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers for a current example - since moving from the perennial bad Minnesota Timberwolves to the LeBron James-led Cavs this season, Love's numbers are down across the board, and has struggled at times fitting in to a team where he is no longer the best player.

    The 'Good Stas, Bad Team' concept was on my mind not just from watching another 4 hours of basketball last night, but from this piece, highlights of a recent interview of Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, where Costolo warned leaders of sort of the opposite of 'Good Stas, Bad Team', i.e. poaching managerial talent from already successful companies. 

    Here is Costolo's take:

    Twitter CEO Dick Costolo just finished speaking at the Goldman Sachs technology conference in San Francisco, and he said that he's spending a lot of time instilling proper management practices into his leadership team.

    It's particularly important because a lot of these employees are young, and have only had one other job. They sometimes think that just because something worked well at their previous company, it will work well at Twitter.

    Not so.

    As Costolo put it, "It might have just been that company X was making an extraordinary amount of money and you could've done anything."

    Did you catch that? 

    It is the reverse take on 'Good Stats, Bad Team'. In this context it could be called 'Average Manager, Great Team', maybe.

    Costolo warns us that when hiring talent out of great, successful companies that we need to be a little careful that maybe some portion, maybe a large portion, of the individual's success was due to the great company/team of which they were a part. Maybe in that context, anyone could have been successful in the role. And finally, it reminds us to at least consider what might happen when taking an individual out of that successful context and placing them into a new, (and possibly less successful, less talented context), might mean for their performance.

    It is a pretty interesting concept, and probably worth keeping in mind if you have convinced yourself that you only want to recruit from Apple, Google, (insert the name of the best company in your industry).

    Happy Thursday.


    The 8 Man Rotation: The 2014 Season - #8ManRotation

    As an HR/Talent pro I am on record as stating that you can learn just about everything you need to know about leadership, management, performance, assessment, teamwork, engagement, culture, succession planning, and ultimately winning from watching sports.

    In fact, not only do I believe that to be true, my 8 Man Rotation pals Kris Dunn, Tim Sackett, Lance Haun, Matt Stollak and I spend lots of time, energy, and pixels all year long trying to make that point through the numerous posts we craft that hit upon the themes of Sports and HR.

    And each year our pal Matt Stollak compiles these pieces into The 8 Man Rotation E-book, which the boys and I are proud to release today.

    The 8 Man Rotation: The 2014 Season is 161 pages of our best takes in 2014 on the themes of HR strategy, analytics, talent management, performance, recruiting, compensation and more - all with a connection to the wide, wide world of sports. With a forward from our pal Paul Hebert, The 2014 Season I have to confess, was probably our finest season yet.

    Please check out The 2014 Season, (embedded below, email and RSS subscribers will need to click through)


    Huge thanks go out once again to the fellas for letting me be a part of the crew and to Matty Ice in particular for doing all the hard work to bring the Ebook together each year. 


    Prepare to be disappointed

    The full title of this post really should be 'Prepare to be disappointed: The 2014-2015 New York Knicks', but I wanted to at least try not to scare away any potential readers, particularly ones that get tired of the 8 Man Rotation 'Sports and HR' posts.

    I promise this post isn't really about the Knicks or sports, not completely anyway.

    The backstory:

    I arrived back home at HR Happy Hour HQ at about 7:55PM ET last night and realized that it was about 5 minutes before the tip off time for the Knicks, (my favorite NBA team since forever, my favorite holiday picture from my childhood features a 5 or 6 year old me sporting New York Knicks pajamas that Santa had bestowed), who were matched up against the New Orleans Pelicans, (not a very good team, but better than the Knicks, much like just about every other team so far this year is better than the Knicks). 

    As I quickly gathered up some snacks and a needed beverage, scurrying to be in my favored easy chair for the start of the game the thought that popped into my mind was that all I was really doing was preparing to be disappointed - the Knicks are one of the worst teams in the league and have lost a number of close games recently, the kinds of losses that really sting for longtime fans (and I suppose the players too). Heading into last night's game, there was no logical reason to expect the Knicks would be able to defeat the Pelicans, I didn't think they had much of a chance anyway, so all I was doing by planning my evening, (partially), around watching the game was really just preparing to be disappointed by the eventual Knicks loss.

    OK, that was a lot of nonsense about basketball to get me to the point, so here goes.

    I have ceased letting Knicks loss after loss bother me. Sure, I would rather they were better, I would enjoy more frequent wins. But I get that this is not going to be a very good year for them. And so as a hedge against the Knicks stumbling and bumbling, I have adopted the much better (and much more fun to watch), Atlanta Hawks as my proxy team for the season. 

    The Hawks have a solid winning record so far this season, play an upbeat and entertaining style of basketball, and, importantly, have never been a significant or hated rival to my Knicks. They have always just been another team in the league, so supporting them is not really traitorous to my team, but rather serves as a way for me to keep invested in something I enjoy, (NBA basketball), while not allowing the terrible Knicks team to ruin the overall experience of the sport.

    So now the point (no one has kept reading until this point I am thinking).

    The Knicks, and there relentless way of disappointing me and their other fans probably represent a lot of our real lives too. Jobs that we really can't stand. Managers that are always on our cases. Co-workers that let us down, (at best), or stab us in the back (more likely). Significant others that just seem to do the same annoying things over and over again. And if you have kids, well, I don't need to delineate all the ways they manage to exasperate, frustrate, and yes, even disappoint us. 

    How do we deal with all that, with all that disappointment?

    I think we have to find the version of the Atlanta Hawks in all these varying situations.

    The part, even if it small or insignificant, that is pretty reliably positive. The element that we can latch on to in a bad situation and take something positive from. 

    There is something about your crappy job that has value. Your slacker boyfriend probably takes good care of your cat. There is likely at least one person amongst the clowns you work with from which you can learn something.

    This isn't about seeing the bright side in a given, bad situation, it is about seeing a different side.

    I am stuck supporting the terrible Knicks because they are my team. But I can still take enjoyment from the Hawks, (up until they play the Knicks), without being a traitor.

    And you can find something to love about your job while not betraying your very real hatred for it.

    Ok, that is it, I am out.

    Note: It is halftime of the Knicks-Pelicans game. The Knicks are only down by 2. Maybe I won't be disappointed after all. 


    The Performance Curve

    If you are a fan of baseball you might be familiar with the maxim or rule of thumb that states for Major League players that an individual player's performance (hits, home runs, wins as a pitcher, etc.), tends to 'peak' at around age 29 or so (give to take a year or two), then most often declines until the end of their careers.

    This phenomenon, most often raised when a team elects to offer hundreds of millions of dollars and 5+ year contracts to players on the wrong side of 30, has been pretty well observed, studied, and documented over the 100+ years of data about Major League player performance.

    Since charts make everything better, take a look at the generalized performance by age chart from a 2010 study published on Baseball Prospectus:

    The specifics of the Y-axis values don't really matter for the point I am after, (they represent standard deviations from 'peak' performance', but simply looking at the data we see for both the original study sample (veteran players with 10+ years of data), and 'less restricted' players, (more or less everyone else), that performance peaks in the late 20s and declines, predicatbly, from there. Keep this data in mind the next time your favorite team drops a 7-year, $125M contract on your best 31 year old slugger. Those kinds of contracts, for hitters or pitchers, almost never work out well for the team. And again, the reasons are completely obvious and predictable. Almost all players skills begin to decline by age 30. All players are in decline by 32.

    What does this predictable and observable performance curve for baseball players mean for you as an HR/Talent pro?

    I think at least three things can be taken from the baseball performance curve that apply more generally.

    1. While baseball, and sports in general, allow more precise and discrete measures of performance that allow us to pinpoint when performance 'peaks', this phenomenon applies in many other scenarios as well. You, or your managers, know after how long in a given role that an employee's performance has likely hit its apex, and continued tenure in that role is likely to results in lessened performance. Put more simply, you can't keep people, especially good ones, in the same roles for too long. They get bored, they figure it all out. And after too long, they start to tune out. The time to move people to the next role isn't when they are on the decline, it is when they are just peaking.

    2. In baseball gigantic contracts are often bestowed on players in their late 20s or early 30s, mostly on the basis of several years of prior high performance. While this on first glance seems to make sense, it almost always results in a bad deal for the team And again, the reason is not usually the fault of the player. It is just that 100 years of data show that almost all players are simply not as productive from ages 30-35 as they are from ages 25-30. The lesson here: We need to remember that most compensation should be about ongoing and future performance, and not predominantly as a reward for what has already happened. Past performance is not always, maybe not even all that often, a great predictor of future performance.

    3. Baseball player performance is very predictable, as we see in the above data, and there really is no excuse for baseball team management to pretend that is not the case. Decades of data make it plain. I think soon, maybe even fairly soon, the kinds of data and predictive data that organizations will have about employee performance will be similarly robust and powerful. Just as baseball team execs find it very difficult to heed this data, it will be tough for HR and business leaders to 'listen' to their data as well. But the best-run organizations, the ones that make the best use of their resources will be the ones that do not fail to heed what the hard data about performance and people are telling them.

    Ok that is it, I am out 

    Trust your data.

    And don't give 32 year old first basemen $100M contracts.