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    Entries in Sports (161)

    Saturday
    Jul162016

    Five quick 'Sports and HR' takes from NBA Summer League - #8ManRotation

    I am out at the NBA's summer vacation also known as Summer League in Las Vegas joined by a couple of members of the 8 Man Rotation crew, Kris 'KD" Dunn and Matt 'Matty Ice, akaBruno' Stollak.

    As in the past sojourns to NBA Summer League, the reason to attend is not just about the basketball. In fact it is perhaps not even half about the basketball. Rather it is for what happens and is happening outside the lines - the observations of members of NBA team management, league staff, players on the sidelines, and the general approach towards talent management that the different teams take as they all strive to reach the same goal - an NBA championship - in many, many different ways.

    Add in the natural sideshow/carnival atmosphere that is Las Vegas, and Summer League becomes just about the perfect confluence (for me), of sports, Talent Management, development, management philosophy, and business strategy played out in the open and in real time.

    So with that said, here are my first five quick takes from about a day and a half out at Summer League:

    1. A little bit of 'real' experience makes a huge difference. The best players in this year's Summer League have tended to be more experienced players like Devin Booker, D'Angelo Russell, and even the Nets' Sean Kilpatrick. One commonality across these players? They all have at least one full year experience in the NBA already and have come back to Summer League to continue to work on and refine their games. These players and others have shown how much even one year of development and experience makes a huge difference in performance. The lesson to me for managers of talent is that of patience. Even in this world of 'go-go-go', it often pays to invest in talent and development and to be patient to realize increased benefits later on. In other words, don't look at new employees just as ones that have no idea what they are doing, try to envision the value that they can deliver after a year of prep and learning.

    2. Stakes matter, i.e., if you give someone a lousy project don't be that surprised if their performance dips. Friday's games at NBA Summer League were all loser's bracket games - the final game of the summer for teams that had been eliminated from Summer League title contention. Basically, there was nothing on the line in terms of team goals in these games. And perhaps not surprisingly, the quality of play suffered. Even though many of the players had plenty personally at stake in these games, collectively they had no goals in common. The result was a day of mostly sloppy play, bad shooting, ill-advised shot attempts, and generally bad basketball. The real world implication of this? When you give employees and teams thankless, low-profile, and low-impact work they are naturally going to be tempted to give less or worse effort. That is just human nature. Don't judge someone solely on how they perform when the nature of the assignment drags their performance down a notch or two.

    3. But great organizations and leaders rise above these lousy circumstances. The best game amongst the losers, featured the Spurs topping the Kings in overtime. The game was entertaining because it went down to the wire sure, but the real reason I enjoyed the contest was that the Spurs, probably the league's best-run organization over the last 20 years, took such a professional, competent, and serious approach to the game, one that meant nothing in terms of the outcome. The players were engages, the coaching, led by Becky Hammon, was exceptional, and the execution of the team when it mattered most was excellent, resulting in the win. So while I just said you can't judge individuals solely when things are going bad, you can see how world-class organizations get that way by seeing how they approach bad situations. The Spurs looked and acted like this meaningless game really did matter - and to great organizations everything matters, which helps make them great.

    4. Talent trumps everything. But you already knew that. The last game we caught on Friday night involved the Philadelphia 76ers and their new star, first pick in the 2016 draft Ben Simmons. Simmons was clearly the best athlete, had the best basketball instincts, and at times was held back by the inferior talent he was playing with and against. The key for Simmons' early development seems to be that he needs to understand both how good he is, and what he needs to do to improve. Simmons is a great rebounder and passer, but probably needs to work on his shooting in order to realize his full potential. It would be easy for him to stick with what he is comfortable doing, and excels at doing at the expense of working on the parts of his game that need improvement and he seems uncomfortable with (at least at the moment). But to be the best he can be, he needs to do more than just one or two things. HR lesson? The greatest talent can do more than one or two things exceedingly well, but they might need to be pushed a little to do those things that are uncomfortable with. But if you can and do that, then youu develop the rarest of commodities - someone who excels at all aspects of the game/job/function.

    5. You have to judge talent on performance, not by appearance. We had the chance to watch (and very briefly meet), NBA prospect Josh Magette, a point guard who starred in the NBA's Developmental League last season, and is playing for the Brooklyn Nets summer league squad. Magette was proably the best point guard in the  D-League last season, and has a real opportunity to break into the NBA this season. That means he is probably one of the best 500 - 1000 or so basketball players in the world right now. And Josh is listed at 6'1" , 160 pounds. And after seeing him up close, let's say those measurements are generous. Josh looks like he could still be playing high school ball, is not physically imposing at all, but yet can compete at the highest levels of basketball against guys that have six inches and 60 pounds on him. If you saw Josh on the street you would never think he was in upper echelon of basketball players in the world. And you'd be dead wrong. Final lesson from Summer League? Talent is everywhere - even in places you'd never expect to find it, and are often afraid to look.

    That's it - I'm out for now and about to hit another full day at the Thomas & Mack Center  - there might be a wrap post up early next week for those of you, (both of you), who can't get enough of these sports and HR takes.

    Have a great weekend!

    Tuesday
    Jun212016

    'The truth isn't always criticism. Sometimes it's just the truth'

    In the wake of the Cleveland Cavaliers victory in the NBA Finals on Sunday night, former Cleveland Browns (NFL football for those who may have forgotten about the woeful Browns), and NFL legend Jim Brown was being interviewed and was asked to share his thoughts on the city of Cleveland on one of the sports talk radio shows that were recapping the Cavs win. Brown, as the de facto representative and patriarch of Cleveland sports, had all the right and expected things to say about Cleveland, the Cavs, and their star LeBron James.

    The interview was not all that interesting, until for some reason the host changed the topic from the Cavs and towards Brown's comments on another former Browns player, running back Trent Richardson. Richardson, as I am sure you do not know, was a highly touted player coming out of college, but for some reason did not translate into a successful, (or even average), NFL player and is not out of the league.

    While many NFL talent scouts and media had picked Richardson for a star in the NFL, Jim Brown himself did not - seeing Richardson as 'nothing special', and never considering him likely to become a star or even a productive NFL player.

    On the talk show, the host asked Brown about Trent Richardson, reminding him that he was one of the only people to correctly predict Richardson would never be able to live up the the high expectations. and would never be a star in the NFL and in response Brown made the following observation, (I am paraphrasing a bit, but the gist of what he said is accurate):

    You know I am not really proud or happy about that prediction, and I was not trying to criticize him at all. I was just telling the truth. And the truth isn't always criticism, sometimes it's just the truth. And that's what it was for him.

    Preach it Jim Brown. 

    I think this little anecdote is worth thinking about and keeping in mind as more and more organizations transition away from the traditional annual performance management/review process and cadence and more towards a more frequent, regular, and lighter weight feedback scheme. 

    More feedback, even if it is the 'truth', (and that is definitely not always the case), increases the opportunities and likelihood for this feedback to be interpreted as criticism, and we all know how much fun being criticized is.

    As we see in the case of Brown's 'truthful' observation about Richardson, the difference between 'criticism' and 'truth' often is only determined by who is talking and who is listening. 

    Wednesday
    Jun152016

    The 8 Man Rotation - 2015 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, the workplace and ultimately winning from watching sports.

    In fact, not only do I believe that to be true, my 8 Man Rotation pals Kris DunnTim SackettLance HaunMatt 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 2015 Season is 106 pages of our best takes in 2015 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.  The 2015 Season I have to confess, was probably our finest season yet.

    Please check out The 2015 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. 

    Friday
    Jun032016

    Just the ball is moving

    I was tempted to drop this post into the 'Wisdom of Jeff Van Gundy' series, but since JVG didn't actually relate the following observation I am going to drop, let's just call this the (unofficial) start of a new series titled 'The Wisdom of Martina Navratilova'.

    Tennis legend Martina was doing the TV commentary of a recent French Open match I was half-watching when one of the players missed an easy volley at the net. The slow-motion replay showed he had (slightly) looked up from the ball coming to his racket, and seemed to look over the net to the spot where he was aiming the shot.

    Here's what Martina said (more or less), after the missed shot and replay:

    He looked where he was going to hit the ball, and that is such a common mistake for regular players, club players, and even the professionals. Of course you want to see where you are going to hit the ball, but the problem is you stop seeing the ball. The court is not moving, just the ball is moving. You have to watch the ball, and that is such an easy mistake to make.

    Fantastic observation from Martina, (who was always my choice before Evert by the way), about not only the importance of concentration, but the need to focus on what really matters, and to let go of the things that are not fundamental or important to what you are trying to accomplish.

    It's kind of a different spin on the old classic advice to focus on the things you can control and not on the ones you can't. In tennis, you need to focus on the very thing you can't control, i.e. the ball, and not spend time on the other thing you also can't control, the court, but the one you can't impact.

    You may not always get the outcome you like, but you can at least try and influence the ball, so you'd better concentrate on that.

    The same idea is likely applicable in many other contexts as well. It makes no sense to fixate on the things that we not only can't control, but we have no ability to change.

     

    Tuesday
    May242016

    The most important relationship on any team

    The most important relationship on any team (work, school, sports - any of them), is the one between the leader (boss, coach, manager), and the best or most talented performer on said team.

    Want some context?

    Check the comments from a recent interview with former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt when asked about his relationship with the Cavs' top player, the legendary LeBron James:

    “The role of the coach is much larger as far as impact and persona,” Blatt said. “It’s much more of a coaches’ show. In the NBA, it’s a players’ show.”

    He also said: “You better be on the same page as your best player. If not, you’re going to be in trouble.”

    Pretty savvy observation from Blatt, who was actually hired by the Cavs prior to LeBron's decision to leave the Miami Heat and return to his hometown club. Once LeBron made his decision to re-join the Cavs, Blatt's job quickly changed from one of developing a young team for the future to one of molding a more veteran club to compete for a championship right now.

    And the key to all of this was LeBron, and how (or if), LeBron and the new to the NBA coach would be able to co-exist.

    Fast forward about 18 months later and we know how things turned out. Blatt, LeBron, and the Cavs lost to the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 NBA finals and midway through the current season, and despite a stellar won-loss record, Blatt was fired by the Cavs.

    Ultimately, Blatt's undoing was his inability to find the optimal common ground between himself and LeBron, the best, most talented, and most charismatic player on the team. On paper, Blatt was 'in charge', but in reality, and by virtue of his talent, track record, and sustained contribution, LeBron was and is the most important member of the Cavs organization. When the organization, (and LeBron), determined that the relationship between Blatt and LeBron was not salvageable, well, Blatt had to go.

    It is probably tempting for managers and leaders to take an approach of treating everyone on the team more or less the same. It seems logical and equitable to spend equal amounts of time and energy on all the team members - making sure no one feels slighted or left out. We are all one team after all, right?

    But as sports in general, and the Blatt - LeBron story in particular remind us, not everyone on the team is actually 'equal'. Some team members contribute to overall team success much more than others. Some team members would be much, much harder to replace should they leave than others. Some team members exert significant influence over the rest of the team, much more than the average team member.

    Any leader's role is at least in part to be fair and honest with every member of the team. But the best leaders also realize that some team members play an outsized role in the overall team's success. And the very best leaders recognize that their relationship with these star performers is likely the most important one that they will have in the organization. 

    That is if they want to succeed, and if they want to ensure they won't end up like our pal David Blatt, on the outside looking in while the Cavs chase the NBA Championship yet again.