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    Entries in talent (35)


    At ESPN Product beats Talent

    Recently cable sports behemoth ESPN, which likes to bill itself as 'The Worldwide Leader in Sports', announced on its website that it was not renewing the contract of well-known personality Keith Olbermann, who has had a long and checkered relationship with the network.  This announcement follows fairly closely on the heels of ESPN deciding to not renew the contract of perhaps the network's most high-profile individual talent, Bill Simmons, editor of the sports and culture website Grantland, and host of the most popular sports podcast, The BS Report. In both cases, the network executives elected to move on without these high visibility, high maintenance, and high compensation performers for a couple of reasons, one more interesting than the other.Simmons, enjoying his time off

    At first glance these moves are straight up cost-cutting measures. It has been widely reported that ESPN's parent, Disney Corp, is looking for significant cost cuts at ESPN, as the sports division has seen a pretty dramatic increase in costs, primarily the rights fees it has to pay to sports leagues like the NFL and NBA for the rights to broadcast games. Increasingly in the heavily fragmented and competitive world of entertainment, particularly TV, live sports games, (along with awards shows), remain one of the very few types of TV shows that require and generate 'live' viewing. Therefore the value of these games has skyrocketed, the leagues recognize this, and are justifiably getting literally billions of dollars of fee increased from cable and broadcast networks for the rights. So, ESPN costs are going up, people like Olbemann and Simmons represent lots of salary costs, so simple math makes (and made), them both vulnerable.

    But the other reason the two personalities were jettisoned is perhaps more interesting and instructive to the rest of us. ESPN, as we can see from the sports rights fees issues above, is essentially in the business of broadcasting live sports events - NFL game, NBA games, MLB games, etc. That is the 'product' they provide to their audience and sell to their advertisers, and as we see above, pay tremendous and increasing fees to acquire. Everything has to be about generating an adequate return on those investments. People like Simmons and Olbermann, (and hundreds of others at ESPN), exist mainly to enhance the product - talk about the games, analyze the strategies, provide insight to the outcomes, and be entertaining while doing all of these things. But none of those things are the actual product - they only support the product. Simmons and Olbermann are more or less the back office, while the folks that acquire and produce the games, (and sell the ads), are the revenue generators. 

    Simmons and Olbermann are (mostly) Genral and Administrative costs to be trimmed, not significant Top Line drivers, (it has been reported that Grantland has never been profitable and podcasts, even Simmons' are notoriously difficult to monetize, and Olbermann's show was not a big revenue producer).

    And when you are G&A, no matter how funny and glib and well-known, your heads are always going to be first up on the chopping block when budget cuts are looming. You have to understand where you fit in the organization, not just on the org chart, but on the Income Statement.

    At ESPN, and I suppose where you work too, Product drives the Top Line. Not all talent does however. And good luck to folks who can't tell the difference.


    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!


    TALENT ASSESSMENT TIP: Watch out for 'soft' eyes

    The NBA Draft is tonight!  Aside, if you follow me on Twitter at @SteveBoese, be forewarned that there will likely be a flurry of NBA Draft tweets starting at about 8PM ET tonight.

    As I am sure I have previously covered on the blog here and over at Fistful of Talent, professional sports drafts offer up extraordinary amounts of interest and intrigue and insights about recruiting and talent management that remain relevant for HR/Talent professionals everywhere.

    Team management, coaching staffs, and professional talent assessors all spend months evaluating the top playing prospects coming out of college and the European (and other) professional leagues. The teams spend ages watching the players in game video, measure all manner of player's physical attributes, (down to things like hand size), and often will schedule in-depth personal interviews to try to get a better feel for a potential player's likelihood for success in the NBA.

    But even after all of this analysis of the player's actual performance in actual games, their 'measurables' like height, speed, jumping ability, etc., and 1-1 interviews, AND in a sport that has embraced advanced statistical analyses more so than any other in order to assess performance and shape strategy, there remains some let's just say odd ways to judge talent.

    On one of the many sports talk radio shows I listened to in advance of tonight's draft, one of the network's 'expert' basketball analysts warned against drafting one particular prospect, a 7-footer from Latvia named Kristaps Porzingis

    This expert's objections to a team using a high draft pick on Porzingis didn't mention lack of ability to shoot or to pass, didn't mention some specific physical limitation the Latvian has that would make him unlikely to succeed in the NBA, nor bring up anything at all related to how data and statistical review of his game led to this negative assessment.

    No, the main objective of this particular expert talent evaluator was, according to him, that Porzingis has 'soft' eyes. 

    The host of the show was a little taken aback by the comment, and asked the expert to elaborate. The expert said, and I am paraphrasing here, was that when he gazed at Porzingis he doesn't see a look that convinces him that Porzingis will want to work hard and compete at the extreme levels of intensity the NBA requires. In other words, Porzingis didn't have the proverbial 'Eye of the Tiger', but rather he had 'soft' eyes, and thus will never make it in the NBA.

    The host of the show, still a little dumbfounded by this kind of talent assessment, eventually let the point go and moved on, but you could tell he remained unsure of the predictive ability of the expert's 'soft' eye test.

    The relevance of this little tale for the rest of us?

    That you may have a sophisticated candidate assessment tool, a success profile you have developed from analysis of top performers, and a structured and sound interviewing process designed to consistently identify the best candidate for a position.

    You may have all of that, but if you run into a decision maker with their own version of the 'soft eyes' test then all your data, and process, and structure could be in jeopardy.

    It will be interesting to see where Porzigins and his soft eyes end up getting selected tonight. With my luck, the 'expert' will be right in his assessment and Porzingis will end up failing for my Knicks. 


    The culture of performance and firing by form letter

    Super look at just one of the ways that a 'performance is the only thing that matters' culture that is professional American football manifests itself over at Deadspin last week in the piece This is the the letter you get when you are cut from an NFL team.

    Take a look at a typical player termination letter from one of the league's clubs, the Houston Texans:

    A couple of things about the letter, and then i am out for the rest of a summer Monday.

    1. First up, in a really hands-on job like 'NFL Player', physical ability to perform issues are number 1 and 2 on the 5 possible termination reasons. For the rest of us who are not NFL players, this could equate to keeping up our skills, learning new ones as business and technology shifts, and importantly, not 'faking' it in terms of what we say we can do.

    2. Reason 3, and the one that this example from 2006 shows, says basically, 'You are just not good enough, i.e., the other guys on the team are better'. No details, no wordy explanations or nuances. Just a cut and dried 'You're not good enough.' That's cold, but again, completely aligned with the organizational values and culture. Performance trumps everything. Want a high-performance culture? Then you have to be ruthless in trimming the organization of people who don't meet the standard. And you as a leader can't let it bother you too much either.

    3. The organization also has a broad right to terminate you for 'personal conduct that adversely affects or reflects on the club'. Heck, that could be just about anything, since it is the club who gets to evaluate the 'impact' of your behavior. In other words, we (mostly) care about your physical condition and your performance, but we can fire your butt for just about anything we want at any time. Heck, that sounds a lot like many of the places us 'normals' work too. Employment at will is a great deal for sure. Until you get fired, well, just 'because.'

    Hiring, promoting, rewards, and even terminations all play a big role in defining, supporting, and communicating an organization's values and culture. If you are going to go all-in on high performance, well, you need to remember the dark side of that decision too.

    And firing by form letter is one example of that.

    Have a great week!


    A different view of 'Top' talent, namely that it is mostly a myth

    Caught this piece, The programming talent myth', over the weekend and if you are in the technology space at all (as a techie yourself, someone who has to attract and recruit tech talent, or simply just someone who is concerned/interested with the 'state' of technology today (particularly when it comes to issues of diversity and inclusion)), then you should carve out 15 or so minutes today or soon and give the piece a read.

    It is essentially a summary of a recent keynote speech at a developer's event called PyCon given by Jacob Kaplan-Moss, a well-known contributor to the programming language Django and the director of security at Heroku.

    In the speech Kaplan-Ross took square aim at the concept of 'Top' technical talent, (although I would argue his logic would apply to other disciplines as well), and how the dangerous myth of the 'Rock Star' programmer and the terrible programmer (with nothing really in between these extremes), is detrimental on all kinds of levels. It drives people out of technical careers and studies - if you are not a 'Rock Star' you might as well not even bother. It continues to foster and support less-than-healthy norms and lifestyles - 'Rock Star' programmers work 80+ hours a week and don't think of anything other than programming. And finally, it feeds in to what can easily develop into that 'Bro culture' that is common in many smaller startups and tech companies.

    Here is a little piece from the talk:

    Programmers like to think they work in a field that is logical and analytical, but the truth is that there is no way to even talk about programming ability in a systematic way. When humans don't have any data, they make up stories, but those stories are simplistic and stereotyped. So, we say that people "suck at programming" or that they "rock at programming", without leaving any room for those in between. Everyone is either an amazing programmer or "a worthless use of a seat".

    But that would mean that programming skill is somehow distributed on a U-shaped curve. Most people are at one end or the other, which doesn't make much sense. Presumably, people learn throughout their careers, so how would they go from absolutely terrible to wonderful without traversing the middle ground? Since there are only two narratives possible, that is why most people would place him in the "amazing programmer" bucket. He is associated with Django, which makes the crappy programmer label unlikely, so people naturally choose the other.

    But, if you could measure programming ability somehow, its curve would look like the normal distribution. Most people are average at most things.

    It makes sense if you think of programming as not some mystical endeavor that somehow one is innately born with the talent for or is not. If you see programming and other technical occupations as just ones consisting of a set of skills and capabilities that can be learned over time, (like just about every other skill), then the idea of programming talent and programmers existing on a more normal distribution curve seems the most likely outcome.

    One last quote from the piece:

    The tech industry is rife with sexism, racism, homophobia, and discrimination. It is a multi-faceted problem, and there isn't a single cause, but the talent myth is part of the problem. In our industry, we recast the talent myth as "the myth of the brilliant asshole", he said. This is the "10x programmer" who is so good at his job that people have to work with him even though his behavior is toxic. In reality, given the normal distribution, it's likely that these people aren't actually exceptional, but even if you grant that they are, how many developers does a 10x programmer have to drive away before it is a wash?

    How much does the 'Rock Star' mentality and assumption play in to toxic workplaces, less inclusive workforces, and unfulfilled 'Good, but not a Rock Star' people?

    It is a really interesting piece, and Kaplan-Ross' speech is also on YouTube here, and I recommend checking it out.