Sunday, June 16, 2013

The San Antonio Spurs On Strategy, Culture and Hiring

The first five games of the 2013 NBA Finals have been surprisingly interesting, in light of the fact that the Miami Heat are the defending champions, have the best player in the NBA (LeBron James), had the best record in the NBA and were the favorites to win the championship since the start of the season.  However, the San Antonio Spurs have made the playoffs in each of the last 16 seasons and have won the NBA Championship in 4 of those seasons.  So no one should be surprised that they just won Game 5, took a 3 - 2 series lead, and are one win away from winning their 5th NBA Championship.

This story should be of importance to you because the San Antonio Spurs are a small market team and the only player that was drafted high from a traditional college was Tim Duncan, who is 37 years old and on the tail end of his career.  Of their 30 draft picks since Tim Duncan was drafted #1 in the 1997 NBA Draft, 16 of those picks have been international players.  The San Antonio Spurs have the highest winning percentage of all 4 major sports teams over the past 15 years and the most international players on their roster.  All of this while never having a draft pick higher than #24 since drafting Tim Duncan due to their high winning percentage.

Coach Pop studied Soviet Studies at the Air Force Academy and traveled Eastern Europe early in his coaching career.  Back then there was a stigma on foreign players that they wouldn't speak the NBA language,  wouldn't play defense, and were soft. According to Coach Pop, "I thought that was really ignorant, I couldn't believe that it was a pool that wasn't being used."

Coach Pop has a strategy that relies more on foreign players than any other NBA organization.  A strategy is a way of differentiating yourself to create value.  Foreign players give the San Antonio Spurs a competitive advantage because from their youth foreign players approach the game of basketball differently.  They also play the game of basketball differently, and most importantly when they arrive to the NBA they typically have a different mentality about what it means to play in the NBA and how much effort and selflessness they will put into it.

According to Seth Wickersham at ESPN, "The way the Spurs see it, though, the biggest divide isn't structural but cultural. Something has happened to basketball in the country that invented it, as well-documented as it as irrevocable, driven by money and fame and a generation of players who've learned from watching sharks succeed by imposing their will upon the game rather than by allowing it to come to them."  In business terms, the mentality of foreign born players is more aligned culturally to Popovich's philosophy than the mentality of American born players.

The unintended consequences of the San Antonio Spurs all in approach to foreign players more than 15 years ago is that they have an enormous head start on scouting and recruiting foreign players.  In fact international players are looking forward to joining the Spurs.  In addition, they utilize the unique skills and increased focus on fundamentals that foreign players have to run highly complex screens, rolls and fakes that confuse opponents, for example.  Jared Dubin at the Bleacher Report does a brilliant job of explaining these complex screens.  But what the Spurs really have is an environment that allows the most unique players to create limitless chemistry that other NBA organizations will have a difficult time defeating or duplicating.  All this by finding a talented, under-utilized pool that NBA organizations failed to recognize.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The NFL Top 100 Players of 2013 & 360 Degree Feedback

The NFL Network does an annual ranking of the NFL's top 100 players of the season, in which fellow NFL players rank their peers based on the 2013 season.  This exercise by NFL players is very similar to an annual performance review process in the workplace called 360 degree feedback.  360 degree feedback is a formal performance appraisal process in which employees are given performance feedback by direct reports, peers and supervisors/managers for a given performance year.  The NFL's Top 100 Players of 2013 has started and I have a few rankings that I'd like to discuss.  Players ranked #100 through #41 have been revealed and here are my surprises thus far:

#63 Stephen Tulloch - Detroit Lions
#67 Darrelle Revis - New York Jets (traded to Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
#73 Antonio Gates - San Diego Chargers
#80 Dwight Freeney - Indianapolis Colts (traded to San Diego Chargers)
#85 Charles Woodson - Green Bay Packers (traded to Oakland Raiders)
#91 Troy Polamalu - Pittsburgh Steelers
#94 Daryl Washington - Arizona Cardinals

Let's compare these rankings to their 2012 Fantasy Football Rankings.  Although it may sound silly, Fantasy Football Rankings are highly accurate because fantasy points put a premium on intangibles and statistics that sometimes are ignored on the stat sheet.  For example, if you look at 2012 NFL Statistics on the NFL's or ESPN's websites you'll see that their rankings only consider tackles, interceptions and sacks separately for the purposes of ranking defensive players.  However, Fantasy Football Linebacker Rankings considers tackles, assists, interceptions, sacks, fumble recoveries, passes deflected and touchdowns concurrently by assigning a point value to each item.  Linebackers are then ranked by the total point value.

Based on Fantasy Football Rankings by position, here's what the data shows:

#63 Stephen Tulloch was the 40th best linebacker
#67 Darrelle Revis only played two games and was not on the list, basically he was ranked last for defensive backs
#73 Antonio Gates was the 12th best tight end
#80 Dwight Freeney was 129th best defensive linemen
#85 Charles Woodson was the 142nd best defensive back
#91 Troy Polamalu was the 155th best defensive back
#94 Daryl Washington was the best linebacker

Justin Houston is even surprised by his ranking:

Most critics ague that the Top 100 Players List is a popularity contest.  In addition, rookies, players who are not well known or players who are new to being one of the NFL's best get a lower ranking.  Veterans or players who were once great and no longer are get a higher ranking.  If you are a future Hall of Famer and redefined your position, players struggle to give you a lower ranking if you did not perform well in a given year or did not play enough due to injuries.  They basically judge you based on past performance or what you can do on a given play, not based on sustained performance throughout a given year.  They ignore the negative and focus on potential or the positive.

The problems that are found in the NFL's Top 100 of 2013 rankings are exactly the same problems found with ranking peers, direct reports and supervisors during 360 degree feedback.  It can become a popularity contest as peers collude to get favorable ratings or criticize those they don't like.  Supervisors and employees fall victim to the spillover effect, when an employee's good performance years ago is used as the basis for current ratings; even though the employee is now a poor performer.  Or the employee's poor performance is used as the basis for current ratings, when in fact the employee is currently a good performer.

I'll keep tracking the NFL's Top Players of 2013 and see if it gets any better.  But just like 360 degree feedback, it's unlikely.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Grizzlies Coach Lionel Hollins Shoving Jerryd Bayless Is OK

In Game 4 of the Grizzlies loss to the Spurs that ended their season, Coach Hollins of the Grizzlies slightly shoved player Jerryd Bayless to the bench as he was sitting down.  In the aftermath of the two Rutgers coaching incidents in which coaches were reported as abusing players, this is getting some negative press.  Both Rutgers incidents were uncalled for, but I'm ok with Coach Hollins giving Jerryd Bayless a little shove and Jerryd responding with probably something to nature of, "don't put your hands on me."  Actually I don't know if Jerryd responded that way, but I would've.

Jerryd Bayless clearly blew a defensive assignment, and many of those blown assignments by the Grizzlies are why they were eliminated from the playoffs by the Spurs.  Jerryd deserved to be called out, but hopefully he let his coach know that maybe he slightly crossed the line.  This happens fairly often at the manager level and above in businesses.  The equivalent of that settle shove by Coach Hollins would be your boss calling you out in the weekly manager's meeting for a poor decision.  If you and your boss were both confident and had a work dynamic in which you could fairly aggressively challenge each other without ruining the relationship, you might return the favor to your boss in the meeting, though more passively.  You might respond by commenting that you reviewed the decision with him earlier and he didn't take issue with it at that time.  I would argue that your ability to have this healthy disagreement with your manager would lead to a higher level of results.


Anyone who has read the books, done the research and gotten results at a manager level knows that this is a trait of highly functioning and results oriented teams.  Now the shove is clearly inappropriate in Corporate America, but may be ok with the family business down the street.  When you're playing an all male physical sport at the professional level, with high rewards and high consequences, you might get a shove every once in awhile.  Look at how many fights break out in the NFL during practice, let alone the games.  

Highly effective management teams discuss ideas, projects or plans with honesty, passion and emotion.  Although respect is necessary and required, if you're not willing to fight passionately with other managers regarding decisions that affect your people, then you need to go back to the practice squad.  Ultimately the big boss will have to make the final decision and it surely won't appease everyone.  But if everyone had a chance to voice their opinion and concern with candor, then it's easier to buy in to ultimate decision.  Human Resources along with the leader of the group has to ensure that passionate debate is encouraged and allowed because it results in more effective teams.  More importantly it will result in less managers being silent and not owning decisions in meetings, yet returning to their departments only to undermine and criticize the decision amongst their direct reports.  HR should always figuratively be supporting the "Coach Hollins Slight Shove."

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Managing A Career

It's not difficult to find an article that essential suggest free market capitalism is a flawed system, unless government intervenes and ensures it is not dominated by greedy capitalist who take advantage of the masses.  Or a lawsuit, by perhaps Professional Football players, that asserts that the NFL or Team Doctors committed fraud by not informing players of the risk associated with concussions or head trauma.

Both examples highlight the importance of choices.  Free market capitalism is not a perfect system and needs responsible regulation that encourages choice and competition.  Choice is critical because it empowers society to utilize their purchasing power, or decision to buy or not to buy a product/service, as a way to balance the power of corporations.  Competition is critical to ensure that customers/consumers have products/services from many companies available that align with their needs or values.  Companies that are unethical, harmful to the environment/society, or fail to add value for customers/consumers can effectively be punished by society's choice to purchase from other companies, and competitors' ability to take customers away.  Regulation that discourages monopolies and anti-competitive behaviors and encourage health and safety effectively supports choice and competition.  Any other regulation effectively sends jobs overseas.

Similarly, choice is critical in one's decision to play football.  It's pretty obvious that sustained collisions in the NFL can cause brain damage.  We have evidence from previous football players and boxers that show that without a doubt.  One could imagine that an NFL player could choose not to play in the NFL, or perhaps play in the CFL.  Better yet, players could lobby and support a league that did more to protect a player's safety.  In fairness, a critical component of the NFL lawsuit is whether Team Doctors knowingly misled players or kept details from players regarding the severity of the head injures and potential consequences.  But on the flip side, I doubt any NFL Team Doctor was hired to inform players about the long term consequences of them playing in the NFL.  They were hired to rehabilitate them and extend their careers.  Furthermore, nothing prevented the players from obtaining information regarding the severity and consequences of their head injuries.

As a nation we have a tendency to not focus on the power of choice.  Instead we focus on how every American is entitled to not live in poverty or how every player in the NFL is entitled to safety.  Those are goals that are worth fighting for, but not rights that are just given to you.  You can choose to not live in poverty, but there are choices that must be made in your life that will guarantee that outcome.  In addition, you can choose to not have brain damage, but you may be required to not play in the NFL in order to guarantee that outcome.

So what does this mean for your career? It means take responsibility for it because no one owes you anything.  Most people believe they are entitled to their jobs unless they decide to not show up, harass co-workers or be insubordinate.  Just like they believe they are entitled to not live in poverty or to safety as a professional athlete.  The choice to partake in a capitalist society, play professional football or be an employee entails risk and does not guarantee wealth, safety and job security.  Only making the right choices will guarantee the desired outcomes.  Although there are numerous avenues to avoid responsibility and be a victim in today's society, resist the temptation and manage your career accordingly.  No manager, attorney, politician or union is responsible for your career.  But if you fail to take ownership and fail to make the right choices, you can guarantee that you will always be surpassed by those who do.

Friday, December 14, 2012

ESPN suspends Rob Parker over Robert Griffin III comments - ESPN

ESPN suspends Rob Parker over Robert Griffin III comments - ESPN

Another sad situation, in which Rob Parker, ESPN Analyst, calls Robert Griffin III a "cornball brother" and questions his blackness.  This is just another situation that highlights where we are as a country in terms of race, but ironically this is pushing us forward when it comes to race.  Why?  Because these situations highlight the insecurity that some people have towards their own race, and these people are the forces that continue to perpetuate the assumption that a significant amount of racism still exists.  Those who assume that there are significant amounts of racism, also assume that we must talk about it, address it, call it out, encourage affirmative action, and eventually we'll overcome it.  But, it is these very people who slow the progress down when it comes to advancing beyond race.  We succeed on the "race" front in America when we no longer need to talk about it or mention it.  Not because we're hiding it, but because it is not used in any meaningful way to help or hurt what you can achieve in your life.

Now, there are individuals who exist who are racist, but there are also people who hate homosexuals, Muslims, Christians, unions, the wealthy, etc...  More importantly, there are a lot of reasons in which someone could hate you and it could be based on envy, jealousy, inferiority, or whatever.  But if it doesn't affect your life in any meaningful way, then it's pretty irrelevant.  And, accusing someone of racism without actual evidence to support it is a form of racism itself, because you could be wrong and you are using your own race to control how someone treats, responds to, or judges you.  In other words you are using your race to control them or invalidate them and their interaction with you.  Accusing someone of being racist has a lot of power, and it is exactly why it often misused.

Rob Parker didn't accuse anyone of being a racist.  But he did acknowledge that he has a stereotype of what "blackness" really means.  That's not necessarily a problem, but I wonder what he would call someone who isn't black that also has a stereotype for what "blackness" really means.  I have a guess...

Check out the video by clicking the link:

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bringing the Apple jobs back home -

Interesting article about what Apple bringing jobs back to America means for China and labor unions. This is very positive for the U.S. economy...

Bringing the Apple jobs back home -

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Motivation: Would You Crawl Across The Finish Line?

Today 1 + 1 = 2, because I have 1 question, 1 video and 2 lessons.


Would you crawl across the finish line?


Girl Crawls To Finish In Honor Of Coach - Watch more Sports

Lesson #1:

There's a reason why the head coach of this girls cross country team has won 7 state championships.  There's a lot to be said about motivation and influence from watching this video.  You become motivated when the vision and goals become a reflection of who you are.  In other words whether or not you crawl across the finish line depends on what you feel finishing (or not finishing) the race will say about you as a person. 

Lesson #2:

The decision to cross the finish line, no matter what, was a very conscious decision that started far before the race began.  That's evident by the fact that she was dehydrated, disoriented, suffering from light hypothermia from the cold and wet conditions, needed serious medical attention, and not capable of making a rational decision to finish the race yet found a way to finish it anyway.  Reynolds stated that she didn't remember falling, but remembered crossing the finish line.  Her body and mind were clearly telling her to stop, yet her heart was saying something different.  In other words you already know whether you would crawl across the finish line or not.  Don't kid yourself into thinking you can replicate what this girl did.  Chances are that you can't and you won't.

16 year old Holland Reynolds is the best runner on her University High School cross country team and this effort helped them to win another State Championship.

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