Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pacquiao vs. Bradley: Performance Management Lessons

By now anyone who cares has seen the controversial Pacquiao vs. Bradley fight.  Most, if not all pundits feel that Pacquiao was robbed by the judges in a split decision loss to challenger Timothy Bradley.  But upon closer examination, they may want to reconsider.

Boxing is probably the most subjective sport on the planet.  Boxers are typically given 10 points for winning a round and 9 points for losing a round.  Occasionally a lost round results in 8 points, but I've never seen anything less than 8 points.  The point value creates the appearance of objectivity and accuracy, but it really has no logic behind it.  The rounds might as well be scored as a win or loss since points 1 through 7 are never given to fighters of the losing round.  Furthermore, why is 8 given out versus 9 at times?  Obviously it's because if the boxer loses the round handily, for example by getting knocked out several times during the round, then the judges use the 8 point option.  The bigger problem in boxing is the amount of subjectivity and opinions utilized during the round.  Unlike football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer, tennis, golf, wrestling (you get my point), there is no easy commonly understood way to score actions.  In boxing every action other than knockouts and penalties, which occur rarely, has no understood way of assessing.  A punch does not have a designated point value, and there's no way to differentiate between a jab vs. a power punch on the scorecard.  We leave up to judges to decide, which is why boxing has a long tradition of fixing and foul play. 

In the Pacquiao vs. Bradley fight, Manny Pacquiao basically coasted for the first two minutes of every round and dominated the last minute of the round.  When Manny would throw his flurry of impressive punches from every angle in the last minute the crowd would erupt and the announcers repeatedly commented on Bradley's inability to stop Pacquiao's punches.  In addition, the announcers continued to state how much more power Pacquiao's punches had compared to Bradley's.  On the surface, Pacquiao appeared to dominate because we know his track record as one of the greatest fighters of all time, we have been in awe of his punching power and accurate angles in the past, and when he dominated the last minute of each round it met our expectation of Manny being a better fighter than Bradley.  The problem is there was no objective way to assess anything that was previously mentioned, due to boxing subjectivity, and the fact that past performance does not guide or predict current actions.  For example, although the perception was that Pacquiao had superior power during the fight, Bradley had no cuts or bruises, no blood was visible and he never got knocked out.  Call me strange, but that's the only way to objectively asses punching power.  And although Pacquiao was the more accurate puncher throughout the fight, Bradley was the more active fighter.  He gave 100% throughout the entire fight and took everything that the greatest fighter in the world threw at him.  This definitely swayed the judges, not to mention the fact that they may have perceived Pacquiao's tendency to coast for 67% of the fight as a cocky and lazy.

For me these dynamics are painfully familiar to me in something we define in the business world as performance management.  Like boxing performance management is extremely subjective and unlike other aspects of business is very difficult to accurately asses and quantify.  In boxing some people value speed and accuracy and others value power and toughness.  In performance management, some people value thoroughness and attention to detail and others value speed and execution.  Typically in performance management high performers who wowed us in the past or closed the huge deal in our companies, get the benefit of the doubt long after the impact of their success has faded.  We see sprinkles of brilliance from high performers and it reminds us of their excellence in the past.  When we compare them to high potentials, we give them the edge because, regardless if they are displaying dominance at the exact moment, we know they have it and we trust that we'll see it in the future.  Sound familiar?

Unfortunately this a very common occurrence in business and sends the wrong message to high performers and high potentials.  It tells high performers that if the knock it out the park once they can coast for awhile until others notice.  For high potentials it demotivates them when they out-work their peers and they are not recognized for the effort.  The Pacquiao vs Bradley fight displayed the performance management challenges that leaders have to face regularly, but unlike business leaders I think the boxing judges may have gotten this performance management dilemma correct. 

So who really won the Pacquiao vs. Bradley fight? The more important question is who is really winning the fight in your organizations?

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