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November 2010 Newsletter

Talent Acquisition is Half the Battle:

Just Look at the Miami Heat’s Dream Three

  Last spring the Miami Heat basketball team was the envy of the NBA. They had just landed three potential hall of fame players— Chris Bosh, Lebron James, and Dwayne Wade. The conventional wisdom was that they were a favorite to enter the playoffs and even win this season’s championship.  As the 2010-2011 basketball season unfolds (and we still very early into it), the Miami Heat is not in the running. They are firmly a middling team in their division and the league as a whole.

 So, what are the lessons for organizations in acquiring very talented people?

 First, even the most talented people need to have a good process of assimilation into a new organization.   They must become acculturated to the way the organization operates. Simply having the right skills and abilities to perform a job aren’t enough, especially if you have to work as part of a team. This is true for basketball players, as well as front line employees, managers and executives.  

 One of the major reasons newly hired executive don’t work out is because they fail to integrate well into the existing leadership team.  There is a time period that a new team member needs to learn the culture and how to “dance with the other members”.  Oftentimes, this dance is not smooth with toes being stepped on until both the new member and the old members are in sync with the cultural rhythm of organization.  When the dance becomes too painful the new member either voluntarily or involuntarily leaves the team. Regardless of how this happens, it is costly mistake.

 Another aspect of relying only on raw talent to be productive simply due to their capabilities is the failure to attend to the established group productivity and attitudinal norms. I have seen this often where clients want to improve the quality of hires in order to improve productivity.  This works by itself if existing work groups have adopted high performance norm. But it fails to realize its potential if the work group norms are more towards low performance or negative employee attitudes.

 While we have been successful in attracting and hiring people with stronger skills sets than the current employee population, we have found that, over time, these new employees adopt the dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors of the older employees.  In a study we conducted some years ago it took about 18 months for the new employees to pattern their work attitudes to those of the longer tenured workforce. Thus, a year and half later those newly hired, highly skilled and motivated employees became just like the older, lower motivated employees.

 Breaking this cycle is hard.  It requires planned and thoughtful interventions. It is working with work teams, leaders and individual employees to break long held beliefs and behavior patterns. It then requires the establishment of preferred attitudes and behaviors and getting them to stick.  Typical techniques used to accomplish this fall into the areas of organizational and workgroup assessment, training and teambuilding, and changes in management practices.

 Coach Spoelstra’s job with the Miami Heat is not skill building, but fundamental team building-- getting these highly talented people to work better as a team.   Similarly, leaders and managers who rely on their talent acquisition group to improve workforce productivity without being a great teambuilding coach will only see these expensive acquisitions fail to reach their full potential.

 To read previous Pragmatic Thoughts Newsletters click here

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