Employee Engagement

Swish! 5 Talent Lessons I’ve Already Learned From the NCAA Tournament This March

By

Paycom Blog Contributor

| Mar 21, 2018

If you’re like me, you’re involved in the NCAA Tournament in some form or fashion. If you’re not actively watching the games, you are connected to the spectacle in one of two ways:

You filled out a bracket.

It’s team-building 101 in many organizations and goes something like this:

  • You complete your bracket.
  • It gets busted in the first weekend (meaning you have no chance to win after the first two rounds).
  • Then the inevitable happens: Someone with zero knowledge of basketball leads your office pool and just gives you a shrug when you ask about their secret. (Their secret, by the way, is that they don’t overestimate their knowledge of college basketball.)

You connected to the tournament via the inevitable Cinderella story.

This year’s Cinderella stories in are many, but none are better than history’s first No. 16 seed, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, knocking off a No. 1 seed, University of Virginia. If you didn’t hear about that upset, chances are you live under a rock and consume no media whatsoever. The upset was so perfect that Final Four legend turned color commentator Chris Weber noted that UMBC could stand for “U Must Be Cinderella.” Corny? Yes. Perfect? Also yes.

Swish! 8 Engagement Strategies to Drive Game Winning Performance, a bracketology webinar for management styles! 

Watercooler chat about basketball is hard to avoid in the month of March, and it’s also hard for HR pros like me to avoid turning it into a learning opportunity. With that in mind, here are five talent lessons I learned from the first weekend of The Big Dance:

1. Uniqueness wins because it’s hard to prepare for.

Whether it’s hoops or business, being different from others means you’re hard to prepare for. Syracuse deploys a defensive scheme called the 2-3 zone, while most other schools use a man-to-man approach. That means they are hard to prepare for, which was key when knocking off one of the tourney favorites, Michigan State. When you have a strategic plan that’s different than your competitors and the talent to pull it off, your organization will get unexpected wins – simply because you look and feel different from others.

2. Conservative approaches decrease your margin for error.

UMBC’s aforementioned upset of Virginia is a great example of this truth. The UMBC Retrievers play a conservative style on both offense and defense; they aren’t incredibly talented, but they execute their base strategy very well. That conservative approach wins a lot, but in a “lose one game and you’re out” type of environment, it can be deadly. The other team gets hot, and suddenly, you’re out.

The moral of the story? Even if you have a great team, never stop trying to upgrade the talent you have. Conservative approaches in basketball (the “grinding out wins” mentality) are used because they are the best way to win with average talent. The same thing is true in business.

3. Great individual talent can overcome huge disadvantages in company size and resources.

If you ever find yourself going up against Microsoft, Google or whoever the 800-pound gorilla is in your industry, never forget that a key hire with high talent can help you win more than your share, regardless of the product or service you’re providing. This is shown to be true time and time again in this month’s tournament. Whether it’s UMBC beating Virginia, or Buffalo taking down Arizona, once you step onto the court, only five players can play. Get yourself some great talent and unbelievable things can happen.

4. Matchups matter a lot – whether you’re competing on the court or responding to an RFP.

Every project, implementation or sales pitch is different. The most successful companies have managers who know how to get the most out of human capital – and tweak their approach based on the client or prospect in front of them. The most successful coaches do the same thing: Create new plans for each game, based on the challenges that are presented.

5. Great leadership is easy when you win, but more valuable when you lose.

It’s easy to look great as a coach when you win. But take a look at this compelling video of Virginia coach Tony Bennett after the UMBC loss. Being able to console your team members and show them the way forward after a crushing defeat, layoff or other negative event is key. Bennett does this with grace, which means he’s teaching and supporting in a way that transcends the game at hand. Your best managers do the same.

Every year, I’m reminded how much commonality there is between the NCAA Tourney and our lives as talent professionals.

I just wish my bracket weren’t busted after the first weekend.

Blog Author: Kris Dunn

Kris Dunn is a partner and CHRO at the Atlanta-based Kinetix, a national recruitment process outsourcing firm for growth companies. He is the founder of two industry-leading blogs – Fistful of Talent and The HR Capitalist – and has written more than 70 feature columns for Workforce Management magazine. He previously served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular.