March Madness: Look Beyond “One Shining Moment” for Lasting Results

This is the time of year when sports fans pay attention to college basketball: The NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament – a.k.a. “March Madness” – officially kicks off with the “First Four” on March 15 and wraps up with the traditional playing of the song, “One Shining Moment,” at the end of the championship game on April 4.

While no team will enter the tourney with a dominating record, Villanova and Kansas have certainly had great seasons. It’s also interesting to note that the two teams have relied on experienced talent: Villanova has eight juniors and seniors on its 14-member roster, and Kansas has 10 juniors and seniors among its 16 players. In addition, juniors and seniors have served as the top three scorers for both Villanova and Kansas for much of the season.

Not all programs go about team-building in the same manner. Take the University of Kentucky and its head coach John Calipari, who is famous for targeting what are called “one and done” high school stars – blue-chip athletes who play at Kentucky during their freshman year, then leave for the NBA. Last season, however, Kentucky came to the tournament with a perfect record but lost in the Final Four to a far more experienced Wisconsin squad. And while Duke won the championship last year primarily with freshman superstars, the two prior winners – Connecticut and Louisville – were led by upperclassmen.

This demonstrates that winning schools don’t always build their programs with “elite” blue-chippers. Many prefer high schoolers who perform just under that level but are more likely to play three or four years, to derive longer-term value. Organizational HR/talent management executives should consider a similar approach. Why? Because, in recruitment, there’s a risk in focusing solely on job candidates from the most exclusive and high-profile colleges and universities. Frequently, these candidates join a company to earn some impressive resume bullet points quickly, and then immediately move on to the highest bidder.

For example, I once worked with an HR department which encountered this. Its managers sought graduates coming out of top-tier schools with 4.0 GPAs, and they were thrilled when they landed these grads, thinking they had “won” the recruitment game. But they were wrong. The 4.0 graduates only lasted with the organization for a short time before (to borrow a famous quote from NBA star LeBron James) “taking their talents” elsewhere. Through analytics, I was able to show the department that it was getting more out of its 3.2 GPA college grads because these employees stayed for years while earning superior performance reviews. Within a reasonable period, the same staffers developed as key leaders.

The lesson learned: Vision and analytics must come together to implement a talent management strategy that fosters a “game plan” of lasting, continuous improvement, bringing the following benefits.

Continuity. With analytics, you assess the traits of candidates who are likely to remain with an employer while meeting or exceeding performance expectations. Which schools do they come from? What are their GPAs? What academic and community activities do they participate in? Where did they serve as interns? Then, you deploy analytics to determine which onboarding, training, mentorship and other support programs help these employees succeed. To extend needed continuity, allow analytics to predict when key contributors are likely to retire, so you can plan ahead to replace their skill sets. Thus, you recruit and develop an indefinitely stable and productive workforce.

Investment/ROI. Since you’re not seeking “one and dones,” you’ll reap the rewards of employees that will hopefully stay with your organization for longer than average. While you still need to keep recruiting and remain on the lookout for top talent, you’ll gain the most bang for your recruitment investment, and not waste onboarding and training costs for people that won’t stay around.

Leadership. Once again, pure talent doesn’t automatically translate to a “title.” Plenty of “Cinderellas” make an impact in the “Big Dance” of college basketball, like George Mason’s Final Four season in 2006, or Butler’s back-to-back finals appearances in 2010 and 2011. Leadership has proven essential here, enabling a team to rise above its collective skill level. At your organization, talent management analytics can help you gain a competitive edge via the intangible but still critical component of leadership. First, analytics can identify the common characteristics of leaders, involving factors such as productivity, performance quality, and engagement levels. Then, you accelerate their progress through training. Hence, you nurture an environment in which expectations for everyone – both leaders and the staffers they inspire to do better – are surpassed.

In talent management, there are all kinds of ways to “win the big one.” But do you want to do so through a repetitive, time-consuming – and expensive – “one and done” model? By taking advantage of analytics to align recruitment/development to long-term strategies, your organization will prosper in a lasting, impactful way, at a significantly lowered cost.

After all, why settle for “One Shining Moment” when you can enjoy success – over and over again?

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