Do You Have a Jeremy Lin Hiding Out In Your Organization?

Andy Porter Andy Porter, Interviewing, Sports

What a month it’s been for Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks.  If you’re even a casual basketball observer, you know that he’s gone from being undrafted out of Harvard, cut by 2 NBA teams, about to be cut by the Knicks, sleeping on his brother’s couch, to a world-wide phenom.  Some have been comparing the emergence of Lin to Tebow Mania but they’re totally different.  Tebow was heavily recruited out of high school, won the Heisman Trophy, led the Florida Gators to a BSC Championship and was a first round pick in the NFL draft.  It would be more of a surprise if he wasn’t successful.  Lin?  A long shot at best.  How is it that nobody saw Lin coming?  I bet the two teams that cut him are kicking themselves right about now and are wondering how they missed his talent.  Which leads me to the point of this post:  As HR Pros, how do we uncover the Jeremy Lin’s in our organization before somebody else does?

  1. Throw Out Your Picture of What A Star Should Look Like.  To me this is the biggest lesson an organization can take away from the Lin experience.  If you look back, this kid has been good at every level but since he didn’t look the part, he was passed over.  Since no one had ever seen an Asian-American point guard before, nobody knew what to make of him and he fell through the cracks.  This happens ALL the time in our organizations.  Let’s be honest – most selection processes stink.  They’re largely “hunch” rather than fact-based, rely on what we think we know about what successful employees look like, and are likely to reflect our own personal biases.  As a result, I’d be willing to bet we’ve all let future stars slip through our grasp.  So, what can you do?  Change up your talent evaluation processes on a regular basis – the selection criteria, the interview process and the people involved in hiring.  In addition, you should constantly be looking at “unconventional” people in your organization who are successful to uncover the clues about the early signs of success.
  2. Create Practice Time. A guy like Lin only gets to play meaningful minutes in a game for two reasons.  Injuries leave no one else to play or he kicked ass in practice and caught the attention of the coaches and earned his playing time.  For guys banished to the end of the bench, practice is their game time and they know it.  But in an organizational setting, where do our bench players get the chance to show what they can do and how they’ve improved their craft?  Pretty much no where which is too bad.  I’d be willing to bet a lot of money there are people right under our noses who have really upped their games, but no one knows.  The challenge on us as HR Pros is to help create the space for our employees to show us what they’ve learned in non “game” settings.
  3. Context Matters.  Sometimes all it takes to uncover a star is a change of scenery.  I mean, we’ve all worked on teams in our lives that sucked.  Maybe there were poorly defined goals, bad leadership or incompatible team members, all leading us to the conclusion that everyone on the team must suck.  Then, you break the team up and lo and behold one of the people you thought stunk is now kicking ass!  And all it took was a new situation to help foster their talent.  We know this, but in most organizations, teams or departments become sacred cows and people moving from one team to another is a rare, highly political occurrence.  As a result, we miss the opportunity to see how someone can perform with a different cast.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not Lin will be able to maintain this level of performance once teams get a second look at him and are able to scout his weaknesses.  But he’s earned his shot, and I bet there are some people in our organizations who have earned theirs as well.

Andy Porter
Andy Porter is Chief People Officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, MA which means he works with some wicked smaaht people. Some days, he indeed does wear short shorts around the office(call it a morale booster) but it really just makes people uncomfortable. Other days, he spits some mad game on cheese. No really – he’s somewhat of a cheese aficionado. But more importantly? At Broad he gets to his small part to help change the world of healthcare.