Working With Fallen Angels

Ever since the passing of the legendary New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner in 2010, probably the most interesting owner in all of USA-based professional sports is Mark Cuban, the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.

Cuban made his fortune, (a prerequisite for professional sports franchise ownership these days), in the early days of the internet, selling his company at the height of Dotcom frenzy to Yahoo for $5.9 billion (yes, that is billion with a ‘B’), in Yahoo stock. He purchased controlling interest in the Mavericks in early 2000, and since then has been at times the league’s biggest cheerleader, critic, and informal spokesperson. He has also become committed to building his organization around some core guiding principles – the HR/Talent pros reading this would probably call it company culture I suppose.

This past week in a lengthy post titled Let’s Talk Mavs #MFFL, on his Blog Maverick site, Cuban opened up to the team’s fans, and really the public in general about many of the options, thought processes, and eventual decisions that the team made as they attempted to re-make the roster in the aftermath of the NBA Championship they won in the spring of 2011, the ‘lockout’ shortened season of 2011/2, as well as the recently concluded 2012/3 season and the ensuing scramble to make deals and sign new players.

Now I don’t expect the average FOT reader to be all that interested in the intricacies of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement with the player’s association, or the strengths and weaknesses of specific players, but for the HR/Talent pro there is lots to learn from Cuban’s approach to building and caring for his organization, and his willingness to be as open and transparent about the process.

So here’s the point, or perhaps more accurately the questions that I want to pose to FOT

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Nation culled from Cuban’s piece, about whether or not you see your organization (or should see your organization), as a place where the right people can perform even better than they have in other settings, or earlier in their careers. Or are you largely assessing candidate’s ability to perform based almost totally on how they have performed in these past settings, that may or may not be comparable to yours?

For an interesting take on this, check this excerpt from Let’s Talk Mavs #MFFL where Cuban is discussing evaluation of potential new Mavericks players, (or in your terms, ‘Recruiting’), to get the gist:

We also feel like we have some players that will be far better on our team than they were on previous teams. I like our ability to work with what I call “fallen angels”. Players who are traded or left unsigned because everyone in the league thinks that they can only be the player they saw in another organization.

We have taken players like Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse, Brandon Wright, Tyson Chandler and you can even say Vince Carter among others that were perceived as having this problem or that problem and had them contribute in new ways that were beyond what the “experts” expected.

We pay less attention to what they did in their last system than what we believe they will do in our system with our group of players. We are not always successful as last year pointed out, but we have a good track record.

In 2011 and 2012 you could not swing a cat at an HR/Talent conference without someone going on about ‘Moneyball’ and the lessons we as talent pros needed to take from that story and had to try and apply in our organizations. But where almost all of these ‘Moneyball’ analyses missed the mark was in their conclusion that the real lesson was to apply more metrics and statistical approaches to talent management. If we just had more data about people, it almost didn’t matter what data, we’d make smarter talent management decisions and FINALLY get some respect from the CFO and CEO.

But ‘Moneyball’ really wasn’t about that, at least not fundamentally. The lesson was that the way to ‘win’ in an unfair game (one where your competition had significantly larger financial resources), was to figure out which assets were undervalued and acquire more of them, and which ones were overvalued, and sell them to the competition, (or simply cut them loose).

So back to Mark Cuban.

In evaluating potential new players based not only on what they have done for other clubs, (information every other team also has access to, and is therefore not a competitive advantage for anyone), and assessing their specific potential value to the Mavericks, and by building an internal system and culture where they believe the right players can actually improve, Cuban is playing a form of Moneyball recruiting as well, one not just based on the numbers. It is based on the rest of the market undervaluing talent that Cuban knows can thrive if put in the right setting.

I will repeat the questions then – Do you see your organization as a place where the right people can perform even better than they have in other settings, or earlier in their careers?

Or are you largely assessing candidate’s ability to perform based almost totally on how they have performed in these past settings, that may or may not be comparable to yours?

Is your shop a place for these ‘fallen angels?

FOT Background Check

Steve Boese
Steve Boese is fondly known to many as the HR Technology blogger. By day, he is the Co-Chair of Human Resource Executive's HR Technology Conference. He is also a former Director of Talent Management Strategy at Oracle and an HR Technology instructor. Steve can also be found hosting the HR Happy Hour Show and Podcast … you know, where a bunch of HR pros get together and call in to talk about HR stuff. Sounds like an SNL skit, we know. But when you have Dave Ulrich, the grandfather of HR as show guests, well, I guess you’re doing something right.  Talk to Steve via emailLinkedInTwitter or Facebook.


  1. kd says:

    Hi Steve –

    It’s easier to say that we like the idea of Fallen Angels than it is to put it into practice, right?

    For example, what is it about our company, our system, whatever – that allows a Fallen Angel to pick it up and thrive. Does Cuban know what that secret sauce is for the Mavs?

    Love the idea. Have a hard time framing what type of Fallen Angel would work in our shop. I suspect it’s like anything – if the talent is strong enough in any area, companies and orgs will give the talent a 2nd or 3rd chance.


  2. Steve Boese says:

    I think you have to know what works in your own shop just as much as what you think makes for a good candidate – more in the general sense. The basketball analogy doesn’t always work for talent in the real world I admit, but this time I think it does. Every team plays the same game, the rules are the same, but the good teams at least have a certain style of play and a philosophy and culture that is unique to them. Every company has staff accountants, people in purchasing, sales people, who all do the same, general job but each company will also have their own unique approach to how they do those jobs. So if you can figure out what traits or holes in a resume that made someone fail, or at least not be a star, somewhere else that really don’t matter in your shop, then you can make it work with a fallen angel type. I agree though, much easier said than done.

  3. enigmaticsoul says:

    Jackpot!! Nicely done. Environment does affect results. There are some places that bring out qualities in people that were in hibernation in past companies. I’m thrilled that you addressed this area from a different perspective. On paper, the past can look unstable but present application in new areas can be reviving and refreshing.

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