Ex-Employee or Proud Alumni? The Difference Matters…

Steve Boese Culture, Influence, Recruiting, Sports, Steve Boese

What? ANOTHER post on Fistful of Talent about basketball?

Yep.  And if I have anything to say about it (and I don’t), we will eventually require every post to be about basketball and will rename the site to ‘The 8 Man Rotation’.  Chas

Besides, this post isn’t really about basketball but rather about what influences people, especially supremely talented people in their career decisions.

The Ultimate Recruit.

This past summer the sports world was consumed with the ‘Decision’, i.e., the process where the greatest basketball player in the NBA (until Kevin Durant surpasses him), LeBron James, would reveal the NBA team he would sign a free-agent contract with. And with one stroke of the pen, he would transform a team to immediate championship contender status.  This was a high-stakes, high-profile, once in a generation recruiting challenge for the various teams involved in the process. Get this one right, and your reputation, status, and swagger would be forever changed – instead of being just another faceless executive suit, you’d be known as the guy who bagged LeBron, and quite possibly altered the trajectory of the entire organization. Several big-market, big-money teams were in the mix; the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, in particular, were both thought to have a good chance to sign LeBron.

So, you’re the recruiting pro who has to land LeBron, or for your industry whoever is the closest approximation to a talent like LeBron. You have a few problems right off the bat as some levers you’d pull with other candidates won’t work on this one.  He’s rich, and he will continue to rake in huge off the court dough no matter where he goes. All your competitors are willing and able to offer similar comp packages. So you can’t win on money. Location probably doesn’t mean all that much either, after 7 years in Cleveland, pretty much anywhere is an improvement. No, you have to get deeper into the candidate’s mind on this one, get to the motivations and aspirations.

A Recruit’s Influences & The Power of Alums.

You have to figure out what influences the star, and perhaps more importanty, who influences the star. I caught this little tidbit on SI.com yesterday regarding the recruitment of King James:

LeBron James was out dining with friend and former Knicks great Charles Oakley at at Miami’s Prime One Twelve following his preseason game Monday night. Oakley is close to James and urged him not to play for the Knicks. He went as far as saying in June, “I can’t tell him to go to New York. New York treated me bad.”

Ouch. A bit of education for the non hard-core NBA fans out there.  Charles Oakley played for the New York Knicks for 10 seasons out of a 19-year career, retiring for good from the NBA in 2003.  He was traded from the Knicks in 1998, after earning upwards of $15,000,000 in salary over the 10 seasons he spent with the club. He was a durable, reliable, and fiesty player.  A team player. A fan favorite. The kind of guy who in retirement should really have become a brand ambassador, an alumni contact that the organization could tap from time to time, perhaps in situations just like this one, when the best player in the league is available and (at least on the surface), considering joining your team.

But instead of extolling the virtues of New York, the ‘World’s Most Famous Arena’, and the potential of multiple convertible rides down the Canyon of Heroes, Oakley went out of his way to advise his pal LeBron to stay away from the Knicks, since they ‘treated him bad’.  The SI.com piece doesn’t specifically list Oakley’s grievances, but quite honestly it doesn’t matter.  What matters is a well-known, seemingly influential, and well-connected former employee of the organization negatively impacted the most important recruiting initiative the team has had in decades. What matters is that the Knicks executives in charge of the recruiting process either didn’t know or didn’t care that Oakley has an axe to grind with the team, or that he has a close relationship with LeBron.

Ultimately, LeBron chose to ‘take his talents to South Beach’ and sign with the Miami Heat, and while it is impossible to know how much (if at all), Oakley’s bashing of the Knicks influenced LeBron, it can be certain that it could not have helped. Perhaps instead of focusing all their energy on recruiting James, the Knicks talent pros should have spent just a little bit of time showing some love to Oakley.

It is pretty trendy right now to be worried about organizational online reputation and to be closely monitoring blog posts, tweets, and LinkedIn status updates about your employment brand.  But it still seems that the big time, big money, and game changing decisions are more likely to be influenced by connected players in the VIP lounge at upscale restaurants. Who may or may not be sitting with one of your former executives and enjoying the Kobe beef.