What is a Baller?

Paul Hebert Career Paths, Communication, Employee Coaching, Employee Communications, Engagement and Satisfaction, Good HR, Paul Hebert, Performance, Work Life Balance

If you hang around the FOT water cooler enough you’re bound to run into a few sports terms now and then.  Baller is one of those.  Originally used to reference a street basketball player who makes it big and goes pro now it is used to reference just about anyone who is extremely proficient at the game – whether business or sports.

Steve Jobs was a baller.

Bernie Madoff is not.

Fellow FOT-er Kris Dunn posted on the HRCapitalist last week about ballers.  He talked about going above and beyond and put it in the context of the recent $1 Billion (insert best Dr. Evil impression here) Facebook acquisition of Instagram.  His point was that even if you try to have work/life balance “ballers” are connected even when home; they don’t completely disconnect.

We can argue what is right and what isn’t as it relates to work/life balance but what struck me in the post is that we like to talk about high-performers (“ballers”) but we do a lousy job of really defining what a “baller” looks like.

Define It

If my experience is the same as many of you reading this post – we talk a lot about hi-pos and we can point to them and say – “that’s a baller.”  But we don’t do a good job of explaining what the behaviors are that make someone a baller.

I’ve done a few performance reviews in my life.  I’ve rated staffers below, middle, high.  Most of them were uneventful but a few years back I got a lesson in management from one of my direct reports during a review.

I rated the person – 3.5 out of 5 – the ultimate cop-out.  Not in the middle but far enough from the top to keep from having to use up all my raise money on one person.  The person reviewed what I had put in the review. We reviewed what she had put in her “self-review” and we were in agreement.  Then she says…

“So, what do I have to do to be a “5?”

I started going through what I suppose every manager goes through –“You need to increase your attention to detail, be more aware of what goes on in the industry, know what people in Accounts Payable do, etc., etc.”  All good stuff in my mind.

Her response… “No. What do I have to ‘DO’, what does a ‘5?’ do differently?”

I could have gone the easy route and said that “5’s” don’t need to be told what a “5” does.  And to a degree that’s true.  But the real answer was I hadn’t boiled it down to behaviors in my own mind.  I was using that old management crutch – “I know it when I see it.”

What Does Air Look Like?

Too often we go the easy route and say things like “Be more proactive.”  The reality is that unless you can point to specific things the hi-pos are doing then you’re doing all the 3.5’s out there a disservice.

It is critical that managers understand what makes a hi-po a hi-po – and no cheat codes like “I’ll know it when I see it.”

I took the lesson well.  I went back to my office and when through the job description and point by point I outlined the behaviors I would expect for each job responsibility and did it with respect to the rating.  From 1 -5, I had specific behaviors outlined required for each job function and each rating.  It took time.

When I was done however, I knew what to look for and more importantly, there was no confusion on my team who a “baller” was and who was a thug.

Creating 6’s

And you know what – when they started acting in the way “5’s” act, they stopped needing to see the specific behaviors I outlined.  They started acting like “6’s.”

So I ask you – do you know who a baller is on your team?  Can you tell them what it will take to be a baller?  Specifically?

Can you tell them it means reading a minimum of 5 industry rags and providing the team with short reviews?  Can you tell them it means getting their SPHR or some other certification without being told?  Can you tell them it means, that yeah, I expect you to see the email at 7:30 pm (or soon after)?

Some will say that this is more about telling people what to do but I think it is more about managers really understanding what they find valuable on their team and communicating it effectively so that they can actually meet and exceed expectations.

That is what management ballers do.  Yeah… I’m a management baller – ask my team – they told me what it took to be a baller.