Being a disappointed Lakers basketball fan these past few years, I’m watching the NBA draft and free agency season more closely than usual. Whether you’re a basketball fan or not, how the Lakers went about identifying whom they wanted to hire and then assessing and recruiting them, offers great advice for any manager who wants to build a great team.
Here are my five big hiring takeaways from the NBA Lakers hiring process.
One: Understand the team needs before hiring a bunch of similarly skilled individual contributors.
The Lakers need a big man in the center for defense and rebounding. They also needed a point guard who could quarterback the floor. They got one in the draft and hope to get the other through free agency. Each hiring decision impacts the next one.
Hiring Lesson: Too many hiring managers focus too much on a narrow set of skills and experiences, ignoring the fact that some people need to be great organizers, some need to think creatively and strategically, and others need to bring a multi-functional and user perspective to the team.
Two: Define the job before defining the person.
For any professional athlete the parameters of success are known. In basketball, the best players jump higher, run faster, shoot and pass better and put in more extra effort to improve. The job description doesn’t say they must have 5-10 years of basketball playing experience, have attended a Division I school, be responsible for scoring 15 points a game and have high EQ. Just because someone meets the skills criteria doesn’t mean the person will be a great pro NBA basketball player.
Hiring Lesson: Define the job as a series of performance objectives, not years of experiences and a list of required skills. Focus on outcomes and how the best people use their skills on the job, not the skills themselves. For example, some of the best coders know how to use off-the-shelf tools to quickly create robust applications and the best people on the help desk know what questions to ask harried customers.
Three: Make sure the person is performance-qualified first and a good cultural fit second.
For the Lakers a great number of players were invited for a pre-draft workout. They were then put through the paces to see if they met the minimum standards of performance. Those who passed these challenging tests were paired with others to engage in a series of 3-on-3 games to handle specific on-the-job challenges. A smaller group of these people then spent a few spent hours meeting with the coaches and team management to understand the person’s character and motivation.
Hiring Lesson: Before making any judgment about fit and personality, determine if the person can do the actual work in the actual situation. To get at this in an interview dig deep into the person’s major accomplishments, then have the person present the solution to a problem likely to be faced on the job. Cultural fit will emerge from these performance-based questions.
Four: Consider talent an investment, not a transaction.
What I found most surprising was how much time was spent with each prospective player off the court in meetings, social sessions and having meals together. In addition, previous coaches were called to better understand the candidate’s character, work ethic, learning ability, how the person dealt with adversity and the person’s leadership ability. These are not soft skills. They’re the foundation of the person’s character and ability to succeed
Hiring Lesson: Hiring the best is not a transaction that can be delegated, it’s an investment in each hiring manager’s future success. Given this level of importance, as much time as necessary should be invested in making the right decision. The reason most managers never have enough time to do it right is because they didn’t do it right the first time.
Five: Recruiting matters.
Think of the draft as the active candidate market and free agency as the passive talent pool. In the NBA, drafted players have only one choice. The best free agents normally make the same amount of money on any team that’s interested in them, but select the one that’s the best fit. The team that wants the best of any season’s free agents does the most recruiting. Everyone is involved in this including coaches, management and other key players. Those who do the best job of recruiting land the best passive candidates. FYI: The Lakers dropped the ball on this factor and lost a great opportunity to hire a great player.
Hiring Lesson: Hiring the best passive candidates and the best active candidates who have choices requires strong consultative recruiting skills, extraordinary recruiters and fully-engaged managers.
These are good hiring lessons whether you want to hire an elite NBA player or just one extraordinary person to improve the performance of your entire team. It starts by fully understanding the job and then finding someone who can do it extraordinarily well.