Program Kids – Hiring for your Culture

If you didn’t catch it last week, Michigan State Basketball, rated #2 in the country, knocked off the University of Kentucky, rated #1 in the country.  An early season match-up in college basketball which ultimately has little impact on the bigger picture of this basketball season, but it as fun to watch!

What the game really ended up being about was two different sets of kids, not based on their uniform, but based on their path.  Kentucky, under current coach John Calipari, has become a NBA basketball factory of first round draft picks.  Coach Cal has basically made the decision to use the NBA draft rules, that a kid must be one year out of high school and over 19 before being draft eligible, to build his winning program.  He basically sells to the best high school basketball kids in the country, who could probably jump immediately to the NBA, that you come to UK for 1 year, then leave and go to the NBA.  This system is working really well for him!  These kids come and take classes for one semester, and then basically leave as soon as basketball is over in March.  Doesn’t really seem to fit the goal of intercollegiate athletics, but what the hell, he’s winning…

On the other side you had Michigan State and coach Tom Izzo (to be fair, I’m a big fan of the program and Tom, I think Coach Cal is a cheater and a liar) whose has built one of the best programs in the country over the past 19 seasons, by taking almost the opposite way to success.  Tom goes out and recruits ‘Program’ kids.  Tom grew up in Northern Michigan, he was raised with a blue collar work ethic.  He is everything that Calipari isn’t.  He isn’t flash.  He’s loyal.  He wants his kids to leave MSU better men, not better basketball players.  While Tom would take a top player, he’s only ever taken a kid who was ‘one and done’, and even that kid didn’t think that would be the case when he came to MSU.  The kids who get recruited to MSU know they’ll be broken down, taught how to play defense first, team basketball, it’s about the program, not about you.  As you can imagine, a kid wanting to jump right to the NBA, doesn’t find this attractive.  Coach K at Duke is very similar, although, he tends to get a few one-and-dones based on his past success!

The game was close at the end, but not really as close as the final score.  MSU had juniors and seniors on the floor – grown mature men.  Kentucky had kids on the floor, very, very talented kids, but kids all the same.

Both programs successful.  Both programs win.  I like one way more than another, but I can’t argue the successful business model that Coach Cal has produced.

It brings up a great question for HR/Talent Pros and leaders of organizations.  We all say we want the ‘best’ talent. We want ‘rock stars’. But I wonder, do we?  Do you want ‘Program kids’, hires that fit your culture?  Or do you want ‘One-and-dones’, hires that have extreme talent, but might not want a long-term career with you?

You might say it’s a hard comparison because we are talking about amateur (Program Kids) versus professional (One-and-done) level talent. Of course in business we would always want professional level talent.  But I’ll argue that Program hires, those who fit what and where you want your organization to go will always be better in the long run.  What happens when the next big school or pros come calling for Coach Cal?  What happens to Kentucky?  It would left in shambles.  The strategy doesn’t have legs because you must rebuild every year. What happens if another big time school with a flasher coach starts getting all the one-and-dones?  Program kids don’t want to go to Kentucky.

Hiring for cultural fit has huge impact to long term organizational success.

3 thoughts on “Program Kids – Hiring for your Culture

  1. This is why culture is so critical to your org. Without a “point of view” – or a values system for my consultant friends – anything is the right answer. When we all try to be zappos we all end up losing IMO.

    Your company culture, point of view, values, whatev… dictate how you hire, how you train, what you reward, what you punish. For some companies – it’s Glengarry Glen Ross – for others it’s Disney – neither is bad – they just are. One works for one – the other works for the other.

    We attract what we want – we allow players to self-select if we live our point of view in public and that will ultimately make the org better. Great way to illustrate the fact that each company is different with different approaches. Now … go do what zappos does…. (I only say that so I can drink!)

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