The championship game last night got me thinking about the similarities between building a title team and a great social game company. Although there seem to be a million books on how you can use lessons from sports in the business world, one topic that seems quite neglected is recruiting. Since I did not really care who won last night (thanks Lehigh), I took the opportunity to put together a few lessons we can learn from college recruiting to make our game companies stronger.
Do not underestimate the impact one person can have
One person can be the difference between success and failure, and that person does not necessarily have to be the high profile rock star. A good example from sports (going from the NCAA to the NBA) is Jeremy Lin (you knew I would get a Linsanity mention into this post). He turned the Knicks from a team that probably would not have made the playoffs into a team that had potential to do very interesting things (until he subsequently got injured). Just as a point guard can turn a basketball team around, a great BI analyst or Producer can have a huge impact on a social game company. They can be the difference between a game failing and a game being a runaway success (and for the impact one successful game has, please see Omgpop). Lesson: The lesson here is that you should treat all open positions (spots on your roster) as a potential game changer, make the effort to select great people for all positions and then do everything possible to bring them into the organization.
Recruiting can make up for many shortcomings
As Roy Williams has shown repeatedly, having great talent can make up for a lot of other weaknesses. Even if a coach is not great in creating a game plan or building a strong system, if they can bring in top talent they will at least usually be in the mix for a championship. Lesson: Even if it turns out there are holes in your business plan or executive team, bringing in great people can still lead to a success.
Avoid transfers, be honest
One of the things that most disrupts a team is having many players transfer to other schools. Losing players causes issues with team cohesiveness, planning and creating gameplans (as they leverage your talent) and cause coaches to spend large amounts of time to replace players rather than finding other pieces to the puzzle. Usually, players transfer because what they expected from the program (for example, starting or playing time) was not the reality. Other times, the style of play the coach implemented was not how the player wanted to develop their skills. Lesson: Be very open with candidates about what their role will be and what the environment is overall, so that when people start their expectations equal the reality. Also, measure and track how many new hires you lose in the first six months as a metric for how well you are setting expectations.
You are always recruiting
Although there are official recruiting periods, the great coaches are recruiting 365 days/year, 7 days/week, 24 hours/day. Recruiting is not limited to the official visits (the interviews) but should be looked at holistically. The top coaches have radio shows (Coach K is Sirius), they might coach the Olympic team, they may even appear on Letterman. All of this activity makes them top of mind when they or their assistants have the formal meeting (interview). Lesson: Do not limit your recruiting to interviewing candidates, a lot of a social game company’s executive time should be devoted to activity that will make your company more attractive to potential candidates and put you over the finish line if the interview goes well.
Everyone is recruiting
Coach K, Roy Williams, John Calipari are not the only touch points for recruits. All the coaches, current players, alumni are all involved in the recruiting process. It is not coincidence that Grant Hill and Jay Williams are back for big Duke games, they are big parts of the recruiting process and the reason the rich keep getting richer. Lesson: Everyone in your organization and tied to your organization should be part of your recruiting process. It is not an HR function or the responsibility of the hiring manager, a great social game company will engage all its people to help find and attract the best talent. And it is not only in the organization, but investors, Board members and other stakeholders need to be encouraged to be actively involved in recruitment.
You are always selling
Although the top basketball programs only have a limited number of scholarships available, they do not know who will end up committing, who may get injured and who might transfer. They are thus actively recruiting a large number of potential players until they have filled all of their slots and not rejecting players until they have to (unless they are not interested). Lesson: Until the final decision has been made on a candidate, you and your team should always be trying to convince him to join your company. The candidate should leave every interview excited about the opportunity.
Know the competition
Coaches are not recruiting in a vacuum. They will understand what other programs a player is considering and highlight the advantages of their program. Lesson: It is important to determine what other options your candidate is considering and explain to them the benefits you offer.