‘HR as Performance facilitators’ – Lessons from a Sports Performance Analyst

Human Resources

I was at the NHRD monthly meet last week in Chennai, India and we had a very interesting session. The session was titled ‘Managing High Performance & Leadership – Learnings from a sporting context’. The speaker was Dhananjai (known popularly as DJ) who was the Performance Analyst of the Indian cricket team till 2014 and now offers his expertise to Mumbai Indians in the IPL.   The session was very enjoyable, one   because it was full of anecdotes about our favourite cricketers and second (and more importantly), because of the similarities between facilitating the performance of Sportsmen and how we as HR professionals facilitate employee performance in organizations.

I am highlighting a few of the key takeaways and look forward to hearing all your views and perspectives:

  • Performance monitoring as an ongoing activity – Technology has become an integral part of sports today and one of the key aspects of its impact has been in monitoring performance and offering insights for improvement. It was fascinating to know that Analysts record things like Intensity of players in a practise session, sleep patterns, diet, technique and so on.
  • Personalising the inputs given – Players come from different walks of life, bring with them their own values/belief systems, skill sets, personality preferences and learning styles. Giving them feedback and inputs on their games requires ‘personalising’ it to a very large extent.
  • Offering simple yet valuable/actionable insights – With the amount of data that is being collected about every aspect of an individual’s game, opposition, weather, playing conditions, strengths/weaknesses, we can imagine the complexity and rigour of data analytics that is required to actually offer practical and meaningful insights and inputs to each individual player. What’s great to know is that, we have advanced to a level of analytics where players/teams do get inputs which have helped turn games and win from virtually impossible situations. A simple example to illustrate this is that advanced systems can predict when a bowler bowls a slower ball (say 3rd or 4th ball of very over) which helps the batsman prepare and play accordingly.
  • Focusing on Strengths – ‘You are what you are because of your strengths’, so analysts understand a player’s strengths and help them leverage it to their and the team’s advantage.
  • Positive reinforcement – How we give feedback can make or break a person’s confidence. A negative feedback (area of improvement) is always preceded by positive reinforcement of things that went well or a reminder of an individual’s potential.
  • Simulations play a key in role in identifying potential and in development of a player – Simulating the environment that a player is going to encounter is a key aspect of selection and preparation. We have read/heard of famous examples of how Sachin practices facing a leg spinner bowling out of the rough on the leg side to counter the genius of Shane Warne. Another Sachin example is how he believes in being in complete match gear while practicing since it would help with ‘muscle memory’.
  • Arresting ‘default’ behaviours – There was an interesting point about how we as Indians are better at reacting (example of how we have always fought wars where we react to a provocation and how that pushes us to give it our best). We hear of how champion teams have this incredible ability to win from improbable situations and our Indian team was famous for losing the advantage after being in winning situations. The point here is about knowing how we do things normally, and in being able to adapt to changing situations to be effective and successful.

I think the linkages between how performance of Sportsmen are managed/enhanced and how HR does this (or should do this) in a larger, organizational setting is clear. HR as a Performance Facilitator is about being in the background (like the Performance Analyst), but playing a very important role in helping an organization realize the true value of its human capital.

‘HR as Performance facilitators’ – Lessons from a Sports Performance Analyst

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