Friday, May 01, 2015

Human Resource Lessons from the NFL Draft

The NFL draft began yesterday, as each team made its first round selection.   My favorite team, the New England Patriots, drafted Malcolm Brown, a defensive tackle from the University of Texas.  You can imagine that fans often do not get excited about the drafting of an interior lineman.  They do not have a flashy highlight video or come out of college with gaudy statistics.  They are in the trenches.  Of course, solid line play is crucial to success in professional football.  

Interestingly, I noticed that six NFL teams chose wide receivers in the first round last night.  Wide receivers, naturally, tend to have highlight reels full of fantastic catches, long runs after the catch, and dazzling touchdowns.  They have plenty of attractive statistics such as receptions, yards, and touchdowns.  However, I know that the New England Patriots have not drafted a wide receiver in the first round in the entire Bill Belichick era.  He's been head coach since 2000, and of course, they have amassed the most victories and most Super Bowl championships in the league during that time.  

I took a quick look at the data from the past decade of NFL drafts (2005-2014).  During that time, 36 wide receivers were chosen in the first round.  By my quick count, just 2 (5.6%) of those WRs won a Super Bowl championship for the team that selected them in the draft.   In contrast, 8 of 68 (11.8%) defensive linemen chosen in the first round won a Super Bowl with their original team.  I dug deeper, and I found this article by Jeff Howe about this very topic.  He conducted a much more in-depth analysis, and he concluded that choosing a wide receiver at the top of the draft is a "waste" of precious resources. 

What's the lesson here?   As we select talent for our organizations, we have to be careful about the attributes/criteria that we employ.   Do the people who are flashy and charismatic tend to get more consideration than those who put their heads down working in the "trenches" of an organization?   Are we wowed by certain "gaudy personal statistics" that may not actually correlate with "winning" by the organization as a whole?  Finally, do we worry too much about what others think?  Coach Belichick could care less what others think.  He knows that others think the selection of a defensive lineman is boring.  Fans want flashy receivers.  He doesn't cave to outside pressure.  Of course, that's easy to do with his track record.  For managers, it might be more challenging.  However, we have to focus on doing what's right, not what's popular. 

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