Hiring a Game Changer: Sometimes, You Get “The LeBron Effect”

Corporate executives don’t have to be sports experts to realize the incredible value that LeBron James has added to the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers in a single year. Consider these amazing impacts since his hiring:

  • The value of the team went up an astonishing 78 percent ($400 million);
  • Its operating income doubled;
  • Every seat in the arena was suddenly filled;
  • It received dramatically more TV coverage;
  • Its winning percentage went from .402 up to .646; and,
  • After finishing 10th in the conference last year, the team made the NBA finals.

LeBron’s incredible ROI

But LeBron’s impact will go beyond the team itself, because it’s estimated that the economy of Cleveland area will be improved by up to $500 million simply as a result of his return. And for all of that, he received only $20 million in pay.

Now that’s a high ROI (a $20 million cost vs. a minimum benefit of $410 million), whether you are a sports executive or a corporate leader!

Recruiting leaders need to take note: Game changers can be players or coaches. And neither must be seasoned veterans with multiple years of experience in order to have a major impact.

This is illustrated by the fact that the two head coaches in the 2015 NBA finals successfully managed their teams to the championship level despite the fact that both started the season with zero years of NBA coaching experience. Time magazine even placed a name on the economic impact of hiring a game changer. It named it “The LeBron Effect.”

LeBron shows how hiring a single game changer can transform an entire organization. And the lesson for corporate recruiting executives is that if you want to maximize your business impact, you need to supplement your traditional recruiting with a program that hires exceptional game-changer talent.

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Game changers in the corporate world are called that because they literally change the game= by being pioneers in a product area or industry. Be aware that their impact goes beyond the exceptional capabilities that they bring to the firm because they will also transform your employer brand image and their presence will act like a magnet for attracting other top talent.

Top 10 benefits of “Game Changer” hiring

Most recruiting managers focus their efforts on hiring volume (a large number of average employees). But if you want to maximize your business impact, you need to do the exact opposite. Focus on hiring a handful of high-impact individuals (game changers and innovators) like LeBron.

Some of the benefits that can result from hiring game changers like LeBron in the corporate environment include:

  1. Transformational performance – When you hire a game changer, you first and foremost get their amazing performance and skills. But beyond that, you also gain their experience, contacts, their reputation/image, and their ideas and product innovations. If you want exceptional performance, innovation, and industry recognition, hire exceptional game changers.
  2. They attract additional top talent – Perhaps the most obvious benefit of acquiring a game changer is that when you hire one notable game changer, you will also likely be able to recruit many of their former colleagues to also join your firm. In addition, others who only know them by name and reputation will also be attracted. Imagine the drawing power that a Warren Buffett, a Steve Jobs, or an Elon Musk-level person would have if they joined your firm? In the case of LeBron and the Cavaliers, his persona allowed the team to attract at least four players who are now team stars (Love, Smith, Shumpert, and Mozgov).
  3. They provide leadership – Obviously game changers are leaders in their functional area. But because these game changers are admired and looked up to, they are generally also strong leaders (just like in the case of LeBron). And because many employees will readily follow their lead, the changes that they inspire or make themselves are more likely to be well accepted by the rest of the organization.
  4. They make other employees perform better — Game changers in sports, like Magic Johnson and LeBron James, are known to energize, inspire, and improve the performance of others around them. Hiring a game changer means that other employees will likely adapt their work ethic and copy their learning and execution approaches. Which taken together will likely improve overall team and individual performance to previously unattainable levels.
  5. Improved retention of current employees – If you have current employees who were thinking about leaving, hiring a game changer will at the very least cause most to rethink quitting because they see the possibility of a transformation coming. The added talent that they bring with them and their innovative ideas are also likely to excite your current employees and make them want to stay in order to be part of this exciting new team.
  6. Positive customer impact – These individuals are so well-known that even current and potential customers will notice that they have joined your firm. This is especially true if your game changer hire writes a blog or is active on Internet forums and social media. When customers hear about it, your product brand is likely to also improve. And finally, the game changer is likely to have strong and well-established customer and vendor contacts which simply can’t be matched by the average hire.
  7. Your ship goes up while their ship sinks – If you hire a game changer directly from one of your competitors, your firm’s performance improves while your competitor’s goes down. As one executive once said to me, “you mean our performance goes up, while simultaneously our competitor’s performance goes down markedly? I really like that.” In the case of LeBron, his previous team, the Miami Heat, was in the NBA finals four years running with him on their roster. This year without LeBron, it had a losing record and didn’t even make the playoffs, so it wasn’t there to challenge its conference rivals and block its path to the championship.
  8. They build your employer brand — With the power of social media, everyone in your industry is likely to know immediately whenever a game changer new hire joins your firm. It may even be talked about in the mainstream and the local media. Taken together this increase in prestige, visibility, and publicity will strengthen your employer brand and that will make it much easier for your employees to make successful top-quality referrals.
  9. Boomerang rehires are known quantities – Because LeBron previously played on the Cleveland team, he can be classified as what is known as a boomerang or (coincidentally), “a rebound rehire.” Rehiring former employees with a history of having a high impact means that you already know their capabilities, which are even more enhanced and diversified now that they’ve worked at another firm.
  10. They generate a high ROI –Firms like GE have found that game changers can produce 10 times more than the average employee. And because there added recruiting and salary costs are likely to be no more than 50 percent above the average, the result is a recruiting effort and extremely high ROI. And incidentally, because recruiting costs are onetime costs, the ROI continues to improve each year that the game changer stays with your firm.

Next week: See Part 2 on the action steps on how to find game changers and what is needed in order to successfully recruit them.

Dr. John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in strategic Talent Management solution. He is a prolific author with over 1200 articles and ten books covering all areas of Talent Management. Along with his many articles and books, Dr. Sullivan has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/organizations in 30 countries on six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source, including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., The New York Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, Harvard Business Review, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column and the ERE Media blog. Dr. Sullivan has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC Nightly News, NPR, as well as many local TV and radio outlets.

Fast Company called him the “Michael Jordan of Hiring,” Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industries most respected strategists.” He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and was ranked #8 among the top 25 online influencers in Talent Management.  Adding to these acclamations, Dr. Sullivan has also served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, as well as becoming the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. Dr. Sullivan is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). Most importantly, he wants to hear and respond to your most pressing questions about advanced talent strategies.

His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and www.ERE.net.