What Sports Analytics Can Tell Us About Your Business and Your People.

What Sports Analytics Can Tell Us About Your Business and Your People.

In years past, watching sport on TV was a simpler experience. On-screen graphics were basic, and camera angles were limited. Broadcasters might rattle off statistics from printed pages, but that was the extent of the analysis.

Today, professional sport is captured by a dizzying array of cable cams and telescopic lenses. Digital tracers highlight the path of a ball and super slow-motion replay allows referees to analyse confusing plays with pinpoint accuracy. In terms of statistics on players and teams, there is no limit to how much detail you can discover.
All of this goes hand-in-hand with a more scientific approach to sport. As the money gets bigger, teams expand their scouting and development programmes. They have cutting-edge facilities, professional trainers, team doctors, physical therapists. Rugby Australia recently invested in a bespoke analytics platform that processes data on individual players – including everything from sleep and wellness to match performance – in order to reveal pain points and show the way to better performance.

Performance metrics in business

As much money as there is in the global sports complex (an estimated A$720 billion in 2018), the combined value of non-sport businesses (the global economy is estimated at A$118 trillion) is far greater. The question is, what are we in the business world doing to modernise our approach to training and performance?

Quite a lot, it turns out.

Performance in business may be more difficult to track than in sport, but many of the same metrics hold true. An employee who isn’t sleeping well, has problems at home, or is feeling uninspired at work will show gaps in performance. Such variables were previously filed under “none of your business” – but the digitisation of modern life, along with increasing competition of the business landscape, has prompted business and government leaders to develop a more detailed picture of talent management and team dynamics.

A 2018 report by KPMG and Mental Health Australia, for example, found that mental health issues in the workplace cost Australian employers A$12.8 billion in 2016. A separate report – this one by the International Centre for Economics, on commission from Pathology Awareness Australia – estimates the annual cost of presenteeism at A$34 billion. People are showing up to work when they’re unwell, and we’re beginning to understand the effect on organisational performance.

Presenteeism shows why we need to see the dynamics of business teams more clearly. Business today moves at a fast pace, and the cost of living continues to rise. Markets are frequently disrupted, and competition for customers and jobs is fierce. Australians are also feeling less secure about their jobs, according to a discussion paper from the McKell Institute Queensland.

We can identify specific causes for decreased job security (e.g. expansion of service industries, more fixed-term contract workers, rising costs, increased job competition), as well as specific effects (e.g. health problems, presenteeism, performance issues, decreased job satisfaction). In other words, we can observe the effects of high-level economic and market conditions on individual and team performance.

Zooming in closer

The optimisation of team performance in the business world requires an ever-evolving view of the big picture, yes – but it also demands a high-definition view of specific situations. There are innumerable factors that are specific to an industry, an organisation, a team, an individual. In order to create people outcomes that make a tangible difference, we need the talent management equivalent of cable cams, telescopic lenses, and super slow-motion replays.

For this purpose, technology itself isn’t enough. We can use innumerable reports and analyses to reveal pain points in a given organisation. We can glean insights from big data. We can even start to think (depending on applicable laws, of course) about leveraging wearable tech to track the physical health of employees, as Rugby Australia does with its players. Several other notable organisations, including Oxford University and the UK’s NHS, have made news in recent years for doing this. And, we can use 360° degree feedback, inventories around leadership or personal style, assessment interviews, psychological testing, and even internal reference checking.

The enduring value of human intelligence

Several questions must be answered in the quest for next-level business performance. What recruitment strategies will result in the elusive but vital metric known as ‘fit’? How can a better approach to outplacement benefit a person, an organisation, and an industry? How can an organisation’s collective goals be optimally aligned to the career trajectories of its people? How can we more accurately measure this thing called “fit”, and then identify it in the person we’re looking to hire, promote or transfer?

Big data can’t yet provide all the answers to these questions, and probably never will. When it comes to the optimisation of business performance, we need a responsive and intuitive understanding of organisations and the people who move between them. And for this level of analysis, there is no shortcut around human intelligence.

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