ChannelTrends: IT Hiring Lessons from the Cleveland Cavaliers

Talent. Many throw the word around freely, speaking about how important it is to bring in the right people for the right job. Yet the effort they put into nurturing and training their “native-born” employees is often half-hearted, without a real development plan in place. Many simply hire for a certain position and assign responsibilities as the need arises. There’s little thought put into long-term employee development or getting their team invested in the organization’s long-term goals. In other words, many IT firms aren’t building an ownership ethic in their top talent.

What does that mean? NBA star Lebron James serves as an interesting, high profile example. He grew up in the Cleveland area and the Cavaliers were his hometown team. As a high school phenomenon, he caught the attention of the local media and the NBA early on, dazzling everyone with his command of the game at such an early age. He was the Tiger Woods of basketball. Tons of talent that just needed a little refinement.

In a perfect scenario, the Cavaliers were not only given the opportunity to draft James, but to create the perfect local human interest story that captured headlines and filled their arena. His success was the Cavalier’s success. Finally, those in the NBA were talking about Cleveland. More importantly, the team had someone with a personal interest in winning. Not just for himself, but for his family, friends and the community her grew up in. He could be a sports hero (not to be confused with the real life-saving heroes, but you get the point) to those who watched and supported him throughout his high school career. He really wanted to bring a Championship to Cleveland. 

As most sports fans know, he didn’t accomplish that with the Cavaliers. At least not yet. While the team made it to the finals in 2007, most experts suggest they simply didn’t surround James with enough talent. His phenomenal skills couldn’t make up for subpar coaching and an average supporting cast. Despite his hope to bring a championship to his home team, he got frustrated ̶ just like any employee who feels that his organization is making poor decisions for the future. The Cavaliers seemed content relying on Lebron to deliver them a championship on his own. Sure, there were 4 others in the same uniforms on the court at all times (and others on the bench), but their combined talent level was nothing to brag about. In other words, Lebron was likely never going to win it all if things stayed the same. But there was little he could do with management making the wrong decisions and no light at the end of the tunnel. Their plan didn't align with his expectations and he was given no real reason to think success was on its way.    

So, after his rookie contract was up, he signed on with the Miami Heat and managed to make it to the finals the next four years (winning the NBA championship in 2012 and 2013). What was different? He played a similar game and appeared to give his all just like he did in Cleveland, but the club surrounded him with quality talent that complemented his playing style. Miami had a plan to win, and they executed it well, starting with bringing in the right people.

When he returned to Cleveland as a free agent, you can bet he had assurances from management that things would be different. Perhaps they learned their lesson in hiring and training (especially nurturing your own talent). Winning should never rely on a single player. On the court, or in business, you need to surround yourself with complementary talent. Individuals who play off each other’s strengths and address potential weaknesses. Teammates who understand the game plan and managers who understand how to put everyone in the right place and give them the proper coaching. That's what's gotten the Cavaliers to their second championship in a row. They're paying attention to the things that count and "minding the gaps" in regards to talent.

I don’t expect many IT professionals to model their staff after the Cleveland Cavaliers, nor do I believe many channel professionals will cheer for them to beat the Golden State Warriors in the upcoming NBA Championships. After all, the latter team’s fan base is a lot more tech-connected. But the takeaway from this is to realize how important the hiring and training strategy is to building a winning game plan.

Is there a “superstar” on your team who isn’t surrounded by other skilled players? Does your “home grown” talent have the proper support from management? That includes providing your employees with training and career development options, as well as job descriptions and periodic reviews to let them know what (and how well) they’re doing.

Those check ins are a good start. A bigger issue for many IT firms is keeping their “superstars” from being the go-to for virtually every issue or question. It can be flattering to be a subject matter expert, but not to be a defacto owner without a stake in the organization.  Incessant interruptions can limit their productivity and significantly increase their stress levels and aggravation. That, in turn, may keep your organization from meeting its long-term objectives, and the added workload often leads to burn out.

Your “superstars” need to be focused on their key responsibilities and high priority issues. Like Lebron, a single player shouldn’t be counted on for the win (or the game) every day.  Do you have a plan in place to ensure your nurturing growing and rewarding…rather than driving your top talent away?


Brian Sherman is Chief Content Officer at GetChanneled, a channel business development and marketing firm. He served previously as chief editor at Business Solutions magazine and senior director of industry alliances with Autotask. Contact Brian at



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