The benefits of free agency vs. the draft
Posted by Dean Holden at January 5th, 2014
by Alan Bass, 29 August 2013
There is a famous psychology experiment that discusses the emotional effects of someone choosing their destiny versus given the same. Researchers split participants into two groups. The first group was given five random “lottery” numbers, while the second group was asked to write down their own “lottery” numbers. After each scenario, researchers attempted to “buy back” the ticket from the participants. In every scenario, regardless of culture or demographics, researchers had to pay at least five times as much for the chosen numbers than for the randomly assigned numbers.
In a similar business experiment, IBM asked some employees to create future direction for their job, while giving direction to others. The employees who chose their own were almost always more motivated to perform than were the others. In fact, according to Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers, when he allowed his employees to work their way to an answer he already had in his head, they were much more efficient and motivated than if he simply told them the answer up front.
Moving to hockey, or all sports for that matter, think of the huge effect this would have on an athlete who gets drafted (“forced” onto a team) versus one who gets to choose his destination (a la free agency or college athletics). Just about every professional athlete in the country, especially those in hockey, are drafted into the major leagues. In hockey, the most common way to avoid this is to go undrafted three times, then signed – something that seldom happens more than a few times each season.
This can create a phenomenon that is not too difficult to consider – the possibility that someone would be more motivated to play for a team they chose, as opposed to a team that chose them. You don’t need psychology to jump to that conclusion. But the issue here is how to continue to motivate a player who was drafted and therefore had no choice in their destination? Every team drafted seven players each year (not counting draft pick trades), and those players aren’t allowed to choose their desired team until at least age 25, but 27 for most. If an organization can’t keep a player motivated for those seven or nine years, how on earth will they develop quality players and continue to survive in such a competitive league?
The best way to do this, similar to the aforementioned Cisco example, is to empower someone with autonomy – the perception that one has a say in their actions and their job duties. If a coach wants to improve the power play, rather than saying “this is how we’re going to do it,” discuss it with the players, and even help guide them toward the answer you initially thought of, similar to Chambers at Cisco. What about if the PR staff wants to work on increasing the public perception of the team? If the ticket department wants to sell season ticket packages in a more personable way? There are dozens of answers to each scenario, but the bottom line is that if people make their own decisions, or even just have the perception that they are making their own decisions, they become much more dedicated to everything that follows. As was once said by Harvard Business Review, “If your team wants what you want them to want, you are five times more likely to get it.”
Alan Bass, a former writer for The Hockey News and THN.com, is the author of “The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed The NHL Forever.”
<Hmm, what would Phil Jackson do? This sort of two-way, open communication between the coach / players when discussing strategy sounds familiar, no? 😉 – DH>