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PHIL HARDWICK: Keep colleagues involved and part of the process


“Did you get the memo?”

“Which memo?”

“The one about the new policy?”

“What policy?”

New policies or procedures are often implemented and announced with just an email memo to employees. That’s fine when the policy is a relatively minor one such as changing the hours of a particular department or introducing a new form. However, some new policies require more employee involvement and employee buy-in before the policy is announced, especially if the change is a major one. The big mistake is to simply announce a major policy or procedure without regard to how employees and those affected will react. The NBA (National Basketball Association) discovered that the hard way.

Given that March Madness is upon us, let’s look at two cases that involve basketballs. We begin with what happened when the NBA introduced a new basketball.

The year was 2006. NBA partner Spalding had been testing a microfiber composite ball to replace the traditional leather-covered basketball. Most high schools and colleges were already using synthetic balls. Also, most kids playing pick-up games were using synthetic balls so the time was right to bring the NBA into the modern age of basketballs. Spalding had already spent years researching, using technology and field testing to develop the best basketball. The New Ball, as the NBA would call it, was also known as the Cross Traxxion ™ game ball.

The NBA did its part. Well, sort of its part. It used the ball in the development league the year before, used the ball in the NBA All-Star weekends, and had several well-known retired players test it. Every NBA player was even shipped a New Ball during the summer of the upcoming season. Before the season began, the NBA announced at a press conference that it would be making the change to the NEW Ball. Commissioner David Stern said, “The advancements that Spalding has made to the new game ball ensure that the best basketball players in the world will be playing with the best basketball in the world.”

It did not take long after the start of the season for player reaction. Here’s what some of the players had to say:

“It feels like one of those cheap balls you buy at the toy store…. I look for shooting percentages to be way down and turnovers to be way up because when the ball gets wet you can’t really control it. Whoever did that needs to be fired. It was terrible, a terrible decision. Awful.” – Shaquille O’Neal, Miami Heat.

“Right off the rim when I first started gripping it, I didn’t like it. It felt like plastic.” – Stephen Jackson, Indiana Pacers

“I hate it.” – DeShawn Stevenson, Washington Wizards

Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns summed it up well when he said the following:

“I’m disappointed that they didn’t seek more input from us before they introduced the new ball and I’m disappointed that we’re changing the ball during the season. It’s still tearing up my fingers, but after three months … it’s too late. I’m telling you, the [two] balls feel totally different. There’s a different feel, a different weight, a different texture.”

The resulting negative reaction was so bad that on December 1 of that year the NBA Players Association filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. So was the ball really that bad? Scoring actually went up by 2.5 points on average. The main problem, according to the attorney who filed the complaint, was that the players had not been consulted before the change had been made.

So what does an organization do when the employees or users reject the change? The three alternatives are to (1) go back to the original policy, (2) start over and develop a better policy or (3) stick with the new policy regardless of how everyone feels about it. In the NBA’s new basketball case, the league went back to the old ball. Even so, the incident left a bad taste in many mouths.

That was 2006. This is 2020. Implementing a new policy and basketballs again are in the news. This time the balls are made by Nike. Only this time, shooting percentages fell sharply. The basketball league is the NCAA’s Mountain West Conference. Utah State began playing with new balls manufactured by Nike, with technology supplied by ShotTracker.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Laine Higgins, entitled “Miss the NCAA Tournament? Blame the Ball,” “Players complained that the Nike balls felt greasy and appeared to have shallower grooves that made them difficult to handle. Some also reported an inconsistent bounce due to what they described as a dead spot on the ball.” There is a lot more basketball to this story, and I encourage interested readers to check out the Wall Street Journal story.

To summarize, make sure that those affected by the implementation of a new policy or procedure are part of the process prior to implementation.

And now, prepare for March Madness.

» PHIL HARDWICK is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist.


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