On-court adaptability can be used to model employee focus in the workplace. (photo by Keith Allison via Flickr)

Refocusing important on and off the court

NBA player stats used to study on-the-job adaptability

Employees aren't necessarily slacking off when their performance drops in one area, according to a study led by a researcher at University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

Professor Maria Rotundo headed the study, which used NBA statistics to examine how drops in employee performance could mean they've simply shifted and refocused their efforts on a different set of tasks -- a positive sign of adaptability that should be considered in performance evaluations.

The study, published in Human Performance, draws on statistics from professional basketball players for its data and conclusions. Researchers assessed data on more than 700 members of the NBA to see how players shifted their focus on different on-court skills and tasks over several years.

A player displaying high performance scoring baskets in one season might show a shift in focus towards rebounding missed shots in another season. That could be because they were responding to a shift in their team's needs, or a change in their coach's instructions.

Researchers found that about 10 per cent of players refocused their efforts over time and were more likely to play again for the league in the next season. The findings support the idea that refocusing among job tasks is an important component of employee adaptability and should be a part of overall performance assessments. As well, they suggest that adaptability is linked to staff retention.

"Our paper is drawing attention to the measurement of performance, that refocusing is something that's important in the workplace, exists in the workplace and for organizations to think about it as part of the job, " says Rotundo.

She acknowledges there are differences between professional sports and most workplaces.

But "there are parallels," too, she says, including the fact that NBA athletes are focused on a goal and must work together as a team to achieve it as they confront different opponents. In the same way, employees in a company must work together to face market competitors and achieve their company's goals.

And just like basketball players who go through changes in their team's make-up, many workplace staff must adapt to changes brought on by restructuring or the adoption of new technologies, requiring a refocus in their job's tasks.

"From a measurement perspective it's a fascinating area because the NBA players' performance is tracked meticulously," says Rotundo, who co-wrote the study with researchers from the University of Minnesota, University of Lethbridge and University of Guelph. "There's a wealth of data there."

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