A player’s success hinges as much on character as on-field stats, study says.
As work increasingly evolves from an individual to a team sport, hiring managers might take a lesson from one of the nation’s favorite job fairs: the NFL draft.
In a new study published online by the Journal of Applied Psychology, business researchers examined what factors coaches and managers took into account when deciding which players to draft and how much to pay them, plus how those factors predicted later performance.
They found that a player’s success hinged as much on his character — such as a willingness to work harder than necessary, make personal sacrifices that benefit the team and mentor new teammates — as his on-field statistics.
With over 75 percent of organizations now structuring their employees in teams, “identifying those kinds of behaviors in the selection process is essential,” said study co-author Tim Maynes, assistant professor of organization and human resources at the University at Buffalo School of Management. “You need people to be flexible and make sacrifices for the team.”
Maynes and his co-author, Steve Whiting, an assistant professor of management at the University of Central Florida Business College, analyzed 444 college wide receivers and linebackers who were drafted into the NFL between 2006 and 2012.
They did a search of media articles to find instances of teammates and coaches describing that the players put in extra time in the weight room or watching game film, spent time showing new players the ropes, or exhibited other team-oriented behaviors. They also looked at the linebackers’ tackle statistics and the receivers’ catching stats during their college careers.
Controlling for several factors, including physical prowess and quality of college opponents, the researchers found that the team-oriented behaviors were as strong a predictor of success in the draft and in later NFL performance as the on-field statistics.
“Coaches really appreciate this kind of behavior,” Maynes said. “It can set a tone; it can help to create a culture and a climate where players do things to ensure their team’s success, not their own.”
Those traits can spread to others and boost the overall performance of the team. Maynes described a linebacker in his study who would spend an extra hour in the weight room, and soon all of the linebackers were joining him, and then the whole defensive team, and then the whole team.
By comparison, the researchers looked at media outlets that tabulate draft-prospect rankings and found that they relied only on statistics and did not take team-oriented behaviors into account. Those rankings were less predictive of later player performance than the NFL team selections.
The takeaway for employers in any industry is that they may need to put more of an emphasis on capturing information that shows team-oriented skills, such as through structured interview questions that ask how people would respond in a certain scenario, or through personality tests, Maynes said.