Media Releases

Refocusing important on and off the court, says recent study

February 12, 2013

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

TORONTO, ON – If an employ­ee’s per­for­mance drops in one area, does that mean they’re slack­ing off?

It could mean that 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,  says a study led by a researcher at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to’s Rot­man School of Man­age­ment.

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 and/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 Prof. Maria Rotun­do of the Rot­man School.

Prof. Rotun­do 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 the 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. There’s a wealth of data there,” says Prof. Rotun­do, who co-wrote the study with Prof. Paul Sack­ett of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta, Prof. Janelle Enns of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Leth­bridge and Prof. Sara Mann of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Guelph.

For the lat­est think­ing on busi­ness, man­age­ment and eco­nom­ics from the Rot­man School of Man­age­ment, vis­it

The Rot­man School of Man­age­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to is redesign­ing busi­ness edu­ca­tion for the 21st cen­tu­ry with a cur­ricu­lum based on Inte­gra­tive Think­ing. Locat­ed in the world’s most diverse city, the Rot­man School fos­ters a new way to think that enables the design of cre­ative busi­ness solu­tions.  The School is cur­rent­ly rais­ing $200 mil­lion to ensure Cana­da has the world-class busi­ness school it deserves. For more infor­ma­tion, vis­it


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Ken McGuf­fin
Man­ag­er, Media Rela­tions
Rot­man School of Man­age­ment
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
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