I live in the South. This time of year, that means college football; that also means otherwise healthy friendships will erupt with enough recrimination, envy, taunts, and ill will to put the Corleones and Tattaglias to shame. Everyone crows that this is their year , we’re going to come out on top, and what-do-you-mean-that-overtime-loss-last-month-means-we-can’t-play-for-the-championship? (Except folks like me, a Wake Forest alum, who find comfort in high-minded humility, of course.)
College football has never really found a satisfying way to crown its champion. It used to be that sportswriters picked it; then the coaches started their own poll and jumped in the mix. They tried a championship game, and then the number crunchers came out with the BCS, a computerized system that seemed to factor in everything (unless it was important, and then it was left out). Then Colorado walloped Nebraska–and Nebraska advanced to the championship game. .
Now the college football dons have shifted course again. We finally get a “playoff” among four teams chosen by a “selection committee” meant to take the edge off the BCS’s cold math and reintroduce a bit of the eye test back into crowning a champ. Semifinal games will rotate among the “Classic Bowls”–the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, and Peach (for any of you who shivered through 1980s-era Peach Bowls in old County Stadium in Atlanta, the “Classic” designation is probably worth a chuckle). The semifinal winners will advance to the championship.
Problem solved. Right?
Probably not. That fifth team surely won’t be happy. You can count on demands to expand the playoff in coming years. Why? One reason I expect controversy is the selection committee is going to be using the eye test to pick its contestants. For sure, they will look at objective factors like strength of schedule, overall record, and such, but when you get down to the difference between the fourth and fifth teams, subjective factors are going to have to enter into the equation.
The same is true for human resources professionals. As much as employers try to rely on the most objective hiring metrics they can, the subjective factors cannot be discounted. Will this person be “a fit”? If we have to reduce staff, who has the more flexible skills to take on added responsibilities in different areas?
You will eventually find yourself in a situation like the college football selection committee, having to explain the objective and subjective factors behind who was in and who was out. Subjective factors are by no means out of bounds. They often, however, are the factors that find their way into the center of employment claims. Documenting performance expectations, giving long and serious consideration, and developing a clear job-related rationale for choosing certain employees or prospects over others are critical to showing a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for your actions.