Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Who are your pitchers and catchers?

One of the key pieces of advice I often hear in talent management (TM) circles is to focus on your high performers. But when it comes to selection, we often treat each position the same--each recruitment and hire should be based on job analysis, sound exam development, administration, scoring, etc. We often spend the same amount of time on non-critical roles as we do for critical roles, all in the name of defensibility and merit.

Well, a new study may make you re-think your resource allocation and decide to take that TM advice. The catch? You have to think about your group like a baseball team.

In the study, published in the January '09 issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology, the authors looked at 29 years of data from nearly 800 teams in Major League Baseball. The goal was to determine whether the experience and skill of, and resources allocated to, "core role holders" (CRHs) contributed more to team success than non-core role holders (non-CRHs).

What's a "core role"? The authors define this as one where the incumbent "encounters more of the problems facing the team, handles more of the work than other roles, and is central to the workflow of the team."

Who would this be on a baseball team? The authors chose pitchers and catchers, for several reasons--one big one is they are involved in every play. In many plays, they're the only players involved.

How did they define skill? Using rate statistics and a measure of defensive skill. The rate statistics were on base percentage for (catcher) and on base percentage against (pitcher). Choice of metric is obviously a big sticking point, but consider that the latter was substantially correlated (r=.69) with earned run average, another common way of measuring pitcher performance. The defensive skill chosen was error rate. The authors used a one-year lag so skill from one year was correlated with team performance in the next.

How about resource allocation? This was defined simply as the sum of the salaries of all players who filled the core positions from 1985-2002 (no salary data prior to '85).

Okay, enough about measures. What did they find (using hierarchical linear modeling)? Well, quite a lot of interesting things actually (particularly if you're a baseball fan), but for our purposes:

- Career experience, job-related skill, and team experience average were all positively related to team performance.

- Career experience of CRHs was more strongly correlated with team performance than career experience of non-CRHs.

- Job-related skill of CRHs was more strongly related to team performance than job-related skill of non-CRHs.

- Core resource allocation (salary of pitchers & catchers) added a small, but significant amount to team performance prediction (3%).

So what are the implications?

1) Certain positions are worth more of your time in terms of recruitment and selection (sounds intuitive but do you practice this?). When conducting job analysis, we should consider the overall strategic importance of the position, not just the tasks performed and competencies required.

2) Certain general qualifications are more important for certain positions. This has major implications for things like recruitment messages, minimum qualifications and other screening and assessment methods. It even begs the question of whether we need to revisit how we calculate criterion-related validity statistics.

3) Performance management for these positions, including top-notch onboarding, appraisal, compensation, and career development plans, are critical.

4) The selection of individuals onto teams should pay particular attention to the CRH positions.

For those of us that don't work for a professional baseball organization, what roles might be considered "core"? Obviously the organization in question matters a great deal, but considering the definition the authors use, this might include people such as receptionists, lead and senior positions, and people in QA. The situation is a little tricky since most of us don't work in groups that are directly competing against other groups, so the measurement of success might also impact the results.

One downside of the study is it didn't account for (nor does it claim to) other factors, such as the importance of leadership (in this case, the coach), personality factors, resources, reward and information systems, etc. Using their best model, the authors were able to account only for 30% of variance in team performance. I'd also be curious to see if the offensive and defensive measures differentially predicted success and whether pitchers' performance predicted team performance any better (or worse) than the catchers'.

Want to read more? Check out the in press version here.

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