Monday, October 29, 2012

Lessons from the SF Giants, 2012 World Series Champions

I don't use a whole lot of sports metaphors.  Heck, I like sports (especially baseball and soccer), but I find they're overused when it comes to HR, especially in team building.  Most teams in organizations don't have a defined individual competitor like sports teams do, and their metrics are much harder to pin down.

But in thinking about the dominating performance of the San Francisco Giants during the post-season, culminating in their 4-0 World Series shellacking of Detroit (sorry, Tigers fans), several themes emerged which I think are illustrative.  This post won't be about research and it may not immediately seem like it's about recruitment or assessment, but we can extrapolate back from these points to see the implications for selection.

First, workforce planning:  it's not always the case (and I know ardent baseball fans will come up with examples) but in the majority of games, certain positions--pitchers--are more important than the others.  That's not to say that you can win games without getting runs, but you can come darn close.  It's an important reminder that certain positions in an organization/team simply have more leverage and deserve more attention.  Bruce Bochy, the Giants' manager, recognized that, leading us to...

Point two: bench strength.  It's important to have broad skills across the team, but particularly in your key positions.  It speaks volumes about the depth of talent Bochy and the other coaches developed on the Giants that they lost their best closer (Wilson) early on and their former star (Lincecum) never hit his stride as a starter (but more on that in a second), yet they had several talented pitchers they could rely on to step up in these roles.  Imagine the flexibility this gives a manager, not only to replace unexpected vacancies but the hand you get to choose from on any given day.

Third: flexibility.  Aside from the aforementioned unexpected replacements (not to mention one of their sluggers being lost to a positive drug test), Bochy had to be ready to use people in different ways.  When he recognized that a certain catcher worked better with a certain pitcher, he moved the normal catcher (and batting champion, Posey) to first base.  When their former ace (Lincecum) couldn't perform as a starter, Bochy found a new role for him as reliever.

Fourth: trust.  Bochy kept at least one particular individual (Pence) in the lineup even though he wasn't consistent.  Why?  Because of his impact on the other players.  Bochy was willing to give him some time, and his patience was rewarded with some clutch playing later on--as well as a key motivational impact on the rest of the team, which leads us to...

Point five: fluid leadership roles.  Bochy wasn't the only one giving pre-game motivational speeches.  In fact the speech most credited with turning the Giants around was delivered by the aforementioned Hunter Pence.  Players revved each other up and helped own their team spirit rather than being told to have it.  A good manager allows this to happen, doesn't micro-manage, and doesn't have their ego bruised.  In fact good leaders will tell you they're happy when they blend into the background of a successful team.

Last but not least: patience.  For baseball teams, like all teams, there are rarely simple, quick solutions--this is especially the case in complex organizations with overlapping layers of management, politics, shifting priorities, etc.  Sustained success takes years of consistent management with a clear vision.  It's been said, but bear's repeating: hiring the best is not good enough.  Repeat that five times.  It's one of the reasons why assessments don't perfectly correlate with performance, and why a narrow view of selection won't cut it.

So, back to staffing.  What are the take home lessons?

1) Certain positions are more important to fill consistently right than others.  Does your organization know which ones these are?  Is your organization spending its resources acccordingly?

2) Bench strength isn't just important for sports teams.  Can your organization withstand the loss of a few key players (no pun intended)?  How many people can step up when needed and how quickly will you run out of talent?

3) How flexible is your organization when it comes to putting people in the right place?  Are you focused on position statements or on team and organizational success?

4) How much time do you give someone to start performing, and how quick is your organization to judge someone poorly?  This has implications not only for things like utility analysis but for organizational culture (and in turn,'s a big cycle).

5) When it comes to judging your recruitment and assessment efforts, how integrated is this view with a broader perspective on team and organizational culture?  Your organization may be broken into silos but that doesn't mean your perspective has to be.

I promise: limited sports metaphors in the future.  But when the cleat fits...

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