With baseball in full swing, the book “Moneyball” catches my eye on the bookshelf. But my mind does not think about baseball, the main context of the story. I think about the book’s real takeaway. The one about putting together a successful team.
Sports teaches us a lot about life and business. And there’s no better example than the Oakland A’s of the early 2000’s. As he built his team, General Manager Billy Beane had far less money to spend than the wealthier teams in the league. So he thought differently. He found metrics that correlated better with winning games than the statistics that had been traditionally used. His approach worked – the cash-strapped A’s made the playoffs four consecutive years while averaging an impressive 98 wins per season during that stretch.
So what can we learn from Billy Beane?
Start with questioning traditional ways of looking at hiring and growing employees. Don’t be afraid to analyze things differently. For example, experience becomes a less reliable predictor than innate abilities of performance over time. Personal attributes like creativity, strategic thinking, emotional make-up and curiosity oftentimes make candidates who appear under-qualified on paper have the attitude and aptitude to become highly valuable assets over the long-term.
Recognize what each team member brings to the mix. Because Beane lacked the money necessary to attract the highest priced players, he looked for hidden talents and “fits” for his roster. The best hire isn’t always the superstar. Sometimes it can be the less heralded employee who has the skills and characteristics to be the right piece to get your staff to the next level. Be like Beane – find the talent who complements your team and who others aren’t chasing.
Value measurement over emotion. Build a quantitative hiring rationale and stick to it. Qualitative evaluation is important, but measurement is more so. This does not mean you have to be a slave to a scorecard of complicated statistics. Statistics make accurate assessment possible, but the real success comes from cultivating valuable understanding of the measures.
Brad Stevens, head coach of Butler University, takes a page out the same book. This small Indiana college made unlikely fairy tale runs to the final game of the NCAA basketball tournament in both 2010 and 2011. Stevens only recruits players who are willing to devote themselves to playing individual roles and sacrificing their own self-interest for the ultimate goal of winning as a team. As a result, their roster has several “catalysts”, players who make those around them better, even at the expense of their own self interests. Individually these players may be just average, but within the team context they are superstars in making all the pieces fit together. In short, the sum of a typical Butler team is greater than its parts.
None other than Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, calls Butler players “no stats all-stars”, players who are “widely regarded as replaceable cogs in a machine, nonetheless every team they’ve ever played on has acquired some magical ability to win.”
Some say sports is a metaphor for life. If that’s true, then I want to be like Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s.
Image credit: Flickr Cavutto