With Opening Day upon us, what can business learn from baseball?

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I’m a baseball fan. Opening Day is soon and I’ve been waiting since last October to see my boys in blue play ball. For millions of fans, baseball is all about home runs, no hitters, beer and soft drinks, popcorn, hotdogs and garlic-covered French fries.

Major League Baseball is a significant franchise business. Of the thirty teams, seventeen have a value of more than $1 billion, and the New York Yankees franchise is worth $3.4 billion. The least valuable team, the Tampa Bay Rays, generates almost $200 million in annual revenue.

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Valencia High graduate J.D. Busfield was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays last June during his junior year at Loyola Marymount University His goal this year: make the bigs. Photo by John Shaffer/LMU Athletics

It’s is all about winning games. Winning teams fill stadiums, which generates game-day revenue and long-term value from ticket sales, parking, merchandise, advertising, television and radio contracts, sponsorships and real estate.

Baseball is a business of talent, putting the best available team of individual players on the field for each play during the season. Businesses can learn from baseball about how to acquire, focus, manage and coach players on their own teams; let me elaborate.

The goal

Most teams begin the season with a stated goal. This goal is set by the ownership of the franchise and it is communicated to everyone in the organization.

Not every team has the same goal; the Oakland A’s have a stated goal to get into the playoffs which take place after the regular 162-game season. Other teams, such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, expect to win the World Series each year and are greatly disappointed if they do not (as are their fans).

Teams that are “rebuilding” often don’t set specific goals and I’ve noticed that those teams don’t do as well as the teams that have specific goals.

The standings

As the 162-game season progresses, every stakeholder (players, management, coaching staff, fans, media) sees exactly how the team is doing against the stated goal. This is done through a report called “the standings.”

The scoreboard

During each nine-inning game, those same stakeholders can see what is happening by paying attention to “the scoreboard.” The scoreboard shows how every individual player is performing. This is the equivalent of an ongoing, visible, real time performance evaluation.

Goals and scoreboards improve performance. Unfortunately, many businesses do not publicize their goals, internally or externally, because goals do not exist. Scoreboards are a rare sight to see in business.

The general manager’s role

The title isn’t accurate, as the job isn’t about generally managing the team.Specifically, the GM’s job is to acquire and evaluate talent. This is ongoing; player actions and behaviors are evaluated both on and off the field.

In baseball and in business, having the right people in the right spot is critical for success. Businesses focus on people when there is a vacancy, performance issues or a disciplinary problem; even then, the business may choose to ignore these issues.

That’s not the case in baseball. The GM will trade a player to another team in exchange for a player or players to win in the short term. The GM can demote a player to the minor leagues if they need improvement in some aspect of hitting, pitching or fielding. Players have been released from their contracts for off-the-field issues that hurt the team, or simply because they failed to provide enough value to justify their presence on the payroll.

What the manager does

The job of the manager is to use the players on the 25-man roster to win baseball games. The manager uses this talent to win games, literally play by play, pitch by pitch, inning by inning, game by game, series by series.

The manager is the tactical leader on the playing field, and his role is to move the players around the field and the batting order to win as many games as possible. He makes the best use of the talent available at that moment.

What coaches do

The role of the coach is to maximize the talent of each player in whatever role they play. Teams have pitching, hitting, fielding and baserunning coaches, all critical for player development on an ongoing basis.

In business, it is assumed that managers can also coach, but managers aren’t usually trained in coaching methods. As a result, employees are often not developed to their potential. Managers and employees would be hard pressed to define what winning is for their employer.

So what?

Your business is built on talent; it wins or loses based on the competency of your team members. How much time is spent in acquiring potential staff members? How much time is spent setting achievable goals and communicating those goals? What kind of scoreboard and standings are available to the “players” on your team? Is winning clearly defined? How much time is invested coaching people to become better? What are you doing to become better as the leader?

One last question

Do you have a team or simply a group of people who work for the same organization?

Ken Keller is a syndicated business columnist focused on the leadership needs of small and midsize closely held companies. Contact him at [email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of this media outlet.

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