I’ve always been a sports fan. In fact, I played various organized sports from the time I was six all the way through college, where I played baseball. In my opinion, so much of what happens in the sports world has direct correlations to everyday life. I also believe there are many lessons there that can be applied to hiring and team building.
There’s a saying that when it comes to an individual, “past performance is the best indicator of future performance.” If you want to consider only one variable when hiring, then I would agree that this is the best indicator to use.
But what’s harder to find is a person waiting to become a top performer — a star. A person whose performance has been good, solid, reliable, but has not yet risen to the level of outstanding. So with these individuals, using the “past performance is the best indicator of future performance” indicator alone will always leave their potential on the table.
Over the years, what I’ve found interesting is how many managers don’t give themselves credit for the impact they or their organization’s culture can have on individual performance.
In big-league sports, the very best leaders can take players with great talent who are culturally disruptive, bring them into their organizations, and integrate them into the team in such a way that their talent helps to take the team to the next level.
Now, I understand that what I’m about to address may not be a risk worth taking in most business environments. However, the results are so outstanding that the examples need to be mentioned.
The first example that comes to mind is Phil Jackson of the Chicago Bulls (and, later, the Los Angeles Lakers) and his dealings with Dennis Rodman. Phil took a player who was considered a poison with previous teams and brought him to the Chicago Bulls as an integral part in winning world championships. The second example would be Joe Torre, who won four world championships with the New York Yankees. He subsequently brought Manny Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Although the Dodgers didn’t win a World Series with Ramirez, it’s certainly inarguable that the team went further with him than they would’ve gone without him.
The stronger you are as a leader, the more options you’re going to have in whom to hire. The examples above could’ve been pulled off only by the strongest of leaders, who can get “buy in” from the existing players before bringing in the questionable person. That “buy in” is centered on the mission of the organization and those leaders who are able to demonstrate to the existing team members why this will work.
This cannot be accomplished by most people outside of the sports world. Most leaders are either not that strong or don’t desire to deal with a bit of the “it might get a little worse before it gets better,” which is, once again, something the best leaders are willing to engage. Leaders can be only as strong as the culture they’re in or the culture they’re able to create. Most cultures cannot handle a very disruptive personality, no matter how strong the person’s skill or talent level.
Having said all of that, here is a step that all managers can take:
You can identify the solid, non-disruptive personalities that are performing at “average” levels because of the limits of their current environment or management. Look for what’s lacking in that person’s environment that you can give them that will take them to the next level of performance.
In 2010, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series. It was their first world championship in 52 years. Going into the playoffs, they had very strong pitching (which, of course, is very important in post-season baseball). Other than that, you wouldn’t have been able to find a superstar on their team prior to the playoffs.
One of the players who contributed in a world-class way was Cody Ross. Just a few months earlier, Ross was playing for the Florida Marlins. Toward the end of the season, Ross was put on waivers. What that means is that he was open to any team that was willing to put a deal in place to take him. Typically, this is not something that’s done with players a team wants to keep for the long run.
The Giants saw potential. More specifically, they realized they had a different culture and a manager that they felt could have an impact on Ross’ performance. Two months after picking up Ross, he was named the National League Championship Series most valuable player and had an incredible impact on the Giants’ route to the World Series championship. The thing that I find most ironic is this: I don’t think anyone would have predicted it based on his past performance.
Here’s what all hiring managers can learn from this:
Have a very good understanding of your organizational culture and management style. Understand your organization’s values and principles and the associated behaviors that have contributed to your success. Be sure you know what types of individuals will excel in your environment. Then, when you’re interviewing, don’t discount people with “average” to “good” performance if you believe that you can bring them to a higher level within your culture. But here’s the catch: You must be able to give them something quantifiable that another organization cannot. If you can’t, then maybe you have to work on your organization before bringing additional people on board.
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