I have always been a sports fan. I played various organized sports since I was 6 years old all the way through college, where I played baseball. In my opinion, so much of what happens in the sports world translates to everyday life. I also believe there are many lessons that can be learned and applied to hiring and team building.
There is a saying out there when it comes to individual performance….”Past performance is the best indicator of future performance.” If you only want to look at one main variable when hiring, then I would agree that this is the best indicator to use.
But what is not always so easy to find is that person waiting to become a top performer….a STAR. That 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.
What I have found interesting over the years is how many managers do not give themselves credit for the impact they or their organization’s culture can have on the performance of an individual.
In big league sports, the very best leaders…and I mean only the strongest leaders, can take players with great talent who are culturally disruptive and bring them into their organizations and integrate them into the team where their talent helps take the team to the next level.
Now, I understand what I am 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 (now with the Los Angeles Lakers) and his dealing 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 4 world championships with the New York Yankees. He brought Manny Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Although the Dodgers did not win a World Series with Ramirez, it is certainly unarguable that the team went farther with him than they would have gone without him.
The stronger the leader you are, the more options you are going to have in who to hire. The two examples above can only be pulled off 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 sacrifice in the short term for long term rewards. A leader can only be as strong as the culture they are in or the culture they are able to create. Most cultures just cannot handle a very disruptive personality no matter how strong the skill or talent level may be in that person.
Now 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 (not superior levels) because of the limits of their current environment or management. Look for what is lacking in that person’s environment that YOU can give them that will take them to the next level of performance.
The San Francisco Giants just won the World Series. It was their first world championship in 54 years. Going into the playoffs, they had very strong pitching (which of course is very important in post season baseball). But besides that, you would not have been able to find a superstar on their team before the playoffs began.
One of their players that contributed in a world class way was Cody Ross. Just a few months earlier, Ross was playing for the Florida Marlins. Towards the end of the season, Ross was put on waivers. What that basically means is that he was open to the market to any team that was willing to put a deal in place to take him. This is not something that is normally done with players a team wants to keep for the long run.
The Giants saw potential. The Giants realized that 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 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 your 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 are 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 the thing is, you do have to 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.