Lessons from the World Series
As of this writing, the Baltimore Orioles (last place in baseball's American League East: 47-115 W-L record and 61 games out of first) are the first team to report Spring Training dates: Pitchers and Catchers report on February 13, 2019 with the first practice the next day on February 14.With the World Series of Baseball in the books, 96.5% of the Major League Baseball teams and their fans are disappointed and I expect every one of the teams (all 30 of them) is already seeking that elusive formula that will align the purpose and talent of their organization with the training, team development, and execution which will have them saying “This was the year!” next October.
Why are so many annually drawn to America’s pastime and some mesmerized by each of their respective team’s 162 games? What can we learn about the American psyche? How can this translate to your life at work?
When your wife (in my case) or your significant other asks the age old question: “Will this season ever end?” you can begin to divine the attraction to the sport. It’s a season that has a beginning and an end, and for those who need to relive their past success or have a chance to end the misery, rebuild, and start anew, that is a good, cathartic, and refreshing lesson. For most of us in our business lives, work is a continuum – “the old grind” – but sports seasons like that which just ended provide an important opportunity for reflection, learning, and improvement.
In fact, one of the important takeaways from our work in Lean Manufacturing, the management philosophy popularized at Toyota and Ford that targets continuous improvement and waste reduction; is the notion of model years in cars. Consider what happens each year with the introduction of new automobile models. Manufacturers have the opportunity to stop last year’s work, to reflect on features and benefits of their various models as well as the efficiency of the manufacturing processes that make them. They can tweak the formula and get back at it hoping for a better outcome. Some of these types of product model roll outs are quiet – others with great fanfare.
Consider the introduction of the new Apple iPhone on September 12, a standing room only unveiling of some technological advancement or another that on the face of it might seem minor (brighter, larger display; longer battery life) but that represents the further advancement of this technological juggernaut. This all, just in time for Samsung or Google to have its turn at bat.
This is reminiscent of the magical moment in sports where lead contestants elevate one another’s game to such a high level that they blow the field away. When market leaders are so focused and competitive, their customers benefit. So, model years and competitive benchmarking are vital. Having a league like a well-defined industry vertical and appropriate industry metricsis equally important. Our experience certainly dictates that a well-run company with the right business analytics delivered in a timely fashion makes motivation and team performance easier to manage. The statistics intensive nature of baseball certainly appeals to that element in many of us.
But, what if you are in the service industry? What if you work at a bank or a vehicle maintenance service organization (MRO), a hospital, or a custom job shop manufacturer that never makes the same thing twice? How do you get the same ability to organize yourself around features and benefits and efficiency? That is the challenge.
Our clients who are successful with this create campaigns that focus on agreed upon standard business processes supported by written procedures because for them the process IS the product. Campaigns are like seasons, model years, and delivered projects. Where you find yourself without campaigns to improve you are less likely to be in control of your future success. We see the best success when the following elements are in place:
Well defined current process with written operating procedures. This is the first important step in digital transformation. It tends toward consistency and allows for automating workflows which in turn can supercharge onboarding of employees and employee development.
Timely metrics that support the process and that allow you to drive it toward improved customer outcomes.
An experimentation and ideation method. This creates a time based formula for you to evaluate and redefine processes. As above, this process should be supported by a written and agreed upon methodology.
An acceptance of the need to prove out new practices and to get stakeholder approvals when done.
A sharp focus on rolling out redesigns so your entire organization can see the changes and impact that is expected.
Top to bottom, champagne flowing, celebration for completed process changes that are announced to your customers and all company stakeholders. Acknowledge that it is easy to start improvement initiatives and challenging to see them through.Every success builds on what you already do well.
The good news with all of this is that you don’t need to wait until next season; you can start now and if you put a calendar based structure for the campaign process going forward, you will be in a good position to shape your own future. This might coincide with budgeting and annual planning because campaigns require resources – including common sense. All baseball teams are deep into the financial and staff planning for next season and certain players have already moved on looking for better outcomes. As the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti said,
“Transformation can only happen immediately; the revolution is now, not tomorrow.”
Reflect upon the way that everyone is lifted by the success of the team that they played for or rooted for. It’s a strange phenomenon and if you do it right, your employees, customers, and all stakeholders will share in the successes you have (big and small) but not if they don’t know about them. Its October. The interminable season is over. Next year has begun. This will be the year.