Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Lessons From Paul Richards
Part II: Scoring Big in the 1st Inning  

It's only the Big Inning, It's only just the start...
-- Chicago Transit Authority

One of the things I most often try to counsel managers to take seriously is the importance of the first three weeks on a new job. The press gives the President of the U.S. an imaginary "100 days", but just as the Prez' paycheck and perks and personal security are a lot higher than yours, his 100 days is a period you'll never be given.

Paul Richards is one of baseball's management giants with a lot of lessons for managers of non-baseball organizations (see Lessons From Paul Richards Part I, October 31, for more details on his career if you're not familiar with him). Richards understood quite a few things that new managers will find worth copying.

1. One of the strongest instant-hero things you can do on a new gig is to spot a key mistake of omission your predecesssor made and then fix it.
Sometimes you see these yourself, especially if you've been working within a department you're now managing. But every manager has blind spots or relative-weaknesses. If you don't see anything right out of the box, start looking. The shortcoming might have been budgetary, or human interface, or operational foresight. I always encourage clients to have private one-on-one sessions with every staffer below them in a hierarchy, every peer-manager whose department touches on your new group and ask what hasn't been working, or what could make a difference if we could just do it. Line staff, especially, have a parade of unmined insights that improve operational effectiveness, and not only will they generally be happy you made thier vision come true, when you share credit publically with them, you've won the chance to have many others step forward and offer up their insights, too.

It's important not to trash your predecessor in this process (politically bad because if you prove to be better than someone you've already convinced everyone was a "2", all it means is you're a "3").

2. You can be what Richards called a "Counter-Disciple" & use bad managers from your past to help, too.
Richards told leading baseball writer Leonard Koppett he had learned more from the mistakes made by managers he had played for than from their good points. Koppett explained Richards kept a notebook of good and bad things managers he played for did. By concentrating on what not to do, he told Koppett, he evolved theories of what might work. He called this being a Counter-Disciple. Obviously,m those of you who have worked for a lot of boneheads are at an advantage here.

3. When you're starting, don't hold back on asking for what you want.
As I mentioned in the October 31 entry, Richards went to a stingy ownership that wanted to win and he (budgetarily) asked for the moon. It shocked them into rethinking their whole approach, a revolution they wouldn't have had if he had been working within their old model. And this is important...you may want, down the road, to work in the old model, and if you don't trash it to executive management, you can go back if it works out it was better. But if you stick with the old model, and you want to change it, it'll be a much harder fight later on, one you probably can't win.

4. Experiment aggressively early and and observe results rigorously.
When Richards inherited his first management gig, the 1951 Chicago White Sox, he stimulated one of the most aggressive set of changes ever. The team released aging hall-o-famer Luke Appling, drafted four veterans from other teams, and traded two of their best-known pitchers. And that was just December. During the season, he moved 13 players through trades or sales, all in an effort to get the recipe he thought he needed. He brought up minor leaguers and gave them a serious chance to prove themselves, something few managers in baseball do, and fewer outside the game have the guts to try..

I'm not suggesting here you need wholesale staff turnover. The Richards moves I discussed here were a real-life metaphor for the kinds of changes you should be prepared to try. Baseball is, to an overwhelming degree, the talent on the roster. Outside of baseball, the people you have are still the most importnat asset you'll manage, but in early changes you'll want to see how much you can get out of what's on your roster and how you can tune your processes to optimise their value before you start firing and hiring. But his aggressive experimentation with young talent does translate well. The people who have most torque to add (in any organization) are the ones being currently least-used effectively...that's just simple logic. Every organization has staff being underused, you you can get a quick productiivty hit unleashing any underused talents they have once you talk with the employees and find out what they are.

Early experimentation with processes and operational designs and patterns and staff deployment will yield a lot, especially if you are open with your staff and enlist their help and make them more optimistic about the future than they are comfortable with the status quo.

Of course, Richards never stopped experimenting...that was his hallmark. When he insisted on (and got) both the general manager and manager jobs in Baltimore in 1954, he immediately pulled off the most populous two-team deal in major league hsitory: a 17-man swap with the Yankees. But with Richards, it was about more than personnel. It was techniques, equipment, stretching the rules (he was sort of a Bobby Valentine in that regard, and was probably responsible for inventing the fake injury near the end of the season that would allow a team to carry an extra roster spot late in a season).

TIP: You'll never be able to have as friction-free an opportunity to mold your surroundings to your strengths and contribute to an organization as when you start your management position. Make the most of it; think and act like Paul Richards.

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