Thursday, November 06, 2003

Staffing Tools: Baseball's Great
Examples for Everyone Else  

You win pennants in March -- Earl Weaver

The most important decisions any organization makes are those around personnel; who to hire, how to build teams from them, who to invest in and how and who to let go.

With all the lush "free agent" choices available in the Permafrost Economy's unprecedented unemployment numbers, providing an infinite smorgy of options and fire-sale prices, you'd think organizations would make deeper investments in tools and time to hire the exact right people. And while some do, most seem to be in a panic, overwhelmed by the range and depth of choices, frozen in indecision, even complaining. One of the more common, and existentially laughable stories that has been appearing in the business press has been corporations complaining about getting too many resumes for positions, how much it's costing them to process. Which is like a guy winning a Powerball lottery and complaining about his taxes.

A lot of the complain comes because most H.R. departments are devoid of real tools to help them analyse overall organizations needs, departmental needs and ways of thinking about how to blend the "recipe" that makes for success. Of course a limiting factor in most organizations is that they don't do a good job of measuring the abilities, aptitude & output of the people they already have, so they don't know what they really need and how best to blend newcomers with incumbents. Baseball to the rescue again.

Baseball front offices use many tools. Succession charts, scouting evaluations, statistics. Some teams really do little with this. The late 1970s San Diego Padres had a very primitive view of how to apply their tools. They just tried to buy a recognizable name at each position, kind of like the organizations that hire based on resumes. The Padres failed miserably, not just because the recruiting was based on apparent credentials (as opposed to accomplishments), but it ignored the whole recipe (balanced blend) component of team-building.

One of the tools that has become popular among baseball sabermetricians is the positional analysis. It's a tool that if filled-in properly and then thought about properly, and then applied skillfully, helps a team figure out what it has and what it needs. Various annual volumes will present one for each team. The format has become widespread, but just using the template doesn't guarantee wisdom.

One serious and thoughtful application of a positional analysis is on Jeff Williams' blog, The Wrigleyville Giant. As a Giants fan, he's only looking at that team's existing personnel and potential acquisitions for fit with their current resources. So far, he's done only the outfield, but he lays out his thinking clearly and in the right level of detail, perfect for the task at hand. Here's one player's worth as an example (but got to his site & look at the whole outfield product, the way he makes it fit together contextually):

Jose Cruz, Jr. RF - $4 million mutual option, $300k buyout
250/366/414 overall
304/405/519 vs LH
233/353/379 vs RH

257/338/463 overall
272/346/467 vs LH
252/335/462 vs RH

Good luck in your future endeavors, Mr. Cruz.

After his great display of poor clutch hitting and disastrously bad defense in the NLDS, it’s easy to say that Cruz should not be brought back. The fact is, it would have been hard to justify putting Cruz in RF next year even before the playoffs began. The 2003 postseason aside, Cruz is a very good defender in RF. Unfortunately, he doesn’t bring enough with his bat to justify sticking him in a corner outfield spot. While Cruz does take a lot of walks, he has shown over the course of his career that he doesn’t hit for a high enough average, keeping him from being the OBP machine I’d like to see. That combined with his mediocre power numbers are enough to keep from bringing him back next season. In no way is Cruz worth $4 million.

Williams' intelligent approach is one almost any organization would benefit from. Look at the way he boils down all-possible-data into a compact set of information, both textual and numeric, balancing accomplishments and salary and potential. At the way he organizes keepers, possible keepers, and then moves on to possible acquisitions and analyses their "match" to what's already on the roster. (I'm hoping he'll have time to maintain his weblog; apparently a day job is getting in the way).

I wish every H.R. department and every hiring manager would get half of Williams' insight. Can you imagine tweaking positional analysis for your own hiring/retention/team-building decisions?

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