Monday, October 25, 2004

Part III - The Carlos Beltrán
You're Missing Out On  

With the benefit of his (a) being on a team that made the playoffs, and (b) totally coming to chew bubble gum and kick ass, Carlos Beltrán, the Houston Astros' center-fielder finally got the national attention his skill level merits. In large organizations, there are usually at least a dozen Carlos Beltráns lurking hidden, performing at a high level but not noticed either because they work in a low-profile area, work for a manager who doesn't realize it, or work for a manager who's keeping their star hidden.


In the 55 playoff plate appearances he notched, Beltrán (The Manati Manatee) hit a Bondsian 8 homers, averaged .435, with a smokin' on-base of .535, a caliente 1.020 slugging percentage and produced an OPS of 1.555. He stole 6 bases, and didn't get caught once.

Sometimes players put up sweet looking numbers in a playoff series or two and while those numbers look good, on occasion the numbers are a little empty of torque delivered because they don't actually help the team score runs. But his hitting actually helped his team, too. His 14 RBI puts him almost in Hack Wilson territory for those 12 games, and the 21 runs he scored are in the stratosphere; that hitting really resulted in run yield all around.

Of course, he's a skilled outfielder with a good throwing arm, too, and for people who value the stolen base, a prolific base thief who gets caught about as often as Seal releases an album of AC/DC covers (he was 42 steals -3 caught this season, improving on his 35-4 lifetime season composite average). A side note here: Steals have become discredited, because on composite average, unless you can succeed more than two-thirds of your attempts, the net benefit of the bases you steal becomes a net-negative. In our current baseball environment, with the juiced ball and lots of extra-base hits, losing a runner to a stolen base becomes even more "expensive". Take this year's Juan "Perhaps Not As Lucky As We Thought" Pierre: Pierre successfully pilfered 45 sacks this season, but was put out trying 24 times, so for all his success, it appears (context plays a part, so we can't be sure from looking at these season numbers) his base-stealing efforts undermined his Florida Marlin team's offense. But this voting the stolen base off the island thing is only reasonable for the composite average. The reality is, if you can steal 42 bases in a season and only get caught 3 times, the net advantage is about like hitting an extra 16 doubles. His level of accomplishment, if he can keep it up another four years or so, would put him among the all-time stolen base percentage leaders, and one of the few players in history who both stole a lot of bases and managed to contribute a lot doing it.

All of a sudden, there are a lot of interesting stories are circulating about Beltrán mostly, now that the Astros are sitting on the sidelines, speculation about where his free agency in the off-season might take him. But he's been discovered after toiling in relative obscurity for five years in Kansas City away from the coasts where national media live and focus, and on a team that has been out of playoff contention for all but six months of his career.

It's brutal that a contributor this talented could be so overlooked by so many. But not uncommon.


In big organizations, the wasting of talent is pandemic. The larger the organization, the more likely someone can be a star performer and be overlooked. ¿Why does this happen?

Most frequently, it's because a contributor works in a low-profile area. Big organizations have their star groups that are showered with resources and praise, and their grunt groups that, while equally necessary, aren't viewed as "sexy" or appealing. It's not universal, but as a rule a successful organization's sales department will be very good at selling themselves as important, and sales-men and -women are likely to rise up in a hierarchy with some success -- their personal skill set benefits them. On the other hand, people who do operations or work in the warehouse in a line or managerial capacity will generally get overlooked relative to their contribution. Again, the skill set required to be successful in operations doesn't include marketing oneself and therefore will exist in a lower ratio of successful contributors. It's not just business: in the military, there are special forces and the Air Force, and these have a lot more star quality than the equally necessary infantry and their slogging and grunt work. In academia, most four-year colleges maintain departments they need to have for a balanced list but that are not well-endowed or treasured, while other departments get most of the gravy and glory.

In under-valued areas, people can be stars, but they're being stars at something that the organization has forgotten one can be a star at. If you work in a big organization, I'll bet you have a number of these floating around, under-recognized or perhaps unrecognized.

Sometimes, the star is hidden because the contributor's manager is afraid to lose her or is just not a promoter. I see this sometimes. The department manager, while valuing the star, is just so focused on inputs and outputs that the manager makes no special effort to promote the star's work outside the department. Frequently, this is part of a personality setting of the manager; he or she is not a people-focused manager, or in the family he grew up in the parents made no effort to praise, assuming "one should just know", and saving feedback for negative situations. Overcoming one's family upbringing and the way that experience can infiltrate one's managerial patterns is Third Base in the Management By Baseball model.

Finally, the nastiest reason. Sometimes the star is hidden because the manager is afraid to share the limelight, either because it might put him or her in the position of having a replacement on hand (making the manager more disposable) or because the manager's ego doesn't sit comfortably with sharing any benefits that might come with glory. This reason is the more neurotic and hardest to overcome. It is more prevalent when then manager's neurotic behavior is fueled by the organization's wider neurosis: a place where employment bulimia (layoffs or restructurings as a normal response to difficulties) is a way of being, there are logical as well as neurotic incentives for this managerial behavior.

It's likely there are Carlos Beltráns in your organization, overlooked, under-appreciated stars. If you find them and promote them, they, and you, can boost your organization's production.

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