Saturday, November 05, 2005
In what appears to be the great New York Yankees tradition of buying everything in sight just to keep any other team from getting it, the team rounded out its coaching staff makeover yesterday by signing two pitching coaches.
Actually, it only appears that way. It's a block of hiring wisdom most organizations can take advantage of: Complementary staffing.
GATOR GOES GOTHAM
The Yankees hired Ron "Louisiana Lightning" Guidry to be the pitching coach to take the Mantle from the behated and beloved Mel Stottlemyre Senior. Guidry hasn't been a major league team's pitching coach before, but there's a lot to be said for the hire. First, he's a franchise hero, so after a season that could a disappointment only to Yankee fans and eight year olds and team owner George Steinbrenner (95-67, tied for 1st place in their division), there's the "good feeling" factor that helps sell tickets. Second, he's a smart pitcher; at his playing size of 5'11, 162 lbs. and a murderous fastball, Guidry is in the Roy Oswalt or Pedro Martínez mold, using a range of tools outside of sheer intimidating size to overwhelm his victims. Third, he will have the respect of pitchers for his fine career. Finally, he's bound to be really different from Stottlemyre. Because of Angus' Law of Problem Evolution, Stottlemyre, like all managers, found that his approaches would get diminishing returns. So when you replace someone, there are always some rewards in replacing her or him with someone fairly different.
The risky parts are (1) that Guidry hasn't done the job at a major league level before, and if the MLB.Com story is accurate, his resume shows working with pitchers in spring training, but not being the staff pitching coach even in the minors. And (2) the Yankee owner, a classic Theory XYY boss, is extremely difficult to work under. Guidry, who's been retired for a couple of decades, may find it hard to put up with bullspit of the calibre Steinbrenner dishes out. It certainly didn't make Stottlemyre any happier or younger-looking.
...the Yankees also hired long-time major league pitching coach Joe "The Owl" Kerrigan to be their "bullpen coach". Kerrigan's experience and reputation are the opposite of Guidry's. Kerrigan was one of those behemoth-body pitchers. He has lots of major league experience with at least the Expos, Phils and Red Sox (I thought he had worked with the Indians, but I could be off-base on that). He's earned the vocal respect of many major league pitchers with his coaching, though unlike Guidry, his career was not outstanding.
The complementarity is outstanding in many ways. It's like having two pitching coaches instead of one. If one guy can't reach a pitcher, the other is likely to be able to. If one can't solve the problem, the other probably can. It allows for Guidry to have a graceful (for the Yankees' efforts) exit if he can't take the Theory XYY toxicity, because there's The Owl, a recognized Wiz, already familiar with the staff, to take over if Gator either doesn't have the chops or the immune system to succeed. It's brilliant. It's also sad in a way, because it allows Steinbrenner a classic XYY maneuver, which is holding the Bullpen Coach of Damocles over Guidry's head all the time. Guidry knows they have this completely qualified replacement standing off to the side, and Steinbrenner is perfectly capable of using that to torment Guidry whenever it gives the owner pleasure to do so.
In a healthy organization, hiring complementary managers in connected departments is a winner I frequently encourage my clients to try. I like it for the same reasons the Guidry/Kerrigan move is a probable success. People whose experience and thinking style gives them different problem-solving skills create a stronger ability to solve more different problems. Angus' First Law of Organizational Development (All human systems tend to be self-amplifying) describes how most organizations gravitate towards becoming more uniform in their thinking, entropic. The only way to break away from the vortex is to consciously fight it, and complementary staffing is one of the best ways to do it. It works for managers, it works for line staff.
As an exercise, think about a contributor you work with who has great strengths and weaknesses. You may think of her as a "problem". Imagine now a complementary person you might pair her up with and what it might do for the quality or productivity of both of them.
It's worth thinking like the Yankees; it's one of the many bright things they do that don't require a phat budget.
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