Thursday, March 16, 2006

In Which The Detroit Tigers Teach Us

There are two giant lessons that are absolutely core to my knowledge that I've never talked about even once in the years I've been writing this blog and in the two Management by Baseball books I've written. The inimitable Repoz at Baseball Think Factory (who, though built like Gary Pettis, once won a World Championship Wrestling Elimi-Ganza against the heavyweight class Al Roker and the dreadnought class Andre the Giant simultaneously) posted a piece today by Mike Cobb of The (Lakeland, Fla.) Ledger that covers both simultaneously.

The article is based on a talk with the new Detroit Tiger manager, Jim Leyland. The two lessons are:

#1 - There Is No Corporate Culture. There are almost no organizations (~5%) with a functioning "corporate culture". About 10% have what I call a "corporate personality". The rest have nada, zip.

#2 - Organizational inertia, the weight of a shared emotional constellation, is very difficult to change, even if the current setting is undermining the group's success.

I'll get to those in a second, but here are some snippets of Leyland's observations about the Tiger team he's inherited.

Tiger manager Jim Leyland likes his team. He likes the talent. But as he's watched them go through their work this spring, he noticed something missing and for a while, he couldn't quite figure out what it was.

Every night, he spends time in his office going over things and thinking about his team. Tuesday night, it came to him. They're just too nice. They need a mean streak. They need to be a little ornery. They need a few more. . . well, guys who aren't always so nice. {SNIP}

He likes the talent. He thinks they're capable of playing winning baseball. He just wants them to be a little meaner when they take the field. {SNIP} "This team has no personality. It has no charisma.

"It's got good players. It's got the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet," he said. "I wish people would rant and rave a little more. I'd like to see somebody swear once in a while when they strike out."

Leyland's not sure exactly how you teach that, or even if you can teach it. For the most part, it's something that's either there or it isn't. That's either in a player's personality or it isn't. {SNIP} He wants his players to show more passion, more confidence and less acceptance of losing. {SNIP}

Identifying the problem was the easy part. Correcting it the hard part.

As someone with a degree in anthropology, I use anthropologist E.B Tylor's definition of culture. Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by humans as members of society. Cultures are organic because they are the product of (and in turn the producers of) a myriad of individual personalities of the humans and environmental factors. Like a crunchewy food substance, cultures both have stability and an innate ability to change.

In almost all cases, they adapt year after to changing conditions in ways they need to for them to survive, and they do this without hierarchical management. In almost all cases, organizations' complexes of knowledge, belief, etc. as described by Tylor are crazy-quilts of the random brain-spasms of individuals with high rank in the hierarchies. Which is why some organizations can actually achieve something I call a "Corporate Personality".

Cultures are evolving survival systems, so for the rare organization that has an actual culture, they are invaluable competitive structures.. A personality, even a healthy one  is both less consistent and less adaptive than a culture is.

Two of the winning-est baseball teams of the last decade had personalities. The 1998 New York Yankees (114-48) really imprinted on manager Joe Torre's personality: ultra-competitive, zen-quiet-still, humane, dignified, ultra-competitive. The 2001 Seattle Mariners (116-46) imprinted on Edgar Martínez personality: focused, glacial, relentless, quietly predatory.

When I worked at Microsoft, it had a corporate personality. In a 500 person company with a single-digit integer's worth of trained managers, the team was being guided by men (and a tiny handful of women) who had gotten management positions through seniority, having a job unique or duo-nique to the company and then having to hire a department under them to handle the growth. In the absence of acquired knowledge about how to manage or conduct themselves, most individuals who had decision-making authority asked themselves WWBGIIID -- ¿What Would Bill Gates III Do? They consciously (mostly) imitated the behaviors of one single person. They did this not just in decision-making, but in clothes, the frames of their glasses, their vocabulary and other, less visible choices.

Microsoft had an almost perfect corporate personality -- it was able to succeed at anything that <billg> could succeed at (or that Steve Ballmer could bulldog through over the wreckage on the occasions that approach failed) and found it had to throw megatons of excess resources at any problem that didn't match his skill set and personality. Enron and General Electric when Jack Welch as in his glory years were other organizations that had a personality and not a culture.

Personality, the imprinting of a single human's constellation of behaviours, is more than most organizations have. Most have nothing at all, unlike individual humans, all of whom have a personality no matter how desperately shallow or defective it might be.

Whenever you see an organization with completely inconsistent ways of handling challenges or change, they have neither a culture nor a personality. Home Depot stores are like this, as is Northwest Airlines, as FEMA is now (though in the past, it apparently had an actual, functioning culture)

Whenever you see an organization with rigid dogmæ or fat written procedures manuals or codes of conduct, they have neither culture nor personality. The Army is like this, as is Boeing.

NOTE: One question I've never been able to answer is this: Is an organization with a personality less likely or more likely to be able to create a culture? I suspect less (something's already occupying that niche), but I'm not sure. I welcome your opinions on that issue.

As experienced and successful manager Jim Leyland says, specific cultural threads either exist or they don't and the manager can't just make them happen. As part of an overall change management initiative, structured and executed with energy and resolute determination, a group of managers can create an ideal environment that will help propel a group towards a culture. Management needs to be relentless in seeking the right staffers and blend of different staffers (hiring a uniform herd of the same kind of person in different bodies might result in a personality, but not a functional culture). Staff stability is required and a commitment to not grow faster than a culture can sustain (you need roughly three enculturated people over roughly two years to imbue each new hire, so this suggests you can't grow staff more than about 16% in any year).

The effort to create a culture requires rigorous planning and deft execution. And more patience than most organizations (especially publicly-owned) have. The Detroit Tigers are thinking about it and that's a great place to start. Are you as evolved as the Bengals?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

free website counter