Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Rangers Are the 1st to Adjust:
The Last Three Letters of "Trend" are "End"  

While most management teams jump on trends that seem inevitable, about 85% of those trends turn out to be ephemeral. Another 10% become survivals, like the buttons-that-don't-button at the end of men's sportscoat sleeves or like people saying "God bless you," even though they don't really believe sneezing opens up the sneezer to demonic possession or a sudden self-destructive desire to watch Bernie Mac on t.v. or admit they really did bet on Reds' games before or reorganize as an LLC. The last 5% of popular trends are either highly-adaptive, or at least functional enough that they tend to add value over time.

Selling corporate naming rights to stadia is not one of those 5%. The Texas Rangers have figured this out more quickly than most teams, and though they have a little more incentive than most (more about that), as a pioneer in dumping the corporate name off their facility, they are way ahead of non-baseball organizations in figuring out a trend is not a legacy is not a foundation for the future.

According to Anthony Andro's story in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

The park that has been known as Ameriquest Field in Arlington since 2004 is now Rangers Ballpark in Arlington after the ballclub ended its naming-rights deal with Ameriquest Mortgage Co. It is the ballpark's third name since it opened in 1994.

"We did a lot of research last year and one of the things that came across is we have a huge asset in the perception of the ballpark," Rangers owner Tom Hicks said. "For the amount of money that was left on the agreement, it was worth more to me over the next 26 years to have our brand back."

The 30-year, $75-million agreement ended Friday when the Rangers and Ameriquest agreed to part ways. There was no buyout, and the club has no plans to resell the naming rights.

"A year ago they [Ameriquest] weren't interested at all [in ending the deal], but they are in an industry that's having issues now," Hicks told Star-Telegram columnist Randy Galloway on Monday during his ESPN/103.3 FM radio show. "We were able to complete the deal Friday. Things changed for them, and they changed for us. Their industry is going through a lot of change now. We just quit taking their money."

While I have rarely been a fan of Hicks' decision-making, he seems to have gotten significantly more astute or perhaps humble over the last two years. This decision was very astute. Think about decisions made in your own span of control you might re-consider.

For one thing, in the context of the organization, the net income from the agreement was not big bills -- naming rights are an opportunistic way to cash in on what appears to be almost free money -- as long as you put your own reputation at risk by combining with another organization over which you have no control beyond the naming rights contract. That organization may devolve or mutate or in the case of Ameriquest, be exactly who they are and bring great public shame to an entire industry

I had a client who insisted on pre-paying for a three-year contract for phone service rather than paying a monthly bill because she would get a 6% discount. I'm not kidding. One of the primary arguments the salesman had made to her was that she would save a lot of money in not having to take on the effort of paying monthly. This is a risible argument, because if that was true, the seller would be saving an equal amount of money, so they could afford to discount the package in a more meaningful way. Six months into the contract, her provider bought another company, and her quality of service tanked (perhaps because they were trying to recover the purchase price by pimping their existing customers, perhaps because they were distracted). The seller was glad to make some partial refunds to her, as long as she jumped through their hoops. A little lost business from outages, a lot of paperwork, a lot of time spent waiting on busy customer service lines listening to demented Kenny G tunes and pressing the pound sign.

The less control you can exert, the more you put at risk by putting your fate in another organization's hands. The bigger they are relative to you, the more risk you have taken. Are you doing this anywhere in you own shop?

Oakland's stadium has changed names a couple of times as corporate entities have bought sponsors. San Francisco's Telecommunications Corporation Park changes names annually to adapt to whatever the new name is for the corporation is. Some of those names have some lustre -- some are generic. Some will undoubtedly become the next Enron. It hasn't happened yet, but I'm waiting for the Seattle Mariners' park, now called Safeco Field after a local insurance company, to have to rename itself after a takeover to New York Life Field, which would cause riots in the New York-disdainful Northwest that could only be quenched by hosing down the wilding mobs with streams of high-pressure soy low-fat double-foam shot-of-almond latte.

Beyond baseball, bigger organizations are very slow to keep up with what they put into place because of an ephemeral trend. The easiest thing to do is to leave a decision unattended, as humans we have been able to progress because we make decisions we can safely leave unattended and focus our attention on new challenges, but that leaves survivals. 

My buddy Eric works at an organization with a 401K program that they formulated in 1999. It proffers the choice of a wide range of high-tech, high-beta high-volatility mutual funds and a single conservative money market fund. No bonds, no international choices, no big energy companies. This is a classic survival -- what was encountered for the first time and made perfect sense in a single, mica-thin moment in time is ridiculous if you leave it unattended.

Attending to survivals is not a binary, all or nothing choice. A semi-annual review of unattended decisions is actually a pretty fun exercise. Make a list (get someone from outside your department shadow your work for a day because insiders tend not to see survivals -- when was the last time someone questioned the non-buttoning buttons on blazer sleeves? -- and offer to return the favor for them). Go through the list and ask the questions "How would we do this if we were starting it from scratch today? Five years ago? A year ago? No organizations have no survivals that could use at least a little tweaking.

There's another changing context here. The Rangers' stadium was out in the middle of nowhere (intentionally) when built. Now, Hicks and his partners are developing it.

The addition of the new Dallas Cowboys stadium to the area as well as Hicks' Glorypark town center development also spurred the Rangers to pursue the move, Rangers president Jeff Cogen said.

"We're going to have millions of football fans and shoppers and restaurant- and theater-goers that may have never seen a baseball game," Cogen said. "It's important to us that they see the Rangers' logo on the side of the ballpark and not a corporate entity's logo."

New potential customers, those who live in the area or those who come to other venues, are more likely to notice baseball if the facility has some identification/branding of its own. It's hard to imagine any corporate name on the building could have value to the team greater than its own name in this context.

Nothing in life is totally certain now except that Pete Rose could hit a baseball, would bet on anything including an exit date from Iraq, and behaves as though he is a pathological liar

The context that turns ideas into broadly-applied trends evolves away from the original, more often than not enough so that the costs of not making a change to the status quo are higher than the costs of making a change.

I believe the corporate naming rights trend is coming to an end as a uniform lockstep franchise behavior. I say lockstep because the determination to do it was so strong that teams turned down bigger bids from citizens' groups that wanted to keep corporate sponsorship out of their publicly-subsidized facilities. The amount of money to be harvested is generally too little relative to the risk in many cases, and too little relative to the teams' own reward potential from having their name on their facility.

Baseball has figured out how to deal with survivals (even if it requires giving booked income back). ┬┐Can you?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Baseball Silences The Bass-Ackwards Mating Call of the Wild Headhunter  

North American management is falling so far behind baseball in its ability to handle actual management work that national business columnists are having to push line staff to do managers' work for them...and be grateful for it. Baseball would never put up with managers who don't manage -- and neither should business or government or academia or any organization that strives to be adequate.

It's one thing for a manager to delegate decisions to people with domain knowledge -- as long as the manager tracks results and offers feedback. Connie Mack, baseball's longest-running field manager act, was famous for recruiting players who could be self-directed on the field. Mack was able to delegate many of the hundreds of in-game decisions to his "staff" and this built up their expertise and kept them engaged in the moment-by-monet urgency of winning. To do this, though, Mack needed to give feedback every inning. "Good choice," or "not-so-good choice", and if the latter why and what might work better, and why. A lot of mandatory feedback. Like close to everything management can do to justify their position and salary differential over line staff, managerial value results from feedback.

And so it was with a great deal of angst that I read the Sunday Seattle Times (and nationally-syndicated) workplace columnist Nick Corcodilos' column with the following headline and opener:

Do you ask your boss for feedback?

Kudos to those readers who ask for feedback from the boss without waiting for review time. I'm worried about those who don't bother at all, or who wait for the boss to tell them how they're doing. Feedback is an important part of doing a job well. In fact, feedback is so fundamental a control mechanism throughout our lives that I wonder how people could miss its significance in their careers. Kudos to those readers who ask for feedback from the boss without waiting for review time. I'm worried about those who don't bother at all, or who wait for the boss to tell them how they're doing. Feedback is an important part of doing a job well. In fact, feedback is so fundamental a control mechanism throughout our lives that I wonder how people could miss its significance in their careers.

Please understand, Corcodilos is a bright and insightful workplace columnist. He's usually contrarian and points out the foolishness of the status-quo approaches to recruiting and hiring and incentives. But he's ignoring a major hole in his swing, which is while it's a great idea for staff in the absence of a manager giving feedback to solicit feedback, a manager who isn't giving feedback isn't being a manager, and should be put on probation or let go. Period. If you work for a manager who doesn't give feedback, enabling him to continue in the job by taking on the responsibility of the single defining task a manager has is destructive of you and your organization.

The ability for an organization to be competitive or merely adequate at what is does rests on acquiring the right talent, deploying it properly, experimenting, collecting data on the results and then adjusting approaches based on the analysis and transmogrifying staff abilities through coaching/training/instructions and helping staff make the right new choices. That is, giving and getting feedback.

Baseball clarifies this most elegantly. Imagine a baseball manager who never gives feedback. No corrections, no pointing out how and why an individual or the squad achieved success. Imagine the players/staff have to ask for feedback to get any.

Well, go ahead and imagine, but there is no such thang. A team that had management and coaching staff whose jobs weren't built around the collecting of data, analysis of the data and the issuance of prompt positive and negative feedback would be close to guaranteed inevitable last place finishes. When The Talent Is The Product, feedback is management's core daily task.

Baseball does have managerial figures who give feedback but don't do it particularly well. That's a different case, sub-optimal, but at least capable of achieving adequacy. Frank Robinson, it's been told to me, can be excessively nasty in giving corrective feedback, probably because he is one of the greatest players ever and considers anyone who doesn't play as well as he did (that is 99.85% of all major leaguers) is slacking off. Vern Rapp, a short-lived Cardinal manager gave feedback that was nasty and not always germane (focusing on feedback on non-work related issues such as grooming), and his own superiors couldn't tolerate that. But in both cases, feedback there was, and that made adequacy a possibility, something neither manager could have reached without the minimum -- delivery of feedback of some kind on meaningful issues.

It's no different beyond Baseball.

If a manager is an adequate manager, without exception she gives feedback, and only an inadequate manager doesn't give feedback. If you work for such a manager, go ahead and ask for feedback. But point out to the manager in whatever way is most likely to alter future behavior that he needs to bring you feedback regularly. And be prepared to escalate the issue over the head of your manager. If her own manager doesn't realize she's inadequate, it's a bad sign, and if you can't see it through until it gets fixed somehow, be prepared to look for a different employer. Outfits with inadequate managers reporting to inadequate managers are not set up to survive any more than a team managed by Vern Rapp is.

Baseball makes that crystal clear. Organizations that keep managerial plaque around, individuals who don't make the provision of feedback a major daily effort, are doomed to inadequacy.

Friday, March 09, 2007

WeTube: Video of a Pair of Management by Baseball Presentations  

Some readers who know I do presentations and workshops have asked about attending or about what they are like and what I cover in them. I have a couple of links to video of presentations I've given, so I'm going to pass them on after I give a little background.

URK. I FOOLISHLY DIDN'T CALCULATE BANDWIDTH REQUIREMENTS...I'm happy to burn you a Disc and send it to you if you want to see them...send me a message at the contact me address & I'll get it out to you. BUT I HAVE TO TAKE THESE DOWN FOR NOW.

Every presentation or workshop I do has content customized for the kind of work the attendees are involved in. My Calvinist core gets taken care of because I don't roll out the same slide deck twice (and frequently I don't use a slide deck at all). And I always pull baseball headlines from the last few days into the mix. So the two presentations I have video from are from last Fall.

The first was for Jacobs Media, super-smart guys from the Detroit area who consult nationally to radio stations about programming. They are, by the way, some of the most interesting business analysts I've ever had the pleasure to talk with, brilliantly numerate and relentlessly fun. The audience they invited is a group of about 100 of their clients (programming management and executive management from radio stations) attending a mini trade show within the National Association of Broadcasters show in Dallas last September. The issue radio is facing, as you may know, is the abundance of non-radio music the Internet can bring, combined with a severe erosion of their local ad-buying base as locally-owned businesses that have the dollars to invest in media have been giving way to globalized behemoths.It's not just jobs that get outsourced and offshored...it's the money for media buys, too.

And it was given in September, when the Tigers and Twins (and to a vague degree the Chisox) were in the final stretch to see who would win the AL Central flag. Anyway, there's a little context -- it was very much designed for that month for that set of attendees.

The second one was a dialog with Talmage Boston for an evening speaker's series for the Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business. This one happened at the end of the 2006 season before the playoffs, and the audience is Cox School alum and students and local charitable organizations and individuals who support the Cox School. It was the first time Talmage & I had done this tag-team, though we've done it since. He's a blast to work with: SABR member, author of the truly good book, 1939: Baseball's Tipping Point, and a weekly columnist in Dallas, where he practices law. Anyway, we work really well together and every time it gets a little smoother, but like my own presentations, it's never the same twice.

Two of the other blessings for me from that engagement: The people who create and coordinate these events for the School are just excellence in motion...capable, interesting, fun. And the attendees were mostly Texans. Let me go on the record here and tell you that if you ever want to have a lively and involved audience for a speech or presentation, willing to laugh and ask questions and be active listeners and push back against your points and engage in dialogue, find a roomful of intelligent Texans.

BTW:  If you want a presentation from me or a dialogue from Talmage & me, contact me at the email address present2007 at the domain managementbybaseball.com.

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