Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rick Peterson's Lesson In The Aikido of Managing Up  

New York Mets' pitching coach Rick Peterson's special knowledge isn't just unique in the Baseball world, it informs managers in all fields, in this case, because This Week in Baseball had him miked during what they assumed would be an historic game, and they captured and posted the video.

Peterson's principle edge is that he doesn't have a set of techniques. He has a vast toolbox that includes physics, stats, Eastern spiritual approaches to day-to-day living, dietary design and discipline, and psychological conditioning. It would take a Boswell (this one, not this one or this one) and a Thomas Pynchon-length volume to describe it all. Here, though, I'll give one great technique worth keeping in your back pocket when you need to manage way up.

Managers, to various degrees, need to manage up, manage the way their own supervisors or others up the hierarchy perceive them and manage them. From the organizational effectiveness angle, it is most critical to effectively manage up when you are trying to preserve the team that works for you or someone who reports to you.

This is different from managing down because the power in the manager's hands is diminished and so the set of skills the manager needs is very different (though related). But when you are managing way up, say four or five levels above you in a hierarchy (or the boss' daughter/employee in a small company, or an IRS auditor or other person completely out of the defined power grid in your organization), the techniques aren't even in the same galaxy.

The asymmetry of power between such a person and you means there's little back-and-forth negotiation to engage in. Such a relationship is exactly like a major league umpire and a manager, coach or player who disagrees with the arbiter's decisions. The ump holds all the cards in the immediate game environment and knows he's not going to be reined in. A ton of controversy over a bunch of incidents can affect the ump's career long-term, but in that moment, he or she is can act as a Greek God, omnipotent and as capricious as he chooses to be. They don't all do it regularly, but umps are certainly rewarded for going to that technique themselves periodically since it acts as a deterrent in the recourse-free arena where there is a gross asymmetry.

Of course, the clever manager on the short end of this relationship has some techniques to apply. If you don't know the deft art of organizational aikido, learn at least this single subtle move from Rick Peterson designed to manage way up to protect a staffer for whom he's responsible.

So here's the background that'll help you appreciate the lay of the land..

July 31, and Tom Glavine, with 299 wins, is going for his milestone 300th win in Milwaukee. This is not the old Atlanta Braves Glavine who worked the outside of the plate and pushed it out farther and farther. This is the Questec-era Glavine; umps won't make a gift of an extra inch or two outside. and today he's getting nothing from the home plate man in blue.

He walks Kevin Mench in the 4th inning and his shoulders slump. It's not the outing he wants. That shoulder slump, though, is a very public calling out of the ump's ball/strike calls. No one can argue balls and strikes with an ump. It's his unilateral power to call 'em. The asymmetry is absolute.

Peterson doesn't want Glavine or his catcher arguing with the ump who might get vengeful and either squeeze the Mets' staff strike zone (or if he ws already squeezing it, do it further). He isn't going to get anywhere by arguing. So instead, he uses an indirect maneuver, using the ump's own ego as his throw.

I've got the key piece transcribed below, but check out the video if you like. (No direct link, sadly...when you get to the TWIB video page, scroll down to the August 11th, 2007 show and select the "On the doorstep:" clip. Scroll forward to 3:00).

Announcer: Glavine not getting that corner.

(Shot shows Glavine slumping, shoulders down, exhaling, apparently frustrated)

Peterson: Where's that? Outside?
<unintelligible> Tommy stay right there.
(trots fast to mound, joins clot of players)
(to catcher Ramon Castro): What's he calling that? Is he calling that outside or is he calling that down?

Castro: Outside.

Peterson: Is that a strike? Or is it just missing?
(puts hand on Glavine's shoulder)

Castro: (nods) It's a strike.

Peterson (looking at Glavine): All right. Now wait till he comes out here and I'm going to say something to him, alright?

Glavine interviewed later: Sometimes his trip is to come out and just slow you down and give you a breather and let you re-collect your thoughts…

(back to mound shot)

Peterson: (umpire now standing directly behind and between Peterson and Glavine, but Peterson ignoring ump and talking directly to Glavine) Just keep making pitches right here. You gotta stay right there. He's a good umpire. I know he's missed some pitches but these are strikes right here and you stay right there.

Glavine interviewed later: He's got a constant sense of positive influence.
(Peterson and ump exit walking in parallel)

As they're walking back to their positions, Peterson is still talking to the ump, exactly what he's saying we don't know, but it's a continuation, something that gives him the chance to continue to campaign privately so the ump knows he's not trying to make him lose face, or perhaps he's letting the ump vent about something at him privately without having to show it to the players.

If you can catch the video, you can see how well-crafted Peterson's tone and body language and gestures are. You won't use those exact words but here's the core of the technique you can use to protect your own staff from your own unchecked hierarchs.

Like Peterson, you can use this technique effectively if you pay attention to the circumstances and the behaviors of the people you're trying to manage way up. And you need to know no matter how deftly you do it, you may not get the desired result (Greek Gods pride themselves on their power and will frequently execute on their torment, "because I can"). And Rick was tossed once for applying this technique.

Here are the essential components of this Peterson method.

1) Speak calmly, not to the target, but make sure you're heard.
Don't address the ump-like person directly, but make sure she's within earshot. You're really speaking to her, but express the point you're trying to make to a third party. Meetings, of course, are great venues for this indirect percussion not only because you are more likely to have a choice of third parties from which to choose and one or more of them may be sympathetic to your point of view and say or do something that constrains the Greek God.

2) Appeal to his or her ego; don't challenge his authority (nor be submissive), but use that authority to propel him in the direction he wants to assert it so that it serves you. In the communication, Peterson never disputes the ump's authority to make the call...in fact he refers it tangentially ("He's a good umpire"). But he does manage in the process to point out dude has missed a few. If you can see the video, note Peterson's posture and voice tone...not threatening but neither is it submissive; Peterson is not trying to make himself an equal in the power to make these decisions, but he is definitely making himself an equal in general. 

3) Keep it as public as you can. Sometimes shame at being wrong can move a Greek God if it's exposed widely enough, and rarely if it's just one-on-one. If Peterson and this ump had a history of conversations around calls, the one on one could have gotten ugly (as in this contrasting yet delightful example of Earl Weaver and umpire Bill Haller having something around their 29th run-in), but as long as Peterson is not doing the Weaver karate approach, the more other people there are around, the more diffused the situation. In general. As I mentioned earlier, Peterson got tossed once for using this aikido move, and I suspect it was because there were other people around -- that particular Greek God may have been more concerned about witnesses seeing his judgment questioned than having an individual actually question it.

So it's important to try to ascertain the ego of the individual Greek God you're dealing with. 

The ump in this Glavine case is relatively new-to-MLB Chad Fairchild. By July 31 of what appears to be his first season in the Big Leagues, he's already made a splash with tossing people. On June 22, he tossed the Atlanta Braves' Bobby Cox for an ejection that tied the then all-time record held by John McGraw; to an outsider not hearing the exchange, that ejection looked marginal. On July 22, Fairchild tossed the Mariners John McLaren in that new skipper's 1st ejection as a major league manager, and in that case it looked to an observer that McLaren was trying to get thrown out. And since the Peterson conversation, Fairchild has tossed the most genteel of managers, the Twins' Ron Clyde Gardenhire along with that squad's centerfielder, Torii Hunter in the same game (September 14).

It seems like a healthy number. In a study of this year's ejections through early August, Fairchild managed to harvest 4 of the Majors' 138 total tosses, not statistically significant in the slightest, but one that hints further observation could be worthwhile. Given 66 umps in MLB crews and floating, it's above the mean. Were players and managers hazing the new guy? Testing him for their own knowledge of how far they could push him? Is he particularly sensitive as a new guy to asserting his authority?

Whatever reason or combo of them it really is, these exact same factors happen Beyond Baseball. Pay attention to them. I suspect Peterson already knew about Fairchild's earlier tossings, or perhaps just thought any new ump needed a more delicate form of firm engagement.

You should, too. Rick Peterson really knows what he's doing, and that includes deft Organizational Aikido.

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

free website counter