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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Kenji Johjima & Seattle Mariners' Lessons
in Integrating Senior Talent  

When you bring in a successful manager from outside the organization, you're faced with a lot of decisions. Depending on the scouting and planning you do, you have choices in whether you follow her lead and bend that part of your organization (or mre than just that group) towards what made her successful, or bend her standard practices to your own model.

One beautifully elaborated example of the consequences of that decision and how they play out is illustrated by the Seattle Mariners.

Before the 2006 season, the Mariners brought in the Japanese Leagues' most highly-valued veteran catcher, Kenji Johjima. He performed very well in his 10-year career there, and over his last five seasons, averaged 30 homers with an on-base percentage of about .373 and a batting average right around .300. He won three gold gloves during those five seasons, so his defensive reputation, especially around throwing out would-be base-stealers, was positive.

Expectations were he'd be a better than average major league catcher, in all respects. During his first American League season, Johjima met his expectations offensively, but not defensively.

According to this John Hickey story from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

{SNIP} It wasn't so much that he had trouble catching balls in the dirt, although he did, but that he was inexperienced in the ways of major league baseball. It's not that he didn't have the skills necessary, it's that he needed to understand umpires and situations as they play out in America.

So in the early days of spring training, the Mariners are putting on a tutorial for him.

"It's as simple as changing the way he sets up for pitches," manager Mike Hargrove said. "He's got to realize that sometimes things just don't go right. If you call the right pitch and the pitcher executes the right pitch, there's nothing you can do if a hitter still hits the ball. I understand that in Japan, when something goes wrong, it's the catcher's fault. It's not that way here."

Japanese catchers have a habit of setting up for pitches at the last possible second. Johjima did that, but it doesn't wash in the U.S.

"If you do that here, the umpire is not going to give you the call," Hargrove said. "So we're talking to him about setting up earlier. He's smart. It'll happen."

Hickey's notes alone bring up a pair of considerations the M's could have, perhaps should have, had before they deployed a proven, but in a different context, talent on the field. There are other considerations, as well.

The examples are especially profound because the imported talent was a catcher, the closest analogue to a managerial role you'll find on the field.

CONSIDERATION #1 -- SCOUT TO THE BEST OF YOUR ABILITY
If you bring an expert from an outside organization into your own, you should always "scout" her previous organization's design and dynamics to simulate, at least in your imagination, how the patterns that brought her success will fit into your own organizational context. Good in one place doesn't mean effective in another.

You'll rarely have it as easy as the Mariners did: the process of the work is very open, there are Japanese players on the M's and American players who played in Japan available to discuss and scout the differences in roles and methods. So the M's had every reason to know in advance that Johjima would have the habit of setting up pitches at the last possible second, a potential irritant or confusion factor for umps. They had every reason to know, and so did know, that in Japan, when something goes wrong, it's "the catcher's fault".

You have alternatives. Good questioning will force to the surface some process habits of the previous employer. If you have a competitive intelligence (CI) unit, you can sic them on the task, too. Personally, I like to play an informal game of "What would you do if?", playing out scenarios. You can do this formally up front (it's a logical part of any recruitment process), but if you play it with trusting staff involved, everyone can pool knowledge and learn good practices, and perhaps synthesize new ways of doing things.

You should always gather the intel you can before you hire an deploy a new established manager or high-or medium-impact talent.

CONSIDERATION #2 -- DECIDE WHO WILL BEND AND WHERE
So while the M's knew Johjima was going to have to, in general, make adjustments, and specifically some in the areas Japanese catchers have different methods. The M's didn't try to get him to change before his first major league season. as it the optimal choice? There are solid arguments on both sides, and the right answer is highly correlated with the individual talent, the old context and the new context.

The M's decided not to load a lot of defensive adjustments on Johjima, and I suspect it was the optimal call. They let him focus greater energy on learning to hit MLB pitching (which he did well enough, and OPS+, according to Baseball-Reference of 106), learning how to play the field and get used to the batter's eye in 17 new ballparks, beef up his skills in dealing with a new culture, a new language, and new demonic press guys. Ted Williams may have said hitting a baseball is the hardest work in the world, but I suspect having to hit a baseball adequately and play catcher adequately is actually harder. Or in the immortal proof of Irish mathematician W. R. (father of Slidin' Billy) Hamilton , much harder.

If they had pushed upon him in addition how to set up pitches plus the change management task of getting him to think about his job in a way that's counter to his entire experience (reinforced, btw, by years of high-level success within his old belief system) that you can make the right call and it can still have a bad outcome -- it doesn't mean you were at fault, they cautiously allowed for the fact that it might overwhelm him. And it's normal among human beings, and Maury Povich Show watchers, too, that if you get overwhelmed with too many things, you end up doing none of them effectively.

So plan on who will bend, and in which spots, and err on the side of under-loading (though explain you are doing that so you don't instill the assumption that change isn't necessary). Do some testing and observation -- your new contributor might be able to adapt in more ways than you allow for, and you can ratchet up the pace. And, of course, don't hesitate to learn new methods she's mastered while you do it.

WHITHER JOHJIMA?
As I stated, I suspect the M's made the right choice. How will it play out for them and for Kenji Johjima?

Well, he's 30 years old, which suggests he's more likely to decline a little than grow his skills a little. Still, he has a history of learning new methods in the Japanese Leagues -- picking up his power numbers as most good batters do, and growing his on-base percentage through a slight icnrease in his walk rate and a significant increase in his hit-by-pitch rate (the latter he already applied in his MLB debut campaign). The contributor knows how to learn. So I suspect that ability will outstrip Father "Pop" Time in 2007.

Now all he has to deal with is a radically overhauled pitching staff that has more new faces on it (at least three new starters and three new relievers) than about any team in the majors, an Ebirah-sized task all by itself.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Book Review: The No Asshole Rule
(and Why Baseball Suggests Corrective Actions)  

I don't routinely review business books here because I'm committed to tying baseball and management together, and in most management books there's not a lot of baseball to talk about. I'm making an exception here because

  1. There's an important lesson from baseball in thinking about the content of this book, and
  2. It's by one of my very favorite authors: Robert Sutton (co-author of Hard Facts, last year's best business title).

Sutton's new work is The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilised Workplace & Surviving One That Isn't (Warner Business Books). It hit shelves today. Sutton's body of work swirls around various topics related to evidence-based management (making business more like baseball through measurement and other examination of past choices/behaviors and then analysing the outcomes of those choices to head towards what works and away from what doesn't, rather than just relive the same MBWT (Management By Wishful Thinking, over and over Sisyphus-style).

The thesis of The No Asshole Rule, elaborated from topics addressed tangentially in Hard Facts, is that evidence shows that butt-heads at work aren't just unpleasant, but they affect outcomes for the worse...in most cases (exceptions discussed later).

The book gives readers a concise tour: Descriptions of types of Assholes and their behaviors, ways Assholes undermine productivity, crafting sensible rules and enforcement, self-assessment (that is, measuring your own Cloaca), survival tips and finally, the exceptions -- when/why assholes can actually be net-positive.

Sutton includes examples of companies that have institutionalized No Asshole Rules of various kinds, and his examples tend to reinforce Angus' First Law of Organizational Behavior: All human systems tend to be self-amplifying. Firms, like Southwest Airlines, that build etiquette as foundation for productivity or profit tend to self-amplify their direction, pushing out consciously or through passive enforcement the people and processes that undermine the foundation. This, of course, is why rapid growth in firms without intentional No Asshole Rules is so destructive of their effectiveness -- the passive immune response that expels or squeeze out the butt-heads and the processes that reinforce or lead to buttinski behavior doesn't work when growth exceeds expulsion. Additionally, growth leads to the Diseconomies of Scale because even if you have conscious processes installed, growth brings along a 40-player roster full of other issues that seem more urgent. Thus, likelihood of butt-heads sticking in organizations increases at roughly the square of the increase in growth.

If I could request any changes for the 2nd edition, it'd be in the area of his chapter of suggestions for survival. I like to see more militant engagement. Sutton knows and talks about the reality that many (not most) workplace Assholes are "bullies", that is, they live in the zone where intimidation rules, so they are fearful themselves, and can be intimidated into limiting their behavior. I counsel clients to try to organize victims and bystanders to engage in long-term schemes to document, isolate, and, if necessary, hound bullies. And I counsel effective people who work in ineffective (that is, tolerant of bullies) organizations to get out as quickly as it can be made to work for them, even if it means a pay cut (because there is no way to buy enduring peace of mind, ergo it's worth more than money). If you can leave under externally-decent terms, there's a wonderful way to help The Unseen Hand give them a fastball right under the earflap. I helped a manager I had mentored at a butt-head driven company (that also stiffed me on a few thousand dollars worth of invoices, "because we can") and who left gracefully recruit four complete losers, one from his new organization, into sensitive positions in his old firm, lowering their performance further.

Baseball, btw, has a great lesson about dealing with butt-heads and using a Natural Law to trim their proliferation...and I'll get to it in the next section.

Sutton's new book is a quick and easy read, the perfect volume for a transcontinental flight (or a flight of any scheduled length where they board, close the airplane doors and then don't take off for a couple of hours). As always, Sutton is as fine a writer as he is a thinker. If you read for practical advantages, I recommend The No Asshole Rule.

Robert Sutton's weblog is here and the Evidence-Based Management weblog (Sutton and other contributors) is here.

NOT BEYOND BASEBALL It's interesting that is Baseball is pretty immune to Assholes. It's not that they don't exist (Kirk Gibson, John McNamara, Jim Rice, Sparky Lyle, Rogers Hornsby).

But Baseball is evidence-based, accountability-driven. Baseball is the closest to a perfect accountability engine in North American lines of work. There is no Enron is Baseball (outside Houston's ballpark). So when the relentless winnowing engine starts grinding out marginal performers, assholes can't politick and manipulate their way into retention through leger de main or clever office machinations. Baseball's assholes are almost all high-performance butt-heads, guys like Roger Clemens or Jim Rice. Since Baseball measures relentlessly, assigns accountability relentlessly, at the margins the tie-breakers tend to go to Doug Glanvilles and Tony Phillipses, contributors who lift up teammates through emotional intelligence or focused competitive fire. Marginally, beyond baseball, butt-heads tend to survive; marginally, in Baseball, butt-heads tend to get winnowed.

Think through your own organization's assholes -- what proportion of them truly are Roger Clemens-type high-performers, and what percentage are replacement-level? Exactly. They are more likely to thrive because they sluff responsibility and stealth the systems.

The solution Beyond Baseball, then is krazy-gluing Accountability to Assholes, blocking their stealthing of systems, regularly calling them on their performance failures.

I consulted to an educational institution with a glibly toxic head-man. He used psychobabble to deflect being accountable for his pointless & rude undermining of staff and their work. His assaults were never aimed at improving or critiquing performance, always at making a woman feel bad. eHis signature saying was "It's not my problem I said that, it's your problem you chose to feel that way about what I said". (BTW: There are cases where this is an appropriate poke -- when and only when you're presenting a hard fact). The fact was that The Dean was not very competent...in Baseball parlance, replacement level (if he got hit by a bus tomorrow, it wouldn't take a lot of trouble to find a replacement at his level or better at his salary). Anyway, we built systems that were designed to monitor and evaluate performance at higher levels of the organization, and the case for his invulnerability was eroded enough that it set the stage for his moving-on and out of management altogether. It didn't happen immediately, but it wouldn't have happened at all without the focus on performance.

Baseball doesn't brook Assholes who aren't high-performance ones. ┬┐Why should you?


Monday, February 19, 2007

All Roads Lead From Detroit:
Tiger Triumph, Trauma Trigger Tag-Alongs  

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that
which should not be done at all. -- Peter Drucker

Beyond baseball, there are always lots of management teams looking reacting to the Last Big Thing. The Last Big Thing may actually be worth following, but fads have a gravitational pull that tugs businesses' and governments' leadership teams to chase others' visible choices may have had something to do with their success (or avoid the ones that seemed to have led to failure). Of course, they are doing this not because they've worked out all the context -- they choose what's visible, obvious, striking.

Business and government go through fads pretty quickly, taking one on until it's a completely proven failure and responding to the realization of that failure by finding another intoxicating lure to distract themselves from that previous failure. Businesses chased Baldridge Awards. Government agencies tried to outdo each other in seeing which could act most like a business. Apple Computer made tons of money during some soft years by researching and then playing foreign currency markets and strategies for playing them with their international assets. And many other organizations saw Apple's success and tried it themselves, most not succeeding well.

SWAGGER, THE MISSING INGREDIENT AND LEYLAND'S LESSON As I wrote last March, then-new Detroit Tiger manager Jim Leyland came into his first Spring Training with the club, weight the available talent, did his OMA (observe, measure, analyze), and came to the conclusion that the limiting factor for the team's success was "swagger". He and his coaching staff then deployed some classic change management methods, got the players to think about themselves and the team in a different way and the rest, as they say in college departments with strong feminist cognates, was Herstory. The Tigers had their striking Cinderella season: improving 24 wins from the previous, pre-swagger year, an AL Central flag, the demolition of the favored Athletics and heavily-favored Yankees, and an A.L. pennant.

It's hard to get more visible, obvious and striking as that. Well, there was one, more eye-popping, event last year, but we'll get to that in the next section.

But it should come as no surprise that a team with a first-year veteran skipper looking to turn around the fate of a team that lost 96 games last year might look to that highly-visible turnaround and try to clone it. In many contexts, as I mentioned, it won't work. In this particular case, the match seems pretty good. The 2007 Chicago Cubs are being led by turnaround artist Lou Piniella, and guess what he's telling the world (or at least the New York Daily News' Bill Madden)?

Lou Sweet on Cubbies

Lou Piniella arrived at Cubbie camp in Mesa, Ariz., last week determined to succeed in what has been a manager's graveyard for decades. After admittedly having little knowledge of the "Billy Goat Curse" and all the other misfortune that has plagued the Cubs since 1908 when they last won the World Series, Piniella declared his intention to change the culture in Wrigleyville.

"I want to establish a Cubs swagger this year," Piniella said. "That's what we've got to develop here - a kind of subdued cockiness and quiet confidence. You do that by playing hard and being prepared every day and that's what you're going to see here."

The context works because the Cubs' talent/payroll has been outstripping their achievements since 2003. And just as Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski acquired the gritty-personality and skills of starter Kenny Rogers before last season and the gritty-personality of reliever Todd Jones to inject some swagger DNA into a heretofor talented but not high-achievement pitching staff, Cubs GM Jim Hendry tried to do the same with some high-profile signings of players who have seen playoff action (though not necessarily gritmeisters). On the other hand, Piniella is a lot grittier than the laconic Leyland. But the Cubs' pathetic Curse of the Curse looms over them like the Billy Goat of Damocles, coloring many small moments that tend to snowball, ultimately, into an absence of pennants.

Was it the right thing to do, to call out? Sure, though there are a lot of other ingredients that need to come together for this to work. There's always a limiting factor...remove the current one, there's always a most-constraining factor blocking the way, and a manager persists in attacking each. If he does nothing else but inject swagger, they are doomed, but, fortunately, Piniella knows this.

As usual, Baseball management is a lot smarter than it's peers in other lines of work. I can't tell you how many otherwise intelligent clients have felt compelled to follow successful competitors' tactics, only to find they undermined the things they were doing well to a greater degree than they got to benefit from the new tactic/fad. The passion of the moment colors the desirability of an initiative.

PFP & THE HIGHLY VISIBLE SELF-INFLICTED BANANAS FOSTER OF INFINITE DOOM These passions aren't automatically dysfunctional. Sometimes they're triggered by highly-visible failures to apply s.o.p or common sense...and the more visible, the easier it is to get broad buy-in across the organization.

If the Tigers' A.L. pennant wasn't striking enough, coming as it did a mere three seasons after a 119-loss campaign, their self-inflicted Bananas Foster of Infinite Doom in the 2006 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals was an even less subtle lesson. Eight errors, and five of them by pitchers. Pitchers don't handle enough chances usually to get even one-ninth of errors held against a team. This suddenly chronic problem in a widely-viewed stage that turned Cinderella into a Cucurbita maxima, a swaggering buzz-saw into a staggering Beer League Softball team, was visible (and risible), obvious and striking.

So it should come as little surprise that this Spring training, teams are working a little harder on pitchers' fielding practice (PFP). According to a Sunday clip in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

GETTING A GRIP: The Mariners are working heavily in the early going on PFP -- pitchers' fielding practice.

It's all the vogue after Detroit pitchers had trouble picking up balls and throwing them around the infield in the World Series. The Tigers set a record for pitchers' errors in a series and, partly because of that, St. Louis won the Series in five games.

"We always have a lot of PFP," Hargrove said. "We'll have it throughout the year, as I'm sure the Tigers did last year.

"In the World Series, I think it was more a matter of the Tigers' (lack of) experience showing. But it was a lesson driven home to everybody."

A lesson driven home to everybody. A good one -- though not a centerpiece of winning; if the pitchers field perfectly but don't pitch well, it won't make a positive difference. But while very unlikely to be a team's limiting factor, a tactical adjustment that has positive value. The PFP drills aren't very much fun, and most pitchers don't see fielding as a noble art, merely "something else they have to do", so using the striking pumpkinization of the Bengals last October as a hook to raise awareness and get staff buy-in is a swell move.

What's been going on in your own or related lines of work that staff are likely to have noticed? Are any of them worth calling out for small, easy gains?


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Toronto Blue Jays Lesson in Manager Turnover: Admiring John Gibbons' Institutional Glass Jaw  

On one of my (virtual radio) book tours last summer, I noticed a surprising number of hosts absolutely reveled in baseball's "disposable manager" theory. In a nation where line staff are entirely disposable, managers tend to stick. People notice this and resent the managers...feel like managers should be just as disposable as "the rest of us" are. So when they think Baseball, they think of the managers being at least as disposable as the line talent.

In defense of the managers who survive these mass executions of North American jobs relocated to Red Chinese prison camps or sweatshops, they usually pick up a lot of extra work for no more pay...it's the executives, who do little management themselves, who get to reap the near-term accrual benefits. The quality of life of the surviving managers is somewhat better than, but quite parallel to, the survivors in the cancer wardwatching the latest corpse getting wheeled out -- not generally exhilarated about tomorrow.

Toronto Blue Jays' skipper John Gibbons is a lame duck, under contract for the 2007 season but not beyond. In baseball, where managers truly are at least as disposable as the players, managers are held accountable to a level virtually unknown in First World organizations. It's great, if ownership and the front office are responsible franchise stewards. When they are, I support the radio hosts' enthusiasm for dropping managers with the same alacrity with which organizations usually purge line staff.

A story from Bob Elliott in today's Toronto Sun (via Baseball Think Factory) illustrates both the good and bad aspects to highly-accountable, disposable managers (mostly the down side).

Whether it be Jimy Williams, Cito Gaston, Jim Fregosi, Billy Martin or any manager you can name, millionaire players can smell the scent of the end of a manager's lifespan -- the way an unleashed nasty dog smells fear of a timid passerby.

Players knew who was the boss when Shea Hillenbrand made an attempt at motivational handwriting inside the clubhouse.

Players knew who was the boss when Ted Lilly thought he should stay after retiring one of the first eight hitters he faced against the Oakland A's in August.

Who will be the boss if the Jays get off to a 7-14 start? How many motions will players go through?

The slippery slope will be greased if Gibbons is still on a one-year deal. It will be salted like the QEW if the Jays re-sign him.

In baseball, truly all managers are lame ducks, in the sense that none, no matter how successful historically and right-now, has more than perhaps a year's horizon to an Own Private Event Horizon. Because baseball manager pay tends to be low relative to gross payroll (just as it is for working managers with line reports in most non-baseball organizations), it's relatively easy for organizations to purge a manager and pay off her contract.

BEYOND BASEBALL Lame-duckyness can really undermine the staff of the quacker. I know this from personal experience, too. I was a manager of managers in a mid-size organization, working to provide a transitional path for an entrepreneurial organization that aspired to behemoth corporate behaviors. Early on, I realized that once we arrived at the new structures, I wouldn't want to work there any more. So I let the six managers who reported to me know that I wuld be moving on in about a year plus or minus, depending on when we had the new structure working effectively-enough.

In my mind, I was paving the way for them to experiment because I could take the blame for anything that went wrong, and we could all take credit for the designs that succeeded -- what I consider a perfect arrangement. A couple of the managers, however, preferred to try to topple me prematurely so she and he could inherit my position. Never mind that one would never be able to build the bridge we were building, never mind the other would possibly succeed even though she'd never worked successfully in a behemoth corporate structure and that her very excellence was dependent on the current, entrepreneurial model.

I hadn't thought through what a (in this case) premature announcement would mean individually to each of the individuals involved and how they would act based on that info.

In the Blue Jays' locker room, once the Shea Hillebrand set-to happened, Gibbons' unquestioned authority was gored and, while that wasn't his Waterloo, the room knew he'd been bloodied. And in a discipline, like Baseball, where overall success depends on staff working to execute the few hundred decisions per game a manager makes, lack of followership can get really ugly.

Lame-duckyness is an undermining factor for baseball managers, as well as managers beyond Baseball.

Baseball ownership has a few techniques to buffer this. Elliott suggests giving Gibbons a raise to bring his roughly $500K salary to something above $600K. It's a small (and for the Toronto organization, a cheap bit of marketing to the staff that Gibbons isn't quite as much a quacker as they might think. Of course, they are not dolts...they know an extra $150K/year doesn't make firing a manager an accounting bloodbath (and if Gibbons' head goes on the London Bridge in, say June, that's under $100K difference to the team).

Beyond baseball, upper management usually isn't clue-in to what's going on below their managers' level. And if a manager were to bring up authority problems they wanted help with, upper management would, in most organizations, view this as a weakness to be punished, so in these unhealthy organizations, managers are unlikely to report it. There's no reason, of course, upper management shouldn't pay attention...they should, and not just for this reason, but for all the myriad advantages they can have when they know what the frell is going on.

In the end, the highly-accountable, disposable manager model Baseball applies can be wonderful in the hands of healthy organizations beyond baseball. There just aren't very many healthy organizations beyond baseball.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Atlanta Braves Meet Financiers Gone Wild  

The Atlanta Braves just closed a run of 13 consecutive National League East division flags (ignoring the partial seasons of 1994 & 1995), proving, without a doubt, their front office, scouting and field management are unarguably excellent. While this could be an opportunity for improvement (more on that counterintuitive idea in my next post), looming ownership issues may undermine the team's pursuit of excellence.

The team is in the process of being sold, in and of itself, not a fatal move. The seller is Time-Warner, Inc., a ~$20 Billion conglomerate, which inherited the team through its purchase of Ted Turner's broadcasting empire. Time-Warner is a real management mess in general (the litmus paper test I run, only a basic indicator, is the length of its 10-K, which is 259 pages long, and has 27 entire documents external to it required to explain its mere MoVaughnian girth; oh yeah, and it was subsequently amended 11 times because of things they missed in all that), a perfect poster child for The Diseconomies of Scale. Theyw ere, however, very clever with their ownership approach of the Atlanta Braves -- they appointed a smart guy to be the club president, and recognizing the excellence of the franchise's accomplishments, just gave them a budget with a hard but realistic line and let John Schuerholz and Co. do their thing. Incredibly smart, significantly not arrogant. That's not to say that Time-Warner doesn't have a half-dozen managers among its 88,000 employees who might be able to execute as well as the Braves' staff -- just that it made more sense to ride along with what was working, even through significant environmental changes that had to be adapted to. But that lack of ownership arrogance was one of the hallmarks of the run.

FINANCIERS GONE WILD
But if Time-Warner's sales of the Braves to Liberty Media finally closes, the excellence engine that is the last fifteen years of the Atlanta franchise will be tested against one of the most arrogant owners in North America: John Malone (background), the closest comparable I can come up with being Vladimir Putin. What is it about Malone that makes him so exceptionally destructive of excellence?

First, there's the personal. He's a squawky, demanding martinet...kind of Buck Showalter, but armed with a sense of his own perfection combined with access to enough money to buy Uzbekistan or Mississippi twice over. It's hard to pursue excellence when you have no/little functioning self-discernment or empathy.

Second, there's Malone's default business model, one I call Financiers Gone Wild.

Look, there are four basic alignments for corporate executive business management in their mission: Innovation, Marketing, The Customer, Maximizing Shareholder Value. Most organizations blend more than one, but all have a basic alignment, a primary motivator that makes their decisions somewhat predictable. Innovation companies include the old Hewlett-Packard, Joe Ely's company (or any company committed to lean techniques), Toyota. Marketing companies can market about anything; if you hear the word "brand" a lot, that's probably an indicator it's a marketing mission company. Companies that build their mission around pleasing customers exist in all areas, though in the corporate world, very few are in the retail space; many exist in the world of components or intermediate materials (Buckman Labs, Solectron, WL Gore, to name a few, though Buckman and Gore also have a strong innovation orientation). 

Any of these missions allow the company to score at the other missions. Except Maximizing Shareholder Value -- which comes close to guaranteeing failure of adequacy at any of the other three. The act of managing an organization to move up stock price in the case of a publicly-held outfit or the apparent valuation in the case of the closely-held one generally pimps the customers and internal staff. And since it's almost always cheaper to slipstream the marketing and technical innovations of others than it is to experiment and carve out successful new methods, Maximizing Shareholder Value companies tend to pimp excellence in those missions, as well.

Malone normally acts with a Maximizing Shareholder Value mission. He knows how to play the stock price game; that's how he has succeeded. He only builds organizations insofar as they can deliver metrics valued by stock speculators and analysts. When he was with TCI, Malone mastered speculators' favored metric, cash-flow-per-subscriber, a sick metric in a business that operated as a monopoly. Like "batting average" pundits pounded on that point passionately, even though every involved interest group but one (shareholders) were guaranteed to get strip mined.

Malone-run endeavors play games, tend to muck with existing excellence and not generate much on their own, guaranteeing a vapid kind of enterprise sort of like the post-Soviet privatized monopolies owned and operated by Putin's buddies in Russia.

ATLANTA SINKING UNDER THE SEA?
This is all the opposite of baseball (with very few exceptions: M. Donald Grant's New York Mets regime ~1976-78, and the current Wal*Mart modeled Kansas City Royals, both of which, incidentally, made good money for spewing sub-mediocrity all over the scenery). The pursuit of money over excellence (as opposed to pursuing excellence that in turn generates profit) is a proven failure in baseball, the perfect crucible for competitive theory rendered flesh. The fact that Malone's higher-performance moments have come as the head man of a monopoly (that is, competition-free), it doesn't bode well if he chooses to shape baseball operations or marketing behaviors. Liberty may, like Time-Warner before it, leave the baseball people in charge and provide a hard line but realistic budget.

It would be more typical of a Malone-run organization, however, to try to squeeze a more immediately-beneficial ratio of income/quality. Since that means either boosting income, cutting costs or pimping quality, or some simultaneous combo of them.

I hope not. I very much respect the Braves' management, and it's really a delight to a management consultant who sees so much marginal and outright management spontaneous combustion to get to see year-after-year excellence in action.

YE OLDE AFTERWORD
I mentioned in the lead the counterintuitive idea about this being an opportunity as well as a risk. The risk is obvious for the reasons I stated -- and a Malone-headed organization is more crisis than opportunity, but some fine research by Vince Gennaro delivered at last July's SABR National Convention in Seattle cast some interesting light on the topic of the formula to calculate the extra value of an incremental win (contextualized by team), and the Braves' seeming anomolous results.

Gennaro has a new book I'm excited about reading. He shared a little piece of it about the Braves I'll pass on in my next entry.


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