Sunday, August 30, 2009

Staffing Innovation: Byrd Comes Home to Roost  

Back in January I wrote about the "Roger Clemens Move" the A.L.'s 39th best starter pulled during the off-season.

Paul Byrd had retired to spend time with his family, but he left the option open to play part-time during a team's stretch run. And that's exactly what today's news ("Byrd set to resume career with Red Sox")indicates he successfully pulled off...in this case after coming out of retirement for four starts in the last couple of weeks for minor league affiliates of the Red Sox, The Louisville Hugger has been called up by Boston to fill in for the ailing Tim "The Vicarious" Wakefield.

According to the linked story, Byrd's plan almost didn't work -- as of a month ago, he hadn't heard from any teams, but he had kept himself in shape, and he has a history of having the ability to throw strikes when he wants. Even an old Byrd can succeed for a team with a productive offense, because he has that skill.

BEYOND BASEBALL It's an interesting move more organizations should consider: tapping into reasonably-skilled talent to fill in sporadic gaps.

With Byrd back in the nest, though, I thought a reprise of the January piece would be informative:

Byrd Plans Late Return... to a Feathered Nest

So when the 39th-most successful American League starter announces a remarkable business decision, it's not headline news. So it's with deep gratitude that I have to thank my baseball associate Jeffrey Balash for pointing out to me that Paul Byrd, a member of the rare breed of Crafty Righties announced late this month he was going to pull a "Roger Clemens" and not go to Spring Training, not accept any contract, but not retire. Instead, like Clemens before him, he was hinting that he was likely to make himself available in the stretch run for a contender looking for pitching rotation help.

As Ken Rosenthal noted:

The obvious question is whether a team would want him at mid-season; he would not be a high-impact, high-profile addition like Clemens was for the Astros in 2006 and Yankees in '07.

Byrd, however, says that two general managers asked him to consider their clubs if he decides to return, with one telling him, "We know you can roll out of bed and throw strikes." {SNIP} Byrd went 8-2 with a 3.46 ERA in 12 starts after the All-Star break for the Indians and Red Sox. For the season, he made 30 starts and pitched 180 innings. He said he is not putting his career on hold due to a lack of interest in him as a free agent.

"I got some really nice offers. That's what made it hard," Byrd said. "Nice offers from very competitive, big-time teams that just need someone to fill in at the back end of their rotation. I also got an offer or two from small-market teams that said they wanted me to come in and be their No. 1 or 2 guy.

{SNIP} His thinking is, if he starts off the season at home, his family might be more comfortable if he departs for 2-1/2 to 3 months in July or August instead of working the entire six-month regular season and possibly the postseason.

Why would Byrd make such a decision, and what can managers learn from it?

{SNIP}...rest of story at this link.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Metroasexuality: The Clipboard & The Stopwatch as Potemkin Metrics  

Baseball podcaster Jimmy Scott does weekly interviews, most frequently with ex-players, and the gem of his recent interview with former American league pitcher Dick "The Toledo Titan" Drago was during a discussion of various managers Drago had played for.

Drago, btw, had an unusually interesting career. He started with an expansion team; he was a jack of all trades...after his rookie year, he was a starter for four years, a swing man for one and a reliever for the last seven seasons -- one of them as "the closer" for a legendary World Series hopeful, the 1975 Boston Red Sox).
He outed his second manager, the dreaded Charlie Metro, as a purveyor of Potemkin Metrics. (If you go to the podcast and get to about the 11:40 mark, you can hear the tale recounted).

Metro was the worst kind of bad manager (beyond Baseball, anyway): the manager (usually a guy) who believes that being a stern disciplinarian is the most effective way to reach your goal. According to Drago:

...he was a tyrant. Charlie Metro was in the organization, and he was one of these disciplinarians who had crazy ideas that didn't work...One of his favorites was he was always running the pitchers. he always had a stopwatch in his hand. We'd go out and do our sprints and he would have his watch (and time everyone).

We ended up finding out the watch didn't even work.

Classic Potemkin Metrics...pretending to use numbers to analyze events to deflect opposition and stifle dialogue about methods. In this case, for good and other reasons, Metro wanted his pitchers running. And you watch pitchers train or prepare for games much, it's obvious most of them not named Carlos Zambrano don't relish running. So if your basic setting is "disciplinarian", that is, you don't ask or cajole or tease or act above it all confidently, you only have two approaches to use: commands or as a fall-back, "expertise". And it's easier to pretend you have expertise than to actually gather it. Management is tough work, and as a rule, disciplinarians expend all their energy investment in gripping the reins ever-tighter.

One of the first surprises I learned to prepare for in my management consulting work was innumerate managers who faked being in command of their numbers. They generally choose one of two techniques to blind you with pseudo-science:

  1. Waving around, locked elbow style like Jack Cust hunting a flyball, a Balboni-size volume of output that is waaaay too elaborate to be of any use because you can't ever find within it the handful of points that were insightful or actionable, OR
  2. Fabricated nonsense, usually proprietary, they could claim you couldn't possibly understand (and, secretly, they don't either). I call this nonsense Potemkin Metrics.

When you meet managers who wave #1, the way to bring them to a halt is to make them point out their six most important numbers. Specifically. And then make them accountable for them.

When you meet managers who use #2, made up spit, especially numeric spit, it tends to be not only someone who's innumerate, but someone whose management "theory" predominantly involves ideas that usually get resisted, and they're going to try to shove the objected-to practices down employee throats using the impression that they really know what they're doing.

It that Metroasexual Thing...and usually with the same success. The Charlie method helped the team to a 19-33 record to start 1969, and a doubleheader sweep that cemented a six-game losing streak sealed Metro's doom. It was still an okay time for disciplinarians with monsterous tactical depth (gents like Dick Williams & Billy Martin), but it was a challenging time for disciplinarians without monsterous tactical depth. It was the last time Metro got to manage in the Majors. And The Toledo Titan would give three cheers to that.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Oakland As' Design to Win
Even When You Lose  

Baseball is the perfect test lab for measuring the relative merits of competitive strategies, so the lessons I'm about to share (generously coughed up by Oakland A's manager Bob Geren (who was once traded for Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers).

But before the lessons, and because I can hear that whinger in the back of the room getting ready to complain that business and war are a lot more competitive, let me reiterate why this is Truth.

For one thing, competition in Baseball is a lot more fierce than the endeavor you're in because success is zero-sum. For every win there has to be a loss -- none of that rising tide lifts all moats stuff. That's not true in business or in War. The second unarguable reason is that in baseball, you have to win right now, and you have to do without seriously affecting your chances of winning tomorrow. It's a long haul, and you can't just do what most publicly-traded corporations do (or the Governor and legislature of California do) and slide gains or losses between fiscal quarters to make things look good. The daily table of standings in the paper prevent any corporate-like attempt to fog the truth. Finally, winning is inevitably measured on a balanced scorecard. You need to win in the measurable ways (game wins, attendance), but just as much in the immeasurable ways (development of young players, resting of old ones, level of "good will", intensity of interest of current fans and kids who could be paying fans in a decade). Sandy Alderson, the brains behind the gathering of brain power that built the A's when they were a persistently excellent franchise, is as successful a formulator of scorecard balancing as you can find anywhere in North American management (a lot on that in an earlier entry). Baseball's just better at all these competitive challenges than is the norm for "good" in any other endeavor.

In sum, you have to win today and tomorrow, in measurable and in immeasurable ways in a zero-sum system where every win guarantees a loss in the system. And I promise you that in your endeavor, you have it easier than that.

BOB GEREN'S WISDOM The Oakland Athletics are having a tough season on the winning-today measure. Both the batters they acquired in the off-season to boost the immediate value of a line-up filled with young, unproven players were disappointments relative to what the team had hoped for. Those two are now gone and one, Matt Holliday was the most productive hitter they had this year. They're in last place by a long dangle as of today...

TeamW L Pct GBHomeRoad West Last 10
Los Angeles 65 43 .602 -33 - 2132 - 22 15 - 18 7 - 3
Texas 61 48 .560 4.537 - 2124 - 27 23 - 13 5 - 5
Seattle 57 52 .523 8.528 - 2229 - 30 17 - 18 6 - 4
Oakland 48 61 .440 17.526 - 2822 - 33 12 - 18 6 - 4
...and only two teams in the league have weaker won-loss records.

And yet, A's manager Bob Geren makes it clear, the staff will never cease pursuing the highest value they can get out of every single moment.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle's Steve Kroner:

Before Thursday's 6-4 loss to the Rangers, a team fighting for a playoff spot, Bob Geren was asked if, at this time of the year, he manages any differently whether the opponent is in the race or not.

"Not at all. No way," he said.

"You try to beat everybody everyday. I can't even comprehend managing a different style against one team or another. It's all about winning, if you're in first place or whatever place you're in.

"You want to win every inning. You want to win every game. You want to win every series. Who we're playing is irrelevant."

And that's an essence of Baseball you need in your own management. Geren is putting a lot of rookies on the field, players who at this moment are not as good as their opponents. He doesn't give up; he Like Geren, you try to bring your best game every single day, every hour. And if you can't, you build up the other areas of your scorecard. You win by relentlessly experimenting with young players' talents and in training and in never stopping observing the results of your experiments and then incorporating your analysis into action, and then seeing what happens and doing it all over again.

There's no resting in Baseball management, no slack-off. There shouldn't be in your line of work, either. To repeat Geren:

"You want to win every inning. You want to win every game. You want to win every series. Who we're playing is irrelevant."

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Curse of Jim Riggleman:
Change Manglement, the Ragnarök of Loyal Stewardship,
& Being an Anti-Turnaround Artist  

One of the easiest management assignments in the world is when you work in a struggling workgroup that's been doing the same things over and over again without success, resulting in the purge of a manager and your ascencion to the position. It's less exciting than coming from the outside as a fixer -- more latitude that way -- but when you've been promoted internally, you already have a ton of detailed knowledge about the mechanics of what has been failing and working, personalities, workflows, processes, and unquestioned assumptions. "Where all the skeletons are buried".

And the detailed knowledge is even more useful if you've been "shadowing" the incumbent manager -- not so you can knock her off, but as a quotidian self-test: "¿What will she do in this situation?", "¿What would I do in this situation?", "¿What did we do in the past that worked and didn't that might apply here?".

I recommend that course for all employees, even those without management ambition, because it makes even a dull job more interesting. But when you have a job like Jim Riggleman has had, bench coach for a struggling team, that's one of the critical pieces of your very job description...to be a "shadow manager" and to be there at the right hand of the manager for advice and perspective.

It enables you to cherry-pick a big quiver of improvements so that if anyone asks you, or if you inherit the position, you can decisively and instantly lay down a bushelful of changes that make a positive difference, signal to your workgroup and others that change is here and that all the Droopy Dog habits and emotions of the struggle are to be flushed or eased out.

But it appears Jim Riggleman, 16 games ago given the job of interim manager of the struggling Washington Nationals, is about to let an essential personality trait, personal loyalty, get in the way of doing the things he needs to do to achieve enough success to be the not-interim manager. It's sad, because in overhearing him interact with other coaches and staff last year and in watching him prepare for games, I found him to be thoughful and studious and intelligent.

What's sadder is, he's done this (valuing personal loyalty over results) before, last year. It's not as though it's so long ago he can't recall the self-limiting results of that loyalty.

When before the 2008 season, lifelong baseball man John McLaren got his first chance to start a new year as a major league manager, he chose to hire a powerful combine of experts as coaches, many of them former major league managers themselves. This requires a lot of self-confidence -- many managers hate to have anyone around who might replace them, but McLaren has high emotional intelligence as well as traditional baseball knowledge, and recognized that each of his College of Cardinals, er, of Mariners, would be non-backstabbers. His bench coach was Jim Riggleman.

McLaren, with his college, put together a master plan that included the cognitive DNA of his expert & loyal staff and launched the season with it.

The 2008 season was a frelling mess for the Mariners, the core reasons being it was a pitching-and-defense team with pitchers who were playing injured (Erik Bedard), or underperforming (Jarrod Washburn), or meeting head on The Bigotry of High Expectations Not Justified By Skill Level (Carlos Silva), declining defense, and not enough middle-of-the-lineup oomph to even provide a hint of success. The roster was the limiting factor, McLaren wasn't squeezing the most out of what would have been a last place team anyway, and he was sacrificed after game 72.

Riggleman inherited the interim manager job. But Riggleman was loyal to McLaren and The Plan. And while they played significantly better under the new guy (the equivalent of 8 or 9 games batter over a 162 game season), their .400 mark with him at the helm was still good enough for last place.

The same roster + the same game plan + a different personality making slightly different decisions = minimal, if positive, change.

When the Mariners got a new G.M. in his first head-man job, it pretty much guaranteed he'd be bringing in his own staff, and the interim title proved accurate.

Washington Nationals' manager Manny Acta hired Riggleman to be his bench coach in the off-season with the thought that the team would benefit from his knowledge and experience and that Acta could count on his personal loyalty which, as it proved, he could. Because when the Nationals' G.M. Mike Rizzo fired Acta from his position at the helm of the woeful and woefully-underperforming even their intrinsic woefulness , Riggleman had nothing but considerate things to say about his friend Acta at his kick-off press conference, as reported at Nats320.

Question: Mike Rizzo said a couple of days ago that sometimes you just need a different voice. The things that Manny may have been doing were fine, but need to be presented in a different way. How will Jim Riggleman’s voice be different from Manny Acta’s? Riggleman: “I don’t know if it will be much different. But there is something to that. That is the kind of statement I made in Chicago. I was there for five years (as manager for The Cubs) and I was let go there. And I felt like that if I were in the General Manager’s position, I would have done the same thing. I would have let Jim Riggleman out of there because I know he was saying the right things but we need to get someone else to give this message because the players are not getting it done. So that’s basically what it amounts to. I don’t think you can change a lot. I know Manny wouldn’t change anything that he did. And I wouldn’t question anything that he did. I just want to try to continue to pound the message in and maybe coming from someone else maybe they will respond or maybe they won’t—but we have got to try that.”
As he did the previous year, he's not telling the players and front office that things need to change and that he's going to do it. He's being loyal to a good baseball man whose regime proved ineffective in that moment with that roster, when what any woeful team needs is the belief, even if it's based mostly on small but concrete things, that change is coming and that it will prove significantly beneficial. Not blaming Acta is cool, because Acta didn't build the roster, probably even only had a small effect on the design of it, he didn't throw the hanging curves and miss the cut-off man. But by not picking out a handful of visible changes, publicizing them and then implementing them, he again missed a big opportunity to change not only the processes that were not working, but the emotional wind-drag, too. Very bad change management practice. And very good way to associate yourself with a previous failed regime so that if things don't improve "enough", you can be purged without much consideration for what you did as an individual and how much improvement you actually DID engender. SUCCESSFUL TURNAROUND ARTISTS
Successful turnaround artists, managers such as Dick Williams and Billy Martin, don't necessarily show overt disrespect to the past (Williams chose to, but he inherited some real dystopic doozies of dreary doom). But there are things they do execute to indicate change is inevitable and useful. I wish Riggleman would have tried out a little Billy Martin.

No one, not even Manny Acta I suspect, would have considered him disloyal if he had said as part of his answer to the question quoted above, "We've been underperforming and I'm going to have to do several things differently from what Manny was trying, including X and Y", X and Y being the items he most noticed as the "shadow manager".

Loyalty is a virtue and a precious trait in employees, managers and executives. But loyalty to the processes of a person you were and wish to remain loyal to is not a virtue. And it's, far more often than not, a C.L.M. (career-limiting move) as well.

When you take on a new management assignment, you have a very short period, not even the Cloud-Cuckoo-Land "100 days" U.S. Presidents are imaginarily given, to have a high impact. You need to choose concrete changes (even if only small ones), implement them effectively, and tell staff and other management you're doing them, and point out the differences they made.

Without that, you're doomed to Riggleman's Fate, another death-and-rebirth ritual in which it's very unlikely you'll be one of the survivors.

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