It is a mystery to most of the world how a little-known USA sport like baseball can have as its culminating event called the “World Series”. Most everyone outside North America equates “World” with the “World Cup” of international soccer (football to them) which is truly “world”. Nevertheless, baseball remains an intriguing sport played by millions in the USA, with most citizens giving attention to its conclusion each October.
In the late-night hours of November 1, 2017 a team that almost nobody had predicted to win, defeated the favored and experienced Los Angeles Dodgers in a seven-game series. The Houston Astros did it despite a payroll about one-half that of the Dodgers, and just four years earlier were the laughingstock of professional baseball having lost more than 100 games in each of the three years before 2014.
I love the metaphors of the sporting world which can sometimes be useful when applying to other institutions or events closer to most of us – such as starting a business or building one to success. These traits struck me during October of this year.
1. Little things matter.
In baseball as in most things, one must give attention to details. Certainly, the Astros did when they signed Francisco Liriano in July as a left-handed reliever. Liriano was not a major player and was brought on to the team to play a small part in the bullpen. He soon observed a team that embraced him and did so many “little things right”. He only faced one batter in each of games 6 and 7 – a small but important time, place and role.Similarly, in business, the smallest of decisions or choices can be keys to success. What if Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Batstone, had not paid attention to a newspaper article in Berkley, CA about the enslaved workers at his favorite restaurant? Such a little thing led to the Not For Sale movement which focuses on liberating those enslaved in several countries.1
2. A team has chemistry and culture.
Liriano said upon his arrival “…we have a team, a real team…it’s not everybody trying to play individually. Everyone is playing for each other and has each others’ back. The MVP (World Series Most Valuable Player) George Springer stated, “…our team believed in each other all year.” And all-star Jose Altuve noted “…a lot of diversity and good relationships between players and coaches with everybody.” Management opened up to sharing data with players. In decision after decision, as pitcher Dallas Keuchel says, “each player became a person.” A phenomenal esprit de corps developed, which was visible to all who watched. And, thus, the team – with great chemistry and culture – won the championship.
My wife’s nephew is an engineer and team leader at Google in Mountain View, CA. The campus resembles a world class resort and perks include free food from its many restaurants. “The culture is amazing. Each employee does not mind helping the other out if they are stuck. I feel it is encouraged to reach out to others,” observes one engineer. Google is consistently rated a company with an excellent culture and team chemistry.
3. They had a goal.
During the three years of 2011 – 2013 the Astros lost a total of 324 games. They essentially started from scratch in 2014 with important operational decisions. Altuve recently told ESPN, “I think I was the only one in 2011, ’12 and ’13, those 100 losses – three years in a row. It’s not easy. But I think I kind of like believed the process.” Altuve exemplifies employee engagement. The best employees will be the ones that stick with you through the good times and the bad. Success is the bottom line. The Astros had a relentless focus on results, on winning. And that meant getting to the Series through wins and winning four out of seven games once there.
Freedom businesses can be considered social enterprises because of their clear goal – to keep women and children from human slavery and to liberate as many as possible from the human trafficking industry. Such a goal is measurable and systems of accountability exist for it. All BAM businesses need goals which can be measured and for which they can be held accountable. It is a privilege for IBEC consultants to help freedom businesses.
4. Good leadership.
Jeff Luhnow joined the team in 2011 as General Manager and as an entrepreneur with an MBA. He started to modernize the organization. That began the process of becoming a cutting-edge baseball operations machine, so much so that Sports Illustrated in 2014 predicted a Houston World Series by 2017. By 2015 they were chosen to have the Best Farm System in baseball by the MiLB. AJ Hinch, with a psychology degree from Stanford, was hired in Sept 2014 and had an early talk with Altuve, “We talked a lot about getting better,” Hinch said. “We talked about the 100-loss seasons. We talked about the grind that had taken its toll. I asked him one question: ‘Why don’t we talk about winning?'” The culture began to change – instead of focusing on the errors of the past they focused on a goal – winning! And win they did – beating out the big boys of baseball history, the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.
I often think of the story of Bill Job in China whose employees would call him the “best boss in all of China.” Such a description often embarrassed him as he realized that such an accolade is ill-defined and impossible to prove. But the facts are clear – Bill treated his employees with dignity, respect and fairness. He always challenged them to learn new things and be a significant part in building the company. He is a good leader and they love to work for him.
5. Data is important.
Sometimes managers manage from their gut and to be sure some of that is important, but success for Houston also involved data and analytics. Both team management and players bought into the importance of both gathering and using data in decisions about personnel, policies, and practices. The drive toward the use of analytics began with Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s and it was used with last years’ Chicago Cubs. Some think Houston is the best at it today.
The May 2014 BAM Global Think Tank Report, How Are We Doing: Measuring the Impact and Performance of BAM Businesses, states “Good metrics are a compass that enables good leaders to stay on track”. This is true upstream and downstream in a business. IBEC uses data generated by many different entities in the planning process; for example, the World Bank’s “Doing Business” data2 on most every country in the world. Such data helps in making decisions in starting and building the BAM company. When it comes to the downstream of measuring success, the obvious financial analytics of P&L, Balance Sheet etc. are important but so are ministry indicators such as self-designed opportunities for living out the gospel with both incarnation and proclamation.
6.It takes balanced talent.
There is good management and bad management. Good management picks good draft picks and Houston did – young guys like Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Alex Bregman. They went after a dynamic core of young offensive talent and brought on old-timers who could lead, mentor and be source of wisdom and maturity, like Justin Verlander and Carlos Beltran. Young and Old! Untested talent and Experienced Stars! All were important to this balanced team.Brittany joined a BAM team in Azerbaijan and brought significant skills in coffee roasting and retail. However, she realized that she needed capital developers, managers, operational people, marketers, HR experts, accountants and legal advice. Before long a team emerged and the result after the application of varied skills and much hard work – a roasting company with two successful stores.
Perseverance can be described as ”…steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” Three years from 2014 to 2017 can seem like a long time but perhaps Cameron Maybin said it best on winning night. “We battled, we persevered, we never gave up.” Another said that there were no shortcuts; there was plenty of pain.”Whether it be Wintston Churchill’s famous “never give up” speech to parliament, or a sport like baseball, perseverance is important in the success of a business. It takes long steadfast trial and error to achieve success – in understanding the customer, in perfecting the product and in developing human potential. Never Give Up!One of the first entrepreneur’s I advised was a fellow named Lee who started a business in a former Soviet Republic. He partnered with a local attorney and within two years the partner took off with all the money in the bank and the business folded. I called him to express my sorrow and asked what he was going to do, thinking he may return to Florida. Lee quickly responded, “I have already gone down the street and rented another office and incorporated another company”. Lee was a persevering BAMer. He never would give up.
Whether it is baseball or another sport or an endeavor such as business in developing unreached countries “for the glory of God” we do well to consider these seven lessons.
Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures