Success and the Minnesota Twins
Being an enthusiastic and loyal fan of the Minnesota Twins, my heart broke just a little the other night as I watched Jim Thome’s hit soar into the night for a home run. While the win by the White Sox eliminated the Twins from post-season play, most Minnesota fans realize that once again their team has played well above expectations. But the question that must be asked is how do they do it? How does a team with one of the lowest payrolls in Major League Baseball consistently win their division? But more importantly, what can businesses learn from the Twins that can drive them toward greater success?
Consistent Training – Throughout the organization, from the instructional league right up to the majors, players are taught to play baseball the Twins way. Each manager and coach expects his players to hustle all the time, whether in the outfield to retrieve a clear single or when running to first base, even though as the batter you are almost sure to be put out. They learn how to conduct themselves on and off the field and gain experience in dealing with a long, grinding season. As the players are promoted to the next level of ball, they find that the managers and coaches are further refining their skills but always with the same philosophy. This consistency of message means that when a player finally gets to the “show” he is ready to successfully contribute to the team. According to outfielder Michael Cuddyer, “You grow up here and learn how to play the game the right way.”
Is the training consistent in your organization or is there conflict and confusion? Are the skills and competencies that an employee develops through her early years still applicable later in her career, or does each new supervisor mean a new set of values? Does your on-boarding process make very clear the “way” of your organization, and do the new associates understand the importance of this strategy? By developing consistent guidelines and training throughout your organization, your staff will be better able to lead effectively when their time comes.
Instill the Fundamentals – Another aspect of the Twins’ way is to focus on the fundamentals of the game. When on defense they are taught to use good footwork, positioning and preparation. They are drilled about situational baseball so that they know exactly what they will do when the ball is hit to different areas of the field. As a batter, they learn to hold the bat correctly and swing either for power or contact as the situation dictates. Alex Rodriguez, one of the best players in the game, says of the Twins, “They’re the best fundamental team in baseball. They play the game the way it’s meant to be played.” Players that don’t or won’t adapt to this style of play find themselves on another club or stocking shelves at the grocery store.
Many organizations that I deal with are afflicted with the “idea of the month” disease. They change direction so often that employees hardly know which way to turn. Eventually they quit trying to keep up with the latest management concept and simply do what they want. If forced, they will pay lip service to the latest fad just to survive. We recommend that your organization focus on the fundamentals of working together and leading people. These ideas have worked for millennia because at their core, people don’t really change that much in how they wish to be treated.
Build from Within – Because of the small market and limited resources, the Twins are unable to outbid other franchises for the very best talent. Even so, their players have won major awards in the last five years including two Cy Young’s (best pitcher), two batting titles and one MVP. This is because they have drafted young players intelligently, taught them the Twins way and given the best ones the chance to play at a major league level. In comparison, the New York Yankees have a payroll that is almost 4 times larger, with only two of their players having come up through their farm system. Putting yourself in the place of a young, confident baseball player, who would you rather start with, the team with 75% of their players being brought up from the minors, or the team that has 7%?
Does your organization promote from within? Is there a clear path for growth through the organization so a sharp young staffer can move up in the ranks? Or are the great jobs filled with outside candidates, forcing your best people to find positions at your competitors? Institute a robust development program for your high potential associates and help them believe that they have every opportunity for promotion.
Continuous Training – When a player finally makes it to the big leagues, his learning is not done. In some ways it has just started. Many a player has arrived at the majors as a potential all-star, only to find himself sent back to the minors by mid-summer. Usually they didn’t keep working on their skills with the same fervor that they used to get to the big leagues. It doesn’t take long for a major league scout to exploit a pitcher’s tendencies or a slugger’s weakness for the slider. For example, Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson was able to take five rookie starters and grow them into one of the most effective staffs in their division.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the leadership in your organization has “arrived.” The issues they face now are more important and complex than those they faced earlier in their careers. They must keep learning so that they can successfully face these new challenges. Over the years I have dealt with many executives who had never developed a first-rate presentation style and were desperately in need of training! Commit to continuous improvement for yourself and your staff.
When you develop people and treat them right, even those that leave remain loyal. In the words of former centerfielder and fan favorite, Torii Hunter, “I’ll always be a Minnesota Twin at heart. I love those guys. They taught me how to play the game.” How is your company perceived by your staff, both those that stay and those that have left?