Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Building a Bench

Last week, Dave Lefkow delivered a great article on ERE where he made the point through a baseball analogy that one cannot focus on hiring superstars alone. 'B' Players, as Dave referred to them, are also highly valuable and key contributors to any team, whether that team is in the world of business or athletics. I'd like to add on to Dave's baseball analogy with one of my own, and a timely one at that as the Lerners are preparing to take over ownership of the Washington Nationals and 'Paint The Town Red' this weekend.

Shortly before being announced as the new owners of The Nationals, the Lerner group did a very wise thing. They brought in a true 'baseball guy', one of the most successful baseball executives in the last 20 years, Stan Kasten. Stan Kasten was greatly responsible for building the Atlanta Braves franchise into one of the most successful in the sport. He attributed his success in building the franchise to ownership that was willing to invest the patience, time and resources into building a top-notch minor league system. In other words, he built the team from the ground up, and from everything he has said over the last couple of months, he plans on doing the exact same thing here in DC. Kasten's goal is long-term success, and his strategy is built upon the assumption that by expanding the talent pool at the entry-level, the right talent for the organization will make it through the funnel of natural attrition, and be long-term, strong performers for the organization. This is a strategy that is proven in the business world as well.

Companies like GE, Booz Allen, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car have grown their own talent in similar ways. These organizations have invested heavily in the college recruiting efforts and their efforts have paid off in their ability to grow and develop talent over the long term. They are willing to accept a certain level of attrition because they know that those who stay will thrive in the organization, and in many cases end up in leadership roles. Companies that have not focused on 'building the bench' too-often must rely on recruiting experienced talent, often overpriced, and not nearly as loyal over the long-term.

Another sports analogy is the Washington Redskins of a few years back compared to the New England Patriots. The Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, has always had a win-now attitude and has rarely valued stability or had the patience for building a team through the draft. Earlier this decade, Snyder spent huge sums of money bringing in overpriced talent such as Jeff George, Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders. The result was no team-chemistry and continued instability in the franchise. Meanwhile, up in New England, the Patriots franchise was building a dynasty, based largely on stable leadership and building the team from the draft.

Fortunately for us local DC sports fans, new ideas around leadership are making all the difference. Snyder brought back a true 'Level 5' leader in Joe Gibbs, and although the win-now attitude still exists, stability and patience (at least for now) seems to be in place with positive results. With Kasten running the Nationals, one cannot help but be optimistic. If he is only half as successful building this franchise as he was with the Braves, good years still lie ahead for the Nats.

I'll be there on Sunday with my son to celebrate this 're-birth' of a franchise. Hopefully the ownership and fans will be as patient as I plan to be over the next couple of years as the Nats are rebuilt into a long-term, successful team. Heck, after a lifetime of not having a baseball team in DC, I'm still just glad to sit in the stands of old RFK with a dog and a beer, watching a ball game with my boy.

* BTW, if you happen to be a baseball-loving HR executive, the Nats have a fantastic opportunity for you!


At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Dave Lefkow said...

Great post, Ben. I like the parallel you've drawn to the practice of hiring and developing entry level talent, as well as the reference to level 5 leadership from Good to Great. Proctor & Gamble is another great example of these principles in action.

Given the decreasing tenures across companies, one thing I would add to this strategy is to also focus on finding mid-level yet underpriced talent, i.e. individuals with transferable skills that another organization might look past.

At 9:19 PM, Blogger Ben said...

Yeah, I'm reading Good To Great now, and Joe Gibbs fits the definition of a Level 5 leader perfectly.

In regards to your point about mid-level underpriced talent, how about companies being better able to assess the potential of mid-level talent, hiring those who are maybe missing a skill or two, but who have the potential to come up to speed quickly and contribute.

I get frustrated when talent at that level is passed up because they are not a perfect match, and as a result, the search continues for the 'perfect' candidate. However, if they hired someone who was maybe just short of what they were looking for and trained them up, they could have someone on board being productive faster than it would take to find that elusive, 'perfect' fit.


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