By Mike Hoban
So, what are the talent lessons that companies can learn from the largely true-story movie Moneyball? The entertaining and drama-filled film is up for 6 Academy awards this year including one for best picture but this is more than a story about baseball. It’s a story about finding the right – and affordable – talent.
Here’s a brief synopsis for those who have not seen it yet or read the book on which it’s based. Billy Bean is the General Manager for the Oakland Athletics in 2002 and adopts a new quantitative method (“sabremetrcis”) of scouting players, a methodology employing a little used metric of “on base percentage” as a key indicator of talent. In the movie, the algorithm was developed by a young math whiz who is subsequently hired by Bean to identify “overlooked” talent, since Oakland’s personnel budget was miniscule compared to that of the competition.
The quantitative approach is derided by most of the baseball establishment because it was counter to the traditional player performance indicators used to identify talent. It also cut across the grain of relying on talent scouts’ judgment and experience, based largely on more traditional metrics. Fast forward - Bean proves the cynics and skeptics wrong and the Athletics, with a team of low salaried players who were undervalued and in some cases cast off by other teams makes the playoffs.
There is a Wikipedia link for those of you who want more detail.
So back to the initial question – what is the “so what?” for companies regarding that talent acquisition story? Professional sports is a very different kind of industry than most, in which talent and the execution of talent is the overwhelming differentiator for win/loss success. Not technology, not market strategy, but talent. Besides, even if the metric of “on base percentage” is the holy grail of positive correlations for player (and team) success, what is the equivalent success genetic marker for those working in manufacturing or banking or healthcare? Good points both.
The lessons, therefore, are more about a concept rather than in the specific replication of the Moneyball tale. Even in sports other than baseball no one has suggested a new or creative performance metric to predict success which parallels the baseball example in the story.
So here are my takeaways:
• It’s possible to be very successful as an organization with associates and managers who lack what conventional wisdom would consider to be “Tier 1” credentials. Brand-name employment experience is a good thing, but so can be solid experience in an obscure no-name company. Ditto for education;
• It doesn’t take the biggest payroll to win. Super Bowl champion NY Giants rank #18 out of 32 NFL teams in payroll costs and the Super Bowl runner-up Patriots rank #23;
• Acquiring niche, non-superstar players who fit a system can be a formula for success. Granted, that goes against the popular principle of “top grading” but that’s the whole point of the story. Success through tried-and-true means would have made a far less compelling story;
• Sometimes finding the right talent for a role requires casting the net in unexpected or non-traditional directions as they did in Moneyball. For an important project management role, for instance, an organization might not only screen the internal data base for those having related PM experience but might also ask who has successfully orchestrated and organized a large wedding or a successful class reunion. Think about it - in both of those instances, planning and organizing skills are important as is relationship management to achieve the desired outcome;
• Accept that there is an element of risk in trying to find the uncut diamonds and be prepared to address that potential performance gap and move on. There was a higher degree of churn than usual in the Oakland club as General Manager Bean tried to assemble the right team using overlooked or under-appreciated players.
Readers – any other lessons you took from the story?
Mike Hoban is a Senior Consultant for Development Dimensions International (DDI). www.ddiworld.com