Moneyball – 6 corporate lessons from a Hollywood blockbuster
Workforce planning resources are relatively few and far between. There are only a handful of text books worth reading (in fairness, The Differentiated Workforce does comes to mind). When we’re asked by graduates of the Institute about further research and reading material the answer is always the same. Bust out the popcorn, put your feet up and press ‘play’. Moneyball is much more than a great story though. So many brilliant concepts and valuable lessons are littered throughout this brilliant film, many of which can be applied across traditional organisations to help deliver strategic outcomes whilst maintaining a focus on controlling costs.
In case you haven’t seen it, Moneyball is the story of Major League Baseball (MLB) team the Oakland Athletic’s (A’s) and the story behind their record breaking 2002 season which saw a record 20 consecutive victories and a place in the playoffs. After losing arguably its three best players over the offseason, general manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pit) is forced to think differently about compiling a competitive team given a limited budget (approximately one third of some of the bigger teams) and resources. With the help of analyst Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), Beane compiles a team comprised of players based primarily on their ability to get on base. Many of these players had been overlooked or undervalued by other teams for various reasons stemming from traditional recruitment biases leaving the A’s to secure them for a fraction of their real value. After a few teething problems (primarily the coach not implementing the agreed game plan) the A’s went on to have one of the most memorable seasons in MLB history.
In many ways, the challenges faced by Beane and Brand in 2001/2 are alarmingly similar to those faced by many organisations today, especially given the ever evolving economic and people landscape. More and more, our leaders are facing the same challenges – do more (or at the very least the same) with less. Less money, less resources, less people – the same messages Billy Beane was given by the Oakland A’s owners heading into the 2002 season.
Simon Sinek recently posted a solitary line on his LinkedIn page; (lack of time) + (lack of resources) + (optimism) = innovation. The Oakland A’s serve as a perfect example of living out this algorithm some 20 years before Sinek bought it to the table. We’ve extracted 6 key quotes from the movie which serve as important lessons for our own professional environments.
1. “People who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players, your goal shouldn’t be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins, and in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs.”
Often, people who run organisations think in terms of finding talent (getting more people). Our goal shouldn’t be to find talent, our goal should be to achieve our strategic objectives and in order to do that, you need capability. Capability comes in many forms however all too often the answer is going to market and recruiting a permanent employee. What if we really only need a portion of what that individual has to offer capability-wise or perhaps all of their capability but only some of the time? Are we then not potentially underutilising that person if we engage them permanently? By more clearly understanding exactly what the strategically critical capabilities required are, we can be far more targeted and efficient with how we source those capabilities.
2. “Baseball thinking is medieval; they are asking all the wrong questions.”
Conventional thinking around talent acquisition can be archaic. Every day, conferences are advertised, blogs are written and forums are created posing questions like; How do we win the war for talent? What are our competitors doing to source & secure top talent? How do we compete for talent if we can’t pay what others can? How can we ensure we have the right people, in the right place at the right time? Yes, we as hiring managers, talent professionals, organisations and leaders are asking all the wrong questions. So, what are the right questions? Well, we could consider asking questions like: What are we trying to achieve as an organisation? What are the most strategically aligned & critical capabilities we require to deliver our strategy? What are our options in terms of sourcing that capability? In short, conventional thinking could shift from ‘how do we find talent?’ to ‘how do we source capability?’
3. “When I look at Johnny Damon what I see is an imperfect understanding of where runs come from.”
Johnny Damon is one of the three ‘star’ players the A’s lose in the off season. He’s poached by a bigger team for significantly more money. This is essentially the same as what we call the ‘war for talent’ in the corporate world. When I look at the challenges faced by organisations in ‘securing top talent’ what I see is an imperfect understanding of where capability comes from. Engaging in the war for talent consumes a significant amount of time, money and resources, often for little to no return. If you’re swimming in the ocean and you get caught in the rip, what are you told to do? Stop struggling, go with it, when you’re out of it swim parallel to the shore (outside the rip) and then find your safe passage back to the beach. The war for talent is no different. What’s the best way to win the war for talent? Stop engaging in it! Stop fighting the war for talent and start waving your own war with your own capability.
4. “If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we’ll lose to the Yankees out there.”
One word – Benchmarking. Ok maybe three words, ‘Benchmarking’ and ‘Best Practice’. Here Beane is referring to his own scouts constantly pointing out which players other (bigger) teams are interested in and/or actively pursuing. We do this all the time don’t we? We benchmark ourselves against other organisations or compare what we’re doing to this notion of ‘best practice’. We look to industry leaders to see what they’re doing by way of workforce strategies and we follow them. How are they sourcing talent? What is best practice? Ok – that’s what we’ll do! When we do this, we essentially put in place workforce strategies, actions and initiatives derived by other organisations to implement their own unique organisational strategies. Why implement actions and initiatives derived to execute the strategies of our competitors? It seems like madness when put that way. Good workforce planning practice links strategic objectives to workforce related outputs via a structured methodology – that’s pretty much it. Good practice around talent acquisition is establishing a prioritised list of your most strategically aligned capabilities and developing a plan to source those capabilities. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated.
5. “People are overlooked for a variety of based reasons and perceived floors.”
Too often, we get caught up in the right fit for the role or the organisation. As a former recruiter, I can clearly recall phrases like ‘corporate presentation’, ‘polished’ and ‘good cultural fit’ being par for the course. I wonder how many candidates with the right mix of capabilities have been overlooked by organisations over the years because they may not have ‘looked the part’ or ‘sounded right’.
His legs are gone, we’ll be lucky to get 60 games out of him….
Why do you like him…?
Because he gets on base!
And there it is. In flagging our strategically critical capabilities, we can cut through biases and perceived flaws and get right to the nucleus of exactly what it is we need to succeed. In the Oakland A’s case, this was the capability to get on base, one way or another.
6. “Using stats the way we read them, we’ll find value in players no-body else can see.”
The identification of the A’s most critical capability (the ability to get on base) came about through the correlation of their key metric, on base percentage (OBP) with a corresponding number of runs to reach a projected number of wins. Organisations who can identify their own set of strategically aligned capabilities can then open themselves up to multiple ways of sourcing that capability including hiring individuals who may have been overlooked based on a number of biases in the past.
Watch Moneyball. If you’ve seen it, try watching it again. This time however, watch it through a different lens. Watch it through the lens of your own organisation or one you’ve been a part of previously. Do you see hiring managers saying the same sorts of things the Oakland A’s scouts were saying? The same old archaic comments about top talent? Hopefully not however I suspect a number of the comments, along with the style of thinking will be eerily familiar.
For support in establishing and mapping your strategically critical capabilities or any other workforce planning related matters, get in touch.