3 Lessons Every Manager Can Learn From "Moneyball"

Take One For the TeamWhat if all businesses were run like the Oakland A’s under Billy Beane as portrayed by Brad Pitt in the new movie Moneyball? Instead of making personnel decisions based on preconceived pedigrees, what if managers used a more scientific approach to assess talent? What if managers were able to make difficult personnel decisions without having to involve a bevy of lawyers and human resources representatives?

Production trumps pedigree

Like scouts, recruiters are tasked with assessing talent for their organizations. And like scouts, recruiters often rely too heavily on a particular pedigree or candidate profile when making hiring decisions. They look to fill job descriptions instead of assessing capabilities and potential--and that’s often a deathblow for career changers. In Moneyball, Beane signed a former catcher to play first base--a position he never played before. He even went so far as to trade the potential All Star he already had playing at the position because he believed the move would give his team the best chance to score more runs--and ultimately win more games.

“Give it to them straight”

This was the advice given by Billy Beane to Peter Brand on how to let a player know he’s been traded, cut, or sent down to the minors. Although it’s never easy to let people know you’re letting them go, most team owners and professional athletes seem to understand it’s a business decision, nothing personal. Sure, feelings still get hurt, but the lack of lawyers and their carefully worded scripts is a rather refreshing break from the way the same process is handled by some businesses. Case in point, the recent and unceremonious ouster of Carol Bartz, former CEO of Yahoo, is a veritable "don't" and an example of what can happen when you're not shooting straight.

Sometimes you have to shake things up

Performance and chemistry are just as important in business as they are in baseball. In Moneyball, Beane was forced to shake things up when a player was undermining team morale. And they responded. As a manager, making such moves is often unavoidable. That can mean moving someone into a different role, to a different department, or if their performance is lacking, cutting them loose altogether. Beane realized he had a problem that needed to be addressed if he was going to have any chance at saving the season, and that’s just what he did.

What if you ran your business like the Oakland A’s under Billy Beane? How might you evaluate potential hires differently? How might you change the way you manage your team?

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15 Comments

  • james pisano

    I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but I believe the coach was using statistics to make decisions rather than traditional dogma. I have heard those who ascribe to this approach discard many of the traditional ideas about batting order and pitching rotation/staff, e.g. the best power hitter doesn't have to bat 4th and there is no special closer role on pitching staff. I think there is a psychological factor that must be considered when making these types of decisions going forward rather than just considering raw numbers looking backwards. It seems this might impact a team of people; e.g. if someone is hired without the "requisite" experience or whatever; maybe there are morale factors for instance. It seems there are considerations to managing a team of people by statistics only. Also, there is a safety factor that baseball and corporate managers often consider, which is CYA; if you hire a guy who looks good on paper, this is a defensible decision should he not work out. If you hire someone without requisite experience, you may have some "splainin'" to do. I've seen ball managers put in their set up pitcher and then their closer even when they haven't been pitching well, and their starter is and has a low pitch count;they do this because its the safe/defensible thing to do. 

  • Sean McDonald

    Nice job!  I couldn't agree with you more about the fact that companies (and the recruiters they hire) rely to heavily on what appears on a candidate's resume than the actual POTENTIAL that a candidate may have to succeed.  While experience is an asset for some positions, it can also be detrimental to others.  I prefer seeing candidates with passion and potential rather than the candidate with the most experience.  Sometimes, there are a lot of bad habits that come along with tons of experience. 

  • David Wol

    Billy Beane's goal was to get the A's into the World Series. He failed.  Since the 2002 season, he has continually failed.  His major success is keeping his job.  The number cruncher has worked his way up the management ladder in professional baseball.  Does that tell you who this approach works best for?

  • Shawn Graham

    Thanks, David. Valid point--but talent management in major league baseball today is light years from where it was pre Beane ball. Analytics play a huge part in evaluating talent. You'd be hard pressed to find most human resources department using as much data to screen candidates. I don't have any skin in the Billy Beane game, but the argument about not winning a championship as an indictment on his leadership ability is a tough one. How many people win a world series as a player or GM? The Pittsburgh Pirates just went 19 years in a row without a winning season. In this case, as the movie pointed out, Beane's approach did help the A's win an MLB record number of consecutive games--nothing to sneeze at.

  • Bill Sewell

    No, actually Billy's main goal was to win 94 games and make it to the post season for the least amount of money. Which he did, extraordinarily well. He felt that playoffs had much more luck involved and didn't expect to do well there. 

    He's pointed out that the last few years have sucked for him as all the other teams started bidding up prices for players he was interested in. He needs to find a new edge, which is much harder now that people know what to look for. 

  • Bill Sewell

    I just recently finished Moneyball and immediately wanted to hire a sabermetrician for our company, someone who could cut through all the noise and give us pure, perfect signal. Unfortunately, that term only seems to apply to baseball... and no one is using it in their Linked-In description. 

    Still - the core idea of challenging all assumptions and asking why is relevant to everyone. Michael Lewis loves the rare guys who can ask why when no one else does - The Big Short is the same story, but about a few stock traders vs. the Wall Street establishment. His main point is to ask "Why" harder than anyone else. If you find people who are always challenging you (in a good way), maybe they should join the team. 

  • Shawn Graham

    Thanks, Bill. Great point about the movie. Also love the point about the lack of jobs for sabermetricians--so far. I think the real opportunity is for companies to figure out how to find those great candidates through all of the noise using the "science." Companies have become far too rigid in looking for a specific profile (ex. "must have 4 years of experience"). Need to go deeper.

  • Bruce Couch

    Forgive me but I'm a better business owner than a editor, first line should read:

     I think the greater lesson of this film isn't that we shouldn't try to run our business 'like' Beane ran the A's

  • Bruce Couch

    As a small business owner I think the greater lesson of this film isn't that we should try to run our business 'like' Beane ran the A's... it that we should approach how we view our business, our clients, our partners, and  the markets in which we choose to perform in from different perspectives.

    I love our business... but my hope is that 2 years from now it will be as different than it is now compared to 2 years ago.

  • Shawn Graham

    His was definitely a unique approach to a well-established business. As you point out, Bruce, perspective really matters.

  • David Rosen

    Really good article and I think it represents a great analogy for business.  The problem is:

    Its easier to agree to this method than execute on it.

    However, consider the shift in employment that has occurred today and this style should work.  Its clear that the current ranks of post college and experienced employees are being hired on more of a "project" approach to work rather than a lifetime employment model of the past.   I know many people in their 40's and 50's in high tech who are glad to be hired for a couple of years to get a business into its next level of growth.  So, if employees are open to it, then business needs to adjust.

    Also, consider the contractor business where an outsourcing company can place someone into a job for up to two years without that person being classified as a full-time employee of the hiring company. 

    But as a manager of a large and small businesses, I also know its tough to be this rational about the needs of the job, regardless of the loyalty to the individual.  Large companies can execute this more readily if they help to manage the careers (like sports agents), so that when they are no longer needed in the current role, another role can be found for them. 

    Are there any good examples of companies that effectively help manage a person's professional career growth?  That is the problem to solve.

    Regards,

    David

    David A. Rosen
    drosen .com

    LinkedIn:  http://www.linkedin.com/in/dav...

  • Shawn Graham

    Thanks for the comment, David. The parallels between companies making the strategic decision to rely more and more heavily on consultants and freelancers and free agents in baseball is really an interesting point. The "project" approach also forces managers to adjust on the fly. I'd also love to hear your thoughts on companies you think are doing a great job of managing professional career growth.

  • Heather Stober

    Wow - well said.  I wish corporate America would make the tough decisions instead of the comfortable ones.  Those comfortable ones end up being painful in the end!

  • Shawn Graham

    Thanks, Heather. I completely agree. The road of business management is riddled with comfortable decisions.