Bill James is a really, really smart guy . . . who most people have never even heard of. And if you watch the video on him titled ‘Baseball’s Stat Man’ (that broadcasted on 60 Minutes last Sunday), there may be some serious nuggets of brilliance to gleam and put in action.
Here’s the skinny: For decades on decades, Major League Baseball relied on a series of philosophies & statistics that Managers and Owners believed determined success. Because these were the Sacred Cows of performance evaluation, not many dared to challenge them.
“Over the decades, mgrs used outdated formulas or intuition in making decisions, so night after night he [Bill James] crunched numbers until he came up with new statistics based on facts that would either support or debunk tradition.”
In doing so, Bill came up with a school of thought titled ‘SaberMetrics’. According to Wikipedia:
“Sabermetrics is concerned both with determining the value of a player in a season gone by, and with trying to predict the value of a player in the future based on his past performances. While many areas of study are still in development, it has yielded a number of interesting insights into the game of baseball and in the area of performance measurement.”
If you’re a baseball fan, let me give you an example: For years and years, Batting Average was considered the key metric in determining the value of a hitter. Bill James came to the table and said, “What about those players that work the opposing pitcher and get walks? Since they also are getting on base, are they any less valuable?” In doing so, Bill coined the concept of On-Base Percentage. Even better, Bill coined Slugging Percentage, a concept that takes into account the quality of a hit, rather than just a hit in and of itself.
Go ahead and think about it: What metrics does your organization use to forecast Quality-of-Hire . . . or what metrics/KPIs’ (Key Performance Indicators) are used to determine a “High Performer” or HiPo (High Potential) employee? Are your current metrics and philosophies accepted as Sacred Cows, despite potentially no longer being of true value?
Here’s a highly relevant example in the Organizational Development space: There is a school of thought that determines High Performers based upon their salary position within a given compensation band (i.e. those in the upper quartile are often considered to represent the highest performing employees.) But are they really? What if they just are better negotiators? What if their current salary position is more a product of tenure than merit?
While Bill James is a really a baseball guy, we all could learn a thing or two from him. At the end of the day, it’s ok to challenge Sacred Cows . . . just remember what Colin Powell (another really smart guy) said:
“Experts often possess more data than judgment.”
P.S. This post was inspired by a conversation I had this morning with Eric Gholston, a Business Partner of mine here at LG & Associates Search / Talent Strategy.
LG & Assoc Search / Talent Strategy