World Serious: HR Lessons from Baseball


It’s time for HR to step up to the plate—and take a few lessons from baseball.

Beyond the obvious—that HR professionals, like baseball players, do best when they work closely as teams—there are additional baseball practices that can HR leaders can emulate:

METRICS: The book and movie “Moneyball” demonstrated the value of using data to gain competitive advantage. Baseball managers study opposing hitters’ tendencies and shift the positions of their fielders for optimal results. They have reams of data about which of their batters have the best chances against the opponents’ pitchers.

HR teams must identify, gather and crunch the statistics that matter most to them—whether it is retention rates in the hospitality industry, customer satisfaction in retail sales or market share for start-ups. And they must be on the lookout constantly for business and employment trends--and the related measurements--that will keep them ahead of the curve.

DEVELOPMENT: Baseball teams send scouts around the world to identify and recruit talent. Signing bonuses in the tens of millions of dollars are becoming common. But all that work and money are worthless if the teams don’t train young players and give them challenges and experience commensurate with their potential.

Similarly, HR staffs must exhibit great patience and devise realistic plans to build meaningful careers for all new hires. Now and then, boosting the skill sets of a high-potential employee might help her or him move to a competitor, but more often than not these investments will develop the talent that will generate profits and secure the next generation of leadership for the organization.

MERIT: Some of the most highly hyped young baseball players never accomplish what is expected of them, while some of those chosen almost as afterthoughts help win titles. However, once any baseball player demonstrates the skills that win games, his manager will play him until he proves that he doesn’t belong—even if that means pushing aside a popular player.

All too often, HR departments and line managers recognize the skills and performance of up-and-coming employees but hold them back. Sometimes this is done to avoid “showing up” a long-time employee. Or managers are afraid that an untested worker will make a mistake. When this happens, the high-potential worker and the organization both lose.

CRISES: Baseball teams manage crises constantly. Key players go down with injuries. The star pitcher loads the bases in the first inning. If the manager yanks that pitcher out of the game, the next guy might do just as poorly. And the pitcher who got yanked might suffer a loss of confidence and underperform for weeks.

HR professionals, like baseball professionals, must learn to trust their employees and to support them even if they make mistakes—as long as they are honest ones. Getting to know employees—including what motivates them do their best work—goes a long way.

HOPE: Maybe your HR operation has been hit by budget cuts or has lost key people. Like legions of Chicago Cubs fans dreaming of a World Series title despite decades of falling short, HR teams must never lose hope that their hard work will pay off. Remember: There’s always next year.



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