This is the second in a series of quick summaries of essential business/HR books (the first, The Drunkard’s Walk, can be found here http://wp.me/p3wxuY-4H) . As with the first review, I hope the lessons are useful, but also that you read the books in due course. I chose them because they are good books that you might not have recommended or given to you as straight ‘HR texts’.
Moneyball (The Art of Winning an Unfair Game)
Moneyball was hijacked as book and subjected to the unenviable and unfair fate of having up to a billion articles written about it suggestion it was all about ‘big data’. The book does focus on data – but there are far richer lessons to be enjoyed regarding teamwork, culture, innovation and bravery.
Essentially, the book provides an insight into the workings of a baseball team from Oakland that, due to having a limited budget, chose to hire more diversely; finding talent outside of the normal profiles for successful baseball players. They purchased players that might have unorthodox actions or techniques, but who could still be productive.
The team went on the longest winning streak in baseball history, using a strategy of hiring players based on actual results, rather than perceived desirable skills (informed by some cool data analysis) and getting the most out of them.
A short clip from the movie…and then the lessons from HR.
Lessons for HR
It’s not all about data. It probably never will be. Most summaries of the book focus on the level of analysis that went into the hiring decisions. What is often neglected is that the team’s success only really kicked off when they traded two high performers OUT of the club, due to the negative impact they were having on others around them. They valued and understood team dynamics and made a brave change as a result. The ability to let go of talent that didn’t fit was as important as the ability to acquire.
Performance is in the aggregate. When the team lost high performers it looked for where it could replace their contribution in the aggregate of the next hires i.e I don’t need a replacement star if I can hire two upper quartile replacements. This meant that over time they increased average performance, whilst ensuring that they were less reliant on individuals.
Results matter, not the way they are achieved. The team’s analysts looked at what won games of baseball and made teams a success. They ignored traditionally sexy or glamorous measures, like how many home runs people could hit or how fast they could throw – and simply looked at how good people were at hitting a baseball and stopping other people hitting baseballs. Focusing on metrics that mattered, to the exclusion of all other noise helped focus their hiring policy and how they used their strengths. As you can see in the clip identifying the problem, the real problem, is always key.
They stayed true to their vision. Having identified that they needed to compete in a different way to other teams the management’s strategy came under both external and internal pressure. They had a vision, they stuck to it and they were prepared to take accountability for failure as well. They understood they were playing a game they could lose, but they were passionate that they were playing it in the best way they could. It paid off. You can’t be right all the time, but to fail through lack of commitment. That is a real loss.
‘If you don’t stick to your principles when times are tough, they aren’t principles; they are hobbies.’ Jon Stewart