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Play to Win: Business is a Lot Like Baseball

November 19, 2012
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Baseball season may be over, but you can bet the majority of the players are out practicing their skills. Fielding ground balls, shagging pop flies, laying down bunts, lifting weights, or performing plyometrics — these boys of summer are in constant pursuit of excellence. They personify professionalism; they take their work seriously.

During a recent conference, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a session led by Frank Besednjak, a trainer, teacher, coach, and consultant with decades of HVAC industry experience. Besednjak shared the thought-provoking claim that business is a lot like baseball. As a sports nut, he immediately grabbed my attention, which, after half a dozen speakers, admittedly was starting to waver.

He began: Some baseball players are superstars, some are rookies. Some can hit, others excel at pitching. The same principle applies to technicians. They come equipped with all sorts of abilities. Some are better with people; others are better off alone with a wrench. Some are incredibly smart; others, not so much.

In baseball, every player follows common rules that everyone understands. If a ground ball is hit to third base, the defender scoops it up and attempts to toss it over to first base prior to the runner’s arrival. This never changes, and has remained a constant for more than 100 years.

As a consultant, Besednjak visits businesses and examines the rules that they play by. If people are constantly screwing up, asking how things are supposed to be done, or questioning company policy, then they never understood the rules to begin with. It’s time to reinstitute what’s acceptable and what is not.

Baseball requires teamwork. Everyone has to take part and do their job successfully for the team to succeed. Everyone bats, everyone has a job in the field, and everyone contributes. The same philosophy should apply in business.

Baseball enthusiasts love measuring performance. Statistics are kept for each at bat, each pitch. In certain circumstances, baseball managers know which player is best suited for the situation. Situational leadership is also utilized. People are different. Some guys take criticism better, some need constant attention, and others are better off left alone.

If a service technician continually excels and is praised by his customers, make sure he’s promoted within. Make him your ace — your top dog, the face on your billboard. When it comes to closing those lucrative leads, he’s the guy on the mound. If another guy struggles with interactions, but is a hard worker, place him solely on installations. Put a wrench in his hand and send him downstairs; let someone else do the schmoozing.

And, if a worker continues to commit errors, it may be time to consider an in-depth evaluation; even all-star major leaguers get demoted. And, upon a review of performance, this demotion shouldn’t come as a surprise.

In business, team members rarely practice. While in baseball, practice is part of a daily routine. In his management days, Besednjak would place a door in the middle of his conference room and bring technicians in to practice the customer greeting — one of the most important aspects of customer service. He wouldn’t tell the tech, but he’d tape the session and play it back, offering constructive criticism. He said he’d much rather have a technician fumble his greeting during practice than during their first interaction with a potential client.

How many times while watching a game are you looking at the score? The scoreboard is important because everyone is interested in winning. It’s an imperative part of the game. However, how often do you look at the score while conducting business? Not often, but why not? If you show people how to measure performance, and grade them regularly, they’re destined to improve. They know you’re monitoring their performance objectively, thus they’ll do what it takes to do better.

So, as a contractor, or, for sake of this column, the skipper, are your players in the right positions? Is it time to go to your bullpen? Perhaps it’s time to call up a worthy prospect. Because, as the manager, you’re most responsible for team wins and losses, and — especially in today’s volatile market — you can’t afford to lose.

Publication date: 11/19/2012

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