Play ball! Talent Management Lessons from MLB’s Spring Training
Researched and Edited by Jeffrey Meyers
If you’re a baseball fan, then you’re likely very excited at this time of year. Pitchers and catchers have reported to their team’s spring training facilities to prepare for the coming 6-month season, and position players are starting full-blown practices and workouts. Before long, exhibition games will give way to the official opening day in April. If there’s a central theme for Spring Training, it’s talent management.
For Major League Baseball teams, managers, and scouts, this is a tried and true method to not only prepare for the coming season ahead, but also evaluate their talent and assess who is ready to start and who needs more time to develop. Each year there are surprises in the form of high potentials who make themselves viable candidates to earn a roster spot, while veteran players struggle to stay fit and better than the young crop of players.
Domonic Brown’s history with the Philadelphia Phillies provides an excellent example of what companies and organizations can learn from baseball teams with regard to managing talented high potentials. Here’s a summary along with the equivalent talent moves within a business context:
1. June 2006: A high school-level prodigy, Domonic Brown skips college and is drafted by the Phillies. Over the next 4 seasons he would blossom into one of MLB’s top prospects.
Business context: You hired someone with great potential. You expect this person to become one of your company’s top performers over time.
2. Sept. 2010: Brown, Triple A (minor league) player, was added to the big league roster late in the season to give the vets a rest and have an opportunity to learn and develop at a higher level.
Business context: You’ve groomed your star prospect in a safe environment; now you’re ready to test him to see if he can perform well on more important assignments.
3. Winter 2010-2011: Began to play in the winter league to continue his development. Injury and fatigue caused him to drop out of the league.
Business context: Your employee has grown beyond novice but still needs more time to perfect his game. You’ve placed him in a training and development program that was perhaps too much, too soon. This is a red flag and cause to wonder if it’s back to the drawing board?
4. Spring 2011: Brown has a chance to earn the starting role vacated by star-outfielder Jayson Werth, who signed with the Washington Nationals. However, Brown broke his hand during spring training and was forced to miss the beginning of the season, which also jeopardized his promotion to everyday player.
Business context: Your high-performing star employee has just gone to a competitor. You have a brief period during which to assess whether your high-potential employee is ready to be promoted into the starring role and take on more responsibility.
5. 2011 season: Once he recovered from his injury, the best way to describe Brown’s year is that of a yo-yo, alternating between the majors and minors. He couldn’t find his stride in either place. Meanwhile, the Phillies hired a full-time right fielder (all-star Hunter Pence), making Brown’s future uncertain yet again.
Business context: Not being able to handle the pressure and responsibility of the full-time role, your high-po is forced to share the duties with others. Then you decide to make an outside executive hire. Now what will become of your hi-po?
6. Post-2011 season: Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. declares that he was frustrated by Brown’s lack of performance, but also shoulders some of the blame for bouncing the player back and forth throughout the season. He expects Brown to spend the 2012 season starting in the minor leagues to reestablish himself and get the experience he needs before expecting him to become an everyday major league player.
Business context: While management says all the right things and they express their commitment to your development, as the hi-po, how secure do you feel? How much longer are you willing to wait to get your shot in the big leagues?
7. Spring 2012: In a pre-preseason interview, Brown says all the right things about wanting to stay with the team and develop more as a player. However, when asked if he was “at peace” with his boss’s view that he’ll be a minor league player all year, Brown was quick to state that he fully intends to compete for a starting role or at least a spot on the major roster by the end of spring training.
Business context: The guy you hired with all that potential nearly six years ago is no longer bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Here’s the latest in a string of opportunities to do something with your hi-po: get him the training and development he needs to perform at the highest level, or frustrate him and wait for him to leave at the first chance he gets for a starring role with one of your competitors.
Uh oh, here we go again. While Brown has spent nearly 6 years with the Phillies organization, the reality is that he’s still only 24 years old. If he perseveres and stays healthy, he should have a long career ahead of him.
The trouble is that his career path thus far resembles the aforementioned track of a yo-yo instead of a steadily rising arc. Consider how your company onboards and develops your high potentials:
- Do you have a defined career path that benefits both the employer and employee?
- Do you invest in high potentials for short-term gain or long-term performance?
- Do you have a good track record of keeping high-potential employees once they’ve matured, or do you lose them to greener pastures?
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