Nine Things I Learned About Corporate America from Playing Baseball

Top of the 3rd … Playing out of Position

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

I remember when I started playing amateur baseball after college. It had been since high school when I last played competitively, so to get in the game I was willing to play anywhere the coach asked me to play. I was a natural outfielder, but ended up getting playing time at third base because the regular guy couldn’t make it to the game. I played the position adequately, however — even seeing the game of baseball my whole life — I didn’t really “know” how to play third base.

We’ve all done it … lent a hand in an area outside of our expertise. Done some writing, gave a presentation, offered to help drywall a buddy’s basement. It’s how we learn new skills and discover underutilized talents. But the reality is when we first start lending a hand — we’re simply Band-Aid solution.

The fact is, Baseball is an unfair game and no one player plays all nine starting positions exceptionally well. Simply being right- or left-handed makes a player better or worse at certain positions on the field. Unless an entire team consists of players like Cal Ripken Jr. (known for his longevity and ability to play every game), it’s inevitable managers will have to have to substitute the next-best players or players who don’t typically play the position into their lineup. Whether by necessity or calculated risk, the team is going to be playing with a less-than-optimal lineup.

In business, this happens often … someone is promoted or leaves the company and suddenly there is a vacancy. Because most companies don’t have a minor league system of developing talent, an organization may flex someone’s current position to cover some or all of the vacated job duties. This typically leaves the person “flexing” with less resources to excel in their own position in addition to not being as strong of an asset as the person who vacated the position.

While this can often have positive results (career development, fresh perspective, etc.), just like baseball — it can lead to potentially costly errors in the field.

Given the transient state of today’s business environment, most companies are rarely playing with their very best lineups for any real length of time. Somehow many of them still eek out wins despite being disadvantaged. However, in an economy so wrapped up in year-over-year growth — I find it interesting many companies hesitate to reward mastery and continue run a less-than-optimum labor model … essentially leaving runs on the bases, to put it in baseball terms.

It would be interesting (and completely impractical) if businesses adopted a Major League Baseball model of business full of specialists with guaranteed contracts and a minor league system to keep pushing the talent at the top to excel. I’d love to be in that meeting room when the first mid-level manager demands to be traded.

Next inning: Bottom of the 4th … Time to React and Time to Plan

If you missed the previous innings:
1st inning: Top of the 1st … Expect Failure
2nd inning: Bottom of the 2nd … Know the Unwritten Rules