Management Lessons from the LA Dodgers

Picture Credit: Gina Ferazzi — Los Angeles Times

This, my first Medium article, is not meant to be a gloat.

Yes, I am a die-hard San Francisco Giants fan and yes, I did take particular pleasure in watching the LA Dodgers get eliminated in the NLDS earlier this evening. However, I couldn’t help but see parallels in yet another Dodgers post-season heartbreak and what many, many organizations face every single day.

So, here are my top-3:

  1. Stick to the fundamentals — How many times tonight (and in postseasons past) did the Dodgers ignore the very fundamentals that got them here? They couldn’t hit the ball in play with runners in scoring position. They forgot to keep an eye on 3rd base and allowed a runner to waltz all the way from 1st without a ball thrown in anger. Their pitcher Greinke (one of the best in the league) gave up an eerily identical home run to the Mets’ Daniel Murphy as had the best pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw. No wonder they lost. Similarly, organizations need to relentlessly focus on the fundamentals that make them strong to continue winning. At Starbucks for example, its our complete and unrelenting commitment to our “partners” (employees). Be it healthcare, education, or equity, our partners come first. We know that the partners (particularly our Baristas) are the fundamental reason our customers love our brand. Viewing our organization through the lens of our partners is core.
  2. Money does not equal chemistry — This may seem like a low-blow given what the Giants’ own Brandon Belt said to much criticism from the Dodger faithful back in early 2013. But, it IS true. Sporting a $300 Million payroll has not helped the Dodgers achieve the ultimate success. Instead, it has proven to be the harsh light that has shone ever brighter on the lack of recent titles. What defines a team (and I humbly point to my comparatively cheaper Giants) is the singularity of purpose. That cliche of being in it together till the end. And, an unwavering belief in one another. This equally applies to organizations striving to gain a competitive advantage. No amount of funding or investment can make up for a lack of purpose, single-minded focus, and an ability to harness each team-member. As frustrating as it can be to make do with stretched budgets it is critical to rely on the PEOPLE we work with to gain an edge.
  3. Leadership can move mountains (or cause paralysis) — It’s easy with hindsight to pin the blame for the Dodgers’ post-season blues on Don Mattingly, their manager. But, hindsight also allows us to analyze repeat behavior with an unemotional lens. Mattingly has consistently proven to not be up to the challenge of managing his $300 Million plus roster of stars. From locker room issues last year to an unseemly shouting match with the longest tenured Dodger tonight, there is a consistent pattern. While I don’t support the increasing calls for Mattingly to be fired (including some from rather unexpected quarters) it is mainly because I see his presence as a competitive advantage to my team, the Giants! Similarly, organizations need leadership to not just manage a variety of personalities but do so while consistently moving the entirety of the team forward. The ability to see around corners and maintain a maniacal focus is built only through experience. However, that is now the cost of entry to being a leader. Great leadership is just as much if not more of a competitive advantage than any breakthrough product or marketing.

With due apologies to any Dodgers fans who may read this,