The hero of the World Series was Madison Bumgarner – a singularly talented pitcher who not only won two games in his customary starting role, but came in to close out the Kansas City Royals with five innings of shutout ball to earn a save in the deciding game.
Bumgarner dominated each time he took the mound and clearly personified the term “Ace” in this year’s Fall Classic.
He was rewarded with the Series MVP Award and a brand new Chevy Colorado truck with “lots of technology and stuff“. (…Read more about the awkward way the award was presented here.)
In my last post, I told the story of two more ace pitchers who came through in the clutch to help the 1948 Boston Braves win the National League pennant. Their heroics were the motivation for a famous poem: “Spahn & Sain – Then Pray for Rain.”
It’s Your Turn to Manage the Lineup: Change Leaders can borrow a page from the playbook of great managers like this year’s winning skipper Bruce Botchy or Billy Southworth of the 1948 Braves.
Your change team has many role players, but there is a good chance you have a few aces too. While your superstars may not be in the same league as Spahn, Sain or Bumgarner, it’s important that you leverage their unique abilities.
How to Manage Your Aces
Here are five ways that you can manage your staff of change agents as you lead transitions within your organization:
1. Plan for the Pennant Drive: In life – as in change – you probably shouldn’t count on things slowing down any time soon. Praying for a break is not much of a strategy either. Instead, manage your “game” as if the level of change in your environment will at least keep churning at the current pace. Better yet, anticipate that change is much more likely to accelerate. Build your change strategy accordingly and stick with it, especially when the waves of uncertainty start to hit.
2. Tweak the Lineup: Effective change managers – like good baseball managers – stand ready to make in-game adjustments, but resist the urge to throw out the entire game plan the first time something breaks down. The 1948 Braves did very well by all measures during the regular season using a four man rotation. They won the pennant by 6 games over the Cardinals.
But the manager was also wise enough to make a subtle adjustment in September to take advantage of a rare opportunity presented by bad weather.
3. Play ‘Em if You Got ‘Em: To leverage your best Change Agents, consider following Southworth’s example of assigning change-related work in a regular rotation, while also taking advantage of unexpected opportunities to apply your most effective people to the most challenging work.
I recommend you start by knowing who the ace Change Agents are on your team. Who has a knack for communication? Who are the fearless early adopters who have influence with others? Who is a great listener or problem-solver? Who has a terrific way of bringing people up to speed on new things?
Then take into account what the most challenging change-related work might be. Which stakeholder groups will be especially resistant? Which messages will need to be delivered most carefully? Which individuals are best suited to help with these difficult tasks?
Assign your aces accordingly.
4. Build up your Bullpen. While the legend of the 1948 Braves may describe two heroes clinching the pennant almost on their own, the facts support that the Braves were a typical winning baseball team. They had four good pitchers in a regular rotation plus a handful of solid relievers ready to come in when things got dicey. Analysis shows that the third and fourth starters that year (Vern Bickford and Bill Voiselle) were no slouches. In fact, they may have qualified as headliners on lesser teams.
One rule of thumb I use as a softball manager is to maintain a “depth chart” that shows at least two players capable of playing well at each position on the field. If someone gets hurt or misses a game, we won’t suffer a significant loss in production. As a change manager I also keep a depth chart for every position on the team and prepare a solid backup plan for eventualities such as resource turnovers, role changes or individual overload. Be ready to ask your backup players to enter the change game from time to time to sharpen their skills so they’ll be ready relieve your starters in a pinch.
5. Monitor the Pitch Count: Finally, watch your starting staff of Change Agents for signs of fatigue. Your best players can burn out if you rely on them too much. Make sure to stay in close contact with the people you lean on the most and occasionally ask them for an honest assessment of how things are going. Monitor their overtime, watch the quality of their work and keep tabs on their general mood. If you sense that they’re getting behind or their workload may be dragging down your change effort, throttle them back and bring in a relief pitcher.
Post-Game Recap: It’s important to know who your go-to people are and to leverage them as Change Agents. It’s also risky to rely too much on one or two people to drive change or to execute the work of change.
As a Change Leader, you can help your team be better positioned for the long haul if you leverage your aces while building a deep bench of change agents.
In addition to saving your All Stars from burnout, you may find that the rest of the team appreciates the confidence you show in them when the game is on the line.
Questions for Chatter:
1. What key tasks of your change work should you only trust to aces?
2. What techniques have you seen to help prepare your “bench players” to fill in when the aces need a break?