Most winning teams owe at least some of their success to one or more members making an unexpected positive contribution. This was certainly the case with the 2011 St Louis Cardinals who reached the pinnacle of baseball’s 30-team mountain last week with a seventh-game victory over the snake-bitten Texas Rangers.
Not only had the Redbirds come from behind to win several games over the course of the playoffs through the heroics of previously unknown players, they had also risen from the dead several times over the course of the season in similar fashion.
What can Change Agents and Sponsors learn from the Cardinals unexpected championship? I can think of at least three things:
- Hang in There: Don’t count your team out of the race until you’re actually eliminated.
- Money Can’t Buy Everything: There’s a reason why the highest-paid teams don’t win every game.
- Someone Needs to Step Up: Unexpected positive contributions don’t just happen.
Today I want to spend a few minutes on that third point.
It Takes A Team: Many “experts” had counted my second-favorite baseball team out as potential World Champions almost from the get-go when they lost one of their best starting pitchers – Adam Wainwright – to a devastating elbow injury before they had played a single Spring Training game. Their prospects looked even more bleak when superstar Albert Pujols broke his wrist on June 19th and missed a couple weeks.
In mid-season Manager Tony LaRussa and other executives were lambasted for trading one of their most talented young prospects (starting outfielder Colby Rasmus) to acquire pitchers Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski.
All three fresh arms made critical contributions during their playoff run.
Just as the pitching started to settle down, several young players stepped in at the plate and in the field for other injured or traded regulars. LaRussa tried all sorts of different lineup combinations and plugged in plenty of fresh faces. For example, the Most Valuable Player of both the National League Championship Series and the World Series was a previously unknown Third Baseman named David Freese. This local hero came out of nowhere to steal the Series from the Rangers and steal the spotlight from many well-known superstars. Unlike many over-paid fat cat ball players who watched the Series from home, Freese was so unaccustomed to the attention that he was literally speechless in post-game interviews.
Manage Like a Pro: Change Agents can expect that any long-term change initiative will probably not cross the finish line with all the same players who help to launch it. People change jobs. Key team members get pulled away to tackle other projects. Sometimes the people we choose to fill roles during the early stages of a project turn out to be less effective than we need them to be.
Consider these three suggestions to reduce lineup risk as the “season” of your change unfolds:
1. Check Your Lineup Card: Ask yourself a few questions like: “Who is your team’s irreplaceable Adam Wainwright or Albert Pujols? Who do you have waiting in the wings to step in and step up if a key person is pulled from your lineup or can’t play on a given day? What are you doing to prepare your second stringers to shine when the opportunity presents itself?
2. Spread the Load: Don’t pile all the work on your superstars just because it’s the easiest way to ensure things get done. To borrow a baseball term, distribute the “playing time”, even if it means that some activities take longer. If growing your team’s overall capability is an important goal, you’ll need to invest in helping people get valuable experience in real game situations. Actual experience is the most effective path to growth.
3. Consider Making a Few Roster Moves: Frankly assess the strengths and gaps in your current lineup. Do you have the right people filling key roles? Is anyone in over their head or being under-utilized? You may need to pull the trigger on a few personnel moves if your team doesn’t have the right mix of skills and talent to win.
Recap: The St Louis Cardinals beat out some good ball clubs with bigger payrolls and more prominent superstars to win their eleventh World Championship. They did so in part through the use of shrewd staffing decisions. Change Agents can draw on this baseball example to improve their chances of change success.
Who knows? You may have some great contributors ready and waiting to help you win if they are simply given a chance to join the fray.
Questions to Think About:
- How can you identify the potential change superstars on your bench?
- What can Change Agents do to get these players into the game so they can contribute to your change?