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Hardball Lessons from Playing SoftballTM

My Softball Blog 

 

I've been playing ball for more than forty years. When I was younger, baseball was my 24/7 passion. As I aged and lost a few steps (or more), softball evolved into my passion of choice. Of course, family and career responsibilities interfered with my ability to spend the time I craved playing ball. However, I make it a priority to integrate the game into my life.  I receive untold benefits from my avid involvement. The competition, the relationships with my teammates, the business contacts and the sheer physical exhilaration. I've come to recognize a parallel between softball and business. I'd like to discuss those insights in more detail.

 

I can't tell you how much satisfaction I receive from playing a game against a good, competitive team. Both teams play hard-nosed, competitive ball, doing all the little things to win. But after a fierce battle, and after the last out of the game, all the players from both teams line up and shake hands, win or lose. I simply love the sportsmanship component. Competing in business is different. Balancing the drive to win and succeed, but without compromising integrity and common decency. I refer to this balance as "sportsmanship." I believe others sense our level of sportsmanship and it plays a role in their decision to do business with us. Of course, everyone has their own personal definition and boundaries. I believe sportsmanship is an intangible ingredient and although many people cannot quantify or even recognize its existence, I believe people develop a feeling of security when they sense it exists with someone they are deciding to conduct business with.  (Scroll Down)

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St Louis RiverDawgs - Semi-Finalists, International JMS Tournament, Labor Day Weekend, 2007, Vancouver, B.C.

 

Have you ever hit a gapper between the outfielders and as you were rounding first base, you looked out to the outfield to determine whether you should try for an extra base? Remember that instant you decide to go for it? You round second base and dig for third. You hear your teammates yell for you to slide. You slide head first, stretching out to touch third base. You feel the tag. You look to the umpire (who never seems to move from behind home plate), who displays the safe sign. You jump up, wipe the dirt off your jersey in exhilaration - you feel great! You took a chance, forced the other team to make a play and you came out on top. Your exhilaration is no different than those successes you achieve with your business. One example would be making a difficult decision to invest in a new marketing strategy that you have to spend extra dollars outside your normal budgetary criteria and you find the return pays off in sixty days. You experience the same exhilaration every time you come out on top after taking a calculated risk. Of course, business is all about risk and reward, no different than going for the extra base.

 

It's time to make out the batting order for tonight's game. You try to figure out your top three batters in the order. You're thinking about Steve, Mark and Marty. Steve and Marty are fast, Mark is not. Mark, right-handed, is hitting .605 and can consistently go the other way to right field. Steve is adept at getting on base and averages 1.5 walks per game because he is so selective at the plate. Marty is the stud on the team, hitting .450 and routinely hits the gap for extra-base hits and RBI's. You note that the team you are playing has a weak right fielder and the grass is high, making it more challenging for a weak outfielder to defense good hitters. You decide to bat Steve lead-off, then Mark  because he is so effective hitting to right, allowing him more opportunities to move lead-off runners  to third. You determine the line-up no differently than the way you manage your job-shop manufacturing company, using critical numbers. You know your #1 line produces 39% of your monthly gross margin dollars, but your line labor makes up only 18% of your total labor force. You direct your attention  to maximize line productivity by ensuring the personnel are properly trained to work at maximum productivity. You collect data, analyze results and then develop metrics which define the key elements of line productivity. You train your line supervisors to use the data to be more effective managers. This includes using workers more effectively based on their productivity with each stage in the line process. Managing a successful business requires identifying and using your critical numbers, knowing your competition and ensuring your people are properly positioned for maximum productivity.

  

While you sit on the bench making out your line-up, David comes over and looks over your shoulder. He sees you are batting him seventh and he commences to tell you that he should be batting second. Of course he can't hit to right, never walks and his average  is only .300. You tell him you appreciate his advice, but the line-up is already set. He then begins to complain about always being asked to play right field. David is an "I" person, rather than a team player. Every business strives to build strong teams. Strong teams are comprised of people who see the value of the group being bigger than the individuals. This ability to put the team before the "I" is critical to building a cohesive unit to maximize productivity and profitability. David's personality can kill productivity.  It's usually beneficial to "deselect" personalities that interfere with building team spirit  before they poison the rest of the group. It is more humane to deselect as soon a possible to give the "David's" an opportunity to find a more suitable environment to find more playing time, while providing the other members of your team a better chance to win (and have more fun).

     

During the game, I have our substitute player keeping the scorebook. He notes the result for every batter. Keeping the stats is the same as what you do for your insurance agency. You track all the responses from your advertising strategies to identify the source of your leads. You track the number of contacts each of your reps make each day to determine productivity. You track the number of presentations and closes to see how effective your reps are at closing sales opportunities. You compare the results for all your reps and use averages provided by corporate to identify needed adjustments. This is called identifying your critical numbers and using them to more effectively manage your business. It's impossible to make successful decisions on critical issues for which you do not have accurate data.

 

More hardball lessons after the game....

Mark Michelson

 

 


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