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Scope, Goals, and Timelines

Conceptual complexity theories explore changes in the cognitive resources required at different levels of management. Leaders at higher levels make decisions that affect more people (larger scope), impact systems over longer time frames, and have to manage a larger number of goals. The long winter is over, spring training is nearly done, and the regular season is almost upon us and luckily enough for me, baseball provides an excellent backdrop for discussing these differences. I love baseball.

In baseball coaches are the line managers. They are responsible for one subset of the team, thus their scope is rather limited. For example, the pitching coach is responsible for the pitchers on the team, the batting coach for the batters, and so on. Coaches typically have one goal, which is to prepare the players within their subunit to do their jobs on a daily basis. While this goal is, of course, in service of the team’s goal of winning games, the coaches are generally focused on one area. Because coaches help players make adjustments at practice and during games, they are generally concerned with timelines that range from a few minutes (one at bat, for instance) to a few weeks (e.g., working with a player to get out of a slump or rehabilitate from injury.)

The team’s manager is responsible for in-game strategy. His role is akin to a middle manager who is responsible for the performance of a subunit. The manager makes operational choices for his team (within a larger organization) that benefit the organization as a whole and fit with the strategy laid out by upper management. In baseball the manager decides who will start, which strategies to use, and when to substitute one player for another. On a daily basis, the manager makes decisions that affect the entire team. His goal is to win as many games over the course of the season as possible, which requires him to manage resources effectively. The manager must make decisions several batters or innings in advance to win a game, and also several days or weeks in advance to have the best opportunity to win not only the game his team is playing that night, but the next game and subsequent games thereafter.

The most visible executive for the majority of baseball teams is the general manager. While operational responsibilities such as marketing, sales, and financial management are left to others, the general manager makes player personnel decisions for the team. The GM decides which free agents to sign, which high school and college players the team will draft, and which players will be on the major league team roster. The GM’s goal is to win not only this season, but to put the organization in a position to win for years to come. That means the GM must balance the desire to allow promising talent to develop in low-risk environments (the minor leagues) against the desire to have those players help the big league team win while forgoing further risk-free talent development. These decisions affect the entire organization, not just the team, and the time frames over which these decisions will play out can be a number of years. It often takes years after a GM has left a team to fully judge his tenure since the players he put in the minor leagues may not contribute in the major leagues for several years.

My favorite team, the Mets, is a great case study for the cognitive demands needed at different levels of management. The Mets have a very promising young pitcher, Jenrry Mejia, and they are trying to decide what his role will be this year. For Dan Warthen, the Mets’ pitching coach, the problem is pretty simple. Make sure Mejia is prepared to pitch whenever he is called to do so. For Jerry Manuel, his desire to win games this year has led him to lobby for Mejia’s inclusion on the team in a scaled-back role. This would help the team win this year, but might hurt his overall development as a player. The team’s general manager, Omar Minaya, has the final say and must decide what is best for the team both this year as well as in the years to come. As Minaya has to deal with the most complexity, it is pretty easy to see his decision will be the toughest. As with all leaders who have impatient stakeholders demanding immediate results, the temptation to produce in the near-term often supersedes good long-term planning. As a fan, all I can do is hope they have the right leaders in place to make these decisions. Let’s Go Mets!

Comments

Great article Joaquin. Keep in mind this compliment is coming from a PhD candidate in Social-Organizational Psychology, as well as a Yankee fan.

Joaquin,
Nice detailed review of the thought processes baseball executives, managers go through in determining how best to put a winning team on the field.

How many young pitching "phenoms" have been ruined by being rushed to the big leagues before they were emotionally and physically ready?

I think, baseball managers, although in a role to win today, should fight their instincts in those situations and think longer term and focus on what's in the long-term best interests of the athlete and the organization.

This brings up a larger question, that can tie back to business, regarding how certain positions are rewarded. What gets rewarded gets focus. And, if a manager is expected to "win now" he will make much different decisions than if he has the trust and backing of upper management for the long-term.

How are businesses rewarding and compensating their leaders managers. Are they doing it in a way that maximizes long-term, sustained results, or short-term profits?

Champion dynasties are built with a focus on the former. Look at the success the Atlanta Braves had in the 90's and first half of 2000s, they definitely under achieved in World Series and Playoffs but their consistency at the top of the division standings for almost 20-years in today's environment is impressive. I think Bobby Cox's tenure is testament to having a manager who also thinks like a GM with a longer term perspective, and think businesses should nurture more of that visionary approach in their middle managers instead of rewarding/compensating just short-term profits.

There is not enough strategic thinking in middle management today, because its not expected, trained or coached.
Skip
(p.s.-I, too, am a life long Mets fan!)

@Yaron: Thanks for the feedback. I have long since forgiven you for being a Yankee fan.

@Skip: You are exactly right. When leaders are held accountable for quarterly profits, or in baseball for wins and losses in the short term, it becomes nearly impossible to think strategically.

As an aside, I would love to hear more about what a minor league executive has responsibility for. What are the metrics used to evaluate their performance? I think I am going to write a post on metrics soon, it is such an important topic and one that people get wrong so often.

Thanks for dropping by.

Joaquin

The metrics minor league executives at my level and position are measured for are probably not what you think.

Being that I was on the 'affiliate' side of the game, meaning I was President/GM for the local franchise of a major league affiliate and we were privately owned. We had a "PDC" or "Player Development Contract" with a major league team for us to be their affiliate and give their Single-A or Double-A players a place and league to play in.

My role for all of my Minor League career was totally focused on business results, sales revenues and year-end profitability. I had absolutely nothing to do with the player personnel except for finding them housing locally, getting them to and from road games, and negotiating with the manager to allow players to do PR events around town and clinics, etc.

Other than that my job was selling and serving our customers who were daily game ticket purchasers,
season ticket and package ticket purchasers and sponsors/advertisers.

Best Regards,
Skip
p.s.-let me know if you'd like to chat more about that and discuss other issues around measurable metrics for business and team results. As I say in my keynotes and workshops on "Creating a Championship Organization" - every stadium in the world as a scoreboard, every game has a scorecard and there is always a box score in the newspaper the next day showing how the athlete performed. And, the athletes are very aware of the expected performance metrics they need to produce, not so with company employees who rarely have those type of discussions.

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