Moneyball tips on letting less productive players go

Part of our mission here is to keep all you bibliophiles out there engaged and entertained. (I happen to be one, so I know we’re a rare breed.) Our book today is Michael Lewis’ Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.

Most of you should know the basic story: Billy Beane is the general manager of the Oakland A’s. The A’s are the Crachit family of Major League Baseball, and Beane has to treat each dollar of his payroll as if it’s the size of a gymnasium floor. Thankfully for the A’s, Beane is innovative, unconventional, and smart, plus he has elephant skin to help withstand criticism. He employs a statistical method termed “Sabermetrics” to tease the loudest possible bang out of the A’s precious few bucks. Beane delivers over and over, frequently churning his roster while searching for walks, hits, and runs that produce win totals envied by more high-dollar franchises.

Beane’s method, however, means the A’s can’t get sappy about individual players and may have to move quickly if an undervalued player hits the market. Therefore, Moneyball offers some lessons and pointers for any company today trying to squeeze as much productivity as possible out of tighter and tighter payrolls.

The book gives us at least two examples: first, when Beane is shuffling an underperforming and unmotivated roster and shocks his manager by impulsively trading the team’s leadoff hitter and top young slugger and, second, when he furiously brokers and swaps to grab some left-handed middle reliever prior to the mid-season trade deadline. (Actually, the movie lays this out a bit better than the book, at least in the first example.)

In both cases, Beane hits a home run but can’t avoid the hard news that someone is no longer on the roster or, perhaps, out of the game altogether. Both times, he handles the players’ exits in much the way I hope my clients handle employee firings: quick, no sappy speeches, bad news addressed right away, and get right to the business of the transition.

If any employer or HR professional dives into Moneyball, you should pay close attention to the few pages in Chapter 9 when Beane suddenly remembers that his roster moves mean he must release a pitcher. He handles it the way I hope you would–with no pleasure, but immediately, honestly, and with focus on the business at hand.

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