Previously, we discussed certain advantages to developing talent from within an organization, using Major League Baseball farm systems as a point of comparison. Sticking with the baseball metaphor, let’s look to arguably the game’s best player as we explore other key facets to unlocking a person’s potential: spotting underutilized skills, determining the attributes that lead to success, and fostering a work environment that plays to one’s strengths.
Early on in his career with the Boston Red Sox, Babe Ruth had success as both a pitcher and a hitter, but it was his hitting that ultimately drew fans – and the interest of the Yankees, who essentially purchased him for $100,000 in 1920. The original Yankee Stadium, built in 1923, became known as “The House That Ruth Built” in part because its shorter dimensions in right field (as compared with their previous park, the Polo Grounds), played to Ruth’s left-handed power.
Ruth’s massive hitting prowess fueled his success on the field and the Yankees’ dominance as an organization in the 20s and 30s. And developing him as a hitter, rather than a pitcher, allowed his potential to translate to real-world performance. If we think of baseball attributes (e.g., power, batting average, speed, arm strength, and fielding) as competencies (i.e., bundles of skills, behaviors, and attributes on which success is predicated), it becomes easier to see how important identifying potential – and developing it appropriately – is to success.
For a business, taking a competency-based approach to hiring and selection enables you to bring the right people on board. Once you have the optimal talent in place for a role, taking that same competency-based approach to training and development can also help you discern a person’s overlooked strengths and align their career path and goals with your organizational needs.
As example, a draft pick might start out at the shortstop position – typically played by your best athlete – but ultimately wind up at third base (see: Rodriguez, Alex; Machado, Manny), which requires quick reflexes and tremendous arm strength. Also, baseball is rife with examples of former players hanging up their spikes and going on to be successful in other facets of the game. Specifically, we continually see former catchers who have transitioned in their post-playing careers to manage World Series champions, from current Yankee manager Joe Girardi to Giants skipper Bruce Bochy and Angels bench boss Mike Scioscia.
In baseball, you probably won’t see a batboy rise to become World Series MVP with the same team (although, if the Cubs can win the World Series…). In business, though, the journey from mailroom to boardroom is almost proverbial. Consider current U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who started his career as a production engineer with ExxonMobil and rose to become chairman and CEO.
That’s the benefit of establishing a strong talent pipeline: rather than look elsewhere for further opportunities as their careers progress, your high-potential employees can continue to contribute in-house. And your organization can profit from having people in place who know your culture and systems, without having to continuously onboard and train in roles beyond entry-level.
In short, your players at key positions can slot right in, minimizing ramp-up time. Babe Ruth develops from pitcher to slugger; spotted by Yankees scouts the day “The House That Ruth Built” opened, Lou Gehrig does likewise and eventually takes over first base; thus, the greatest offensive lineup ever is born.
The point is, a selection process that enables you to evaluate a new hire’s potential in a variety of roles is crucial, followed by ongoing conversations with those employees as they grow: how do they best leverage their strengths and contribute? Where is your organization going to need talent next year? Or in 5, 10 years? What does your talent pipeline look like now? Asking and answering such questions is a key asset in aligning your talent with your strategy for maximum performance.