Tom Ricketts explains what baseball analytics and people management have in common

Recently, we hosted a party with Chicago Cubs CEO Tom Ricketts at Wrigley Field for a select group of our clients.

I am a die-hard Cubs fan and season pass holder. I believed in it before the Cubs won the World Series in 2016. But whether you’re a Cubs fan or even a baseball fan, what Ricketts shared concerns us all.

When the Ricketts family bought the Cubs in 2009, Chicago knew change was coming. The family made their three goals clear and set to work to make those goals a reality.

One of those goals was to win a World Series, and as Ricketts shared last night, they couldn’t even make it to the big dance unless they changed the way they rated the players and their performance.

He discussed the organization’s incorporation of analytics, virtual reality and artificial intelligence. He showed excerpts from Silver ball and talked about the real history of the Oakland A’s and how they were the first team to start using analytics in baseball.

What Ricketts pointed out was that the way the players were drafted before was pretty arbitrary. The Cubs’ goal was to separate the outcome from the skill of the player. For example, although a pitcher might have a high ERA (earned runs average), does the pitcher have effective pitches?

Think about it for a minute. Separate someone’s skills and performance from the outcome.

How often do we do this in business? How often do we assess someone’s skill level or suitability for something against the end result? Was the salesperson prepared for the pitch? Did they research and understand the client’s needs? Did they spend time building relationships, asking questions and identifying weak points before proposing solutions? In the end, they might not have closed the deal, but was the skill and performance there? Can they be trained to tweak a few things to improve their presentation and close the deal along the way?

Ricketts argued that an unwanted result does not necessarily indicate a bad player. Was the pitch itself good, even if it was put on the line? Sometimes this is not the case. Sometimes a bad result indicates a bad performer. Sometimes we have to use our resources, whether it’s analytics, AI, or other assessment tools, to see if we can help that player, that employee, get to the top.

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