10 Lessons From Moneyball That Have Nothing to Do with Data

Paul Hebert Audacious Ideas, Coaching, Employee Coaching, Employee Relations, Organizational Development, Paul Hebert, Pop Culture

The HR and management world had a datagasm when the movie Moneyball hit the theaters in 2011.  Although the book (which is much, much better IMHO) had been out for 8 years it took the writing of Aaron Sorkin and the looks of Brad Pitt to really crank up HR folks and the business blogosphere to 11.  Heck – I think I may have posted on Moneyball myself (post from December 2006 here.)

Most of the posts focused on changing the game – looking for new ways to compete that shake up the status quo.  That was my take on it back in 2006.

But I’m older now.  I’m wiser now (maybe – some would disagree) and I think there were many more lessons to be learned in the movie/book than the most obvious one.

So to revisit Moneyball.  One.  More.  Time.

Lessons From Moneyball

  1.  Pay attention.  In the movie Billy Beane noticed in the meeting with Cleveland that the real “brains” of the outfit was Peter Brand – not the “traditional” leadership.  Billy was watching the dynamic play out and identified what others may have overlooked due to title and position.  The lesson?  Pay attention to who/what is really driving the decisions in an organization.  It’s not always the person at the top of the org chart.
  2. Know when someone still has value to the organization – but maybe in a new role.  When Billy Beane talks to Hatteberg about joining Oakland as a First Basemen he knew that Hatteberg had value to the team but not in his historic role.  Leaders see potential – leaders see opportunities.  Leaders aren’t blinded by historical points of view.
  3. Break the connection.  Billy Beane, frustrated with his head scout pops his head into a room as asks one of his staff if they had ever played baseball.  When the staffer says no Billy appoints him the new head scout.  While most people would cringe at the thought of putting someone without experience into an important leadership role, Beane saw the change as a way to break the scouting staff’s reliance on history and “the way we’ve always done it” mentality.  When have you taken a risk like that?  Could you?
  4.  Treat people like professionals.  When talking with Peter Brand about letting a player go he tells him to treat the player like a grownup – like a professional.  How often do we really do this in business?  Do we try to sugar-coat news in order to make it more palatable?  Does that create more communications problems than it solves?  Treat your employees like professionals.  Be straight with them.
  5. Management is about removing roadblocks – not micromanaging.  When Billy meets with the owner about the team and how Billy plans on being successful the owner doesn’t start second-guessing Billy.  He asks a question more leaders should.  He asks… “What will stop you from achieving your objective?”  In other words what are the roadblocks?  The movie doesn’t take it any further from there but in the real world a good leader listens then removes those issues.  Allow your people to succeed.  Don’t do it for them – remove the things that stop them from being successful on their own.
  6. Don’t pull rank too early.  During the movie there is a long-running disagreement between Beane and the team manager played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Beane tells the manager to play Hatteberg.  The manager doesn’t.  Then Beane meets with him and says – “maybe it was my fault and I wasn’t clear – play Hatteberg – that’s not a request.”  Howe (the manager) still doesn’t play Hatteberg so Beane trades Pena and removes the problem.  What I found interesting is that Beane initially took responsibility for the problem (ie:  communication), then escalated it to an “order” and then – rather than getting rid of the manager – got rid of the problem by removing Pena from the choices the manager had.  I’m guessing that Beane thought the manager had more to offer across the board than Pena did so keeping the manager was a better choice.
  7. Explain the why behind the how.  While it seemed to me to be a bit late in the process, Beane and Brand met with the players and showed them how the statistics they were using actually equated to better performance – getting the players to see the method behind the madness.  I think they could have done it earlier but the message is the same – explain don’t dictate.  Use success to show how change will equate to more success.
  8. Enlist your elder statesmen/stateswomen.  Beane has a frank conversation with David Justice a 37 years old player who most thought was on his way out of the majors.  Beane explains his situation honestly (like a grown up) and asks him to take on the role of influencer – as the “leader” in the clubhouse.  Who within your organization can be that influencer?  Who can you tap to help move your message through the organization?  Don’t ignore those that have been around awhile and have subtle influence in the company.
  9. Leaders let others shine.  When the media starts talking about the Oakland A’s success they attribute it to Art Howe, the team manger.  Noah Hill’s character gets a bit upset about not getting credit but Billy Beane ignores it and focuses on the results.  Beane didn’t care who got credit – he cared about the team’s record and whether they were advancing toward the ultimate goal for the organization.  Can you say the same thing?  Can you stomach it when someone else gets credit for your work?
  10. Leaders set higher bars.  When the rest of the world was singing praises about Oakland winning 20 games in a row and moving on to the playoffs, Billy Beane said they would need to win series to really have achieved his goal of changing the game.  Most people would be happy with 3/4th of a goal as big as the one Beane set out to achieve – real leaders have higher expectations.  Real leaders push harder and further.  I think real leadership understands that in order to have any success you have to set your sights just a bit further down the road than the rest of the world.  Beane did that.

So there ya go… 10 lessons from Moneyball that had nothing to do with big data, statistics or breaking a business model.  It’s all about great management.

Now the question is – how much of Oakland’s success was due to Sabermetrics or just the result of being better managers?

To quote another movie – “I think it is a little of both.”