Posted by: Ron Hanscome | July 21, 2010

Managing talent pools: Lessons from pre-teen baseball


An out-of-date blog is even worse than stale bread…blech! At least you can make a good bread pudding from stale bread…;-)

I’ve been bad…very bad…extremely remiss…totally neglectful…<insert your favorite descriptor here>… in keeping up to date on this blog. Many reasons…but no excuses. I apologize. The good news – I am back in the mode of regular updates…I promise.

It’s only fitting that part of the reason I’ve not been writing lately has provided content for this posting. You see, my son Ryan (11 years old and going into the 6th grade this fall) is a natural athlete – big, strong and fast for his age. Fall 2009 began with football (he played running back and linebacker), progressed to traveling basketball (5A level) over the winter, then dove straight into baseball in April. Having had a good baseball season last summer in the upper level house league, he wanted to try out for the traveling team. After a rigorous evaluation process (75+ tried out), he made the top team for our city — the Osseo-Maple Grove 11AAA “Storm.” So, we joined 12 other sets of parents executing a schedule all too familiar to those of you blessed (?) with young athletes — 2 practices per week, two weeknight games per week, and 7 weekend tournaments — all within approximately three months elapsed time. Ryan quickly found his place on the squad as the primary catcher and emerged as the team’s best hitter, and had a great time playing against a high level of competition on a regular basis. The team itself had many ups and downs, and finished league play in the middle of the pack; however, they finished strong last night with a 15-5 drubbing of the Milaca Wolves in the Tier II League championship (Ryan is bottom row, 3rd from the left). The team was also one of 32 invited to play in the State Championship Tournament for their age group.

Osseo-Maple Grove Storm 11AAA

Last night on the drive home from the game I was reflecting on the season and began making some connections between this baseball experience and the research I’ve been doing lately into the concept of managing talent pools (both internal and external to the organization). I think there is some good stuff here worth applying to our work lives – and so, here are my initial ruminations:

  • “Feeder” programs — this is one thing that baseball understands perhaps better than any other business. One can argue that the process of spotting, attracting, growing and developing baseball talent extends all the way down to these city teams, where 10-11 year old kids learn the fundamentals from dedicated father-coaches, and begin to measure themselves against the best in their age group. As the youths continue to grow, the cream begins to rise to the top — those with the talent, skills, motivation, and work ethic get college scholarships and/or move into the major league team farm systems, where they are prepared for “The Show” (as an aside, the game MLB2010 The Show does a great job in showing the process by which a draft choice becomes a Major Leaguer). I believe that there are correlaries for this process to just about every business out there — what are your feeder programs? Local colleges? Smaller businesses in similar market spaces? Direct competitors that don’t have your brand presence? Each one requires different strategies to fully leverage – how does your organization approach this issue?
  • The importance of initial & ongoing assessment — I really appreciated  the selection process I witnessed for this baseball program. The initial tryout took about 90 minutes,and a team of experienced coaches ran the large number of young athletes through drills that assessed their physical attributes and baseball skills. This initial evaluation identified 36 athletes to play on one of three traveling teams (one AAA and two AA). Of the 36, the top 24 were invited to an extended workout (more than two hours) to determine which 12 would make the top team (the middle 12 would be split evenly amongst the two AA teams and combined with the bottom 12). Once the teams were selected, coaches continually assessed progress during practices, which directly impacted which positions they played, spot in the batting order, etc. This approach was key to putting the best team on the field. So, how do you assess your talent? Is it just done as a part of the hiring process, or does it carry through the rest of the talent management processes in your organization? Does performance management carry the main burden of assessing talent, or do you have scientifically valid assessments in place for your key job families?
  • Metrics are fundamental — needless to say, stats rule the day in baseball. Even at this level, coaches looked at a number of metrics to determine who was pitching well, who was hitting the cover off the ball versus struggling, and who consistently played error-free defense at which position in order to rotate the players through the various positions on the squad. It also enabled them to make the inevitable trade-offs around positioning (e.g., putting in a new pitcher who was also a great infielder would require other substitutions to maintain a good defense). I’m sure you can see the application to your business — what are you doing to measure performance and tie it to business results? What tools do you need to develop in order to correlate HR metrics to other enterprise information? Have you developed any predictive models or profiles to determine who has the best chance of succeeding in your key job families?
  • The coaching role is critical — On a team composed of twelve young men it was amazing to see how many different personalities manifested themselves during a long and sometimes trying season. There were many different responses to both success and failure, and it was critical for the coaches to determine the best way to handle each kid to get the very best out of each one. They needed to quickly assess the issue and determine the right approach to resolve things. While they didn’t score 100% (we had some legendary meltdowns on the field), we were blessed with four coaches who were encouraging rather than critical, and tried to make the process fun as well as instructional. So, what kind of coaching / mentoring programs are in place at your organization? Do they extend beyond your business into some of the feeder programs? How do you ensure that your coaches and mentors are accomplishing the firm’s goals as well as their own and the employees being coached / mentored? Are you providing training and applying measurement, or is it just a ‘feel good’ program?

All in all, it was a great season of baseball for Ryan (and his parents..;-). It’s clear to me that we’re at the very start of a unknown journey; who knows where this sports saga will end? In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the ride, and continue to apply some of these life lessons to the wacky world of HCM. I hope that these thoughts on baseball & managing talent pools have stimulated some reactions and thoughts of your own — if so, please share!


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