Sports-as-business metaphors are never perfect. But as the Boston Red Sox defend their championship this season, they'll do so while employing talent-development principles that would seem at home in any corporate playbook.
Some context: The Red Sox, who surprised the baseball world by winning last year's World Series, let a few key players move on in free agency over the winter. Those players will be replaced with a mix of young players or with veterans signed to low commitment one-year contracts to bridge the gap to young talent that should be ready for the big leagues in 2015.
While, unlike the Red Sox and their baseball counterparts, you don't have to deal with the limits of a 25-person roster, no doubt you still see the value of working young talent into your team. Here are three talent development lessons from Fenway Park that apply for any business hiring young workers.
1. Find where young talent fits into your org. Boston's decision to replace expensive, more experienced talent with younger players isn't just a cost-cutting measure (though that surely has some appeal). As detailed in the Boston Globe, the organization actually charted out the trajectories and roster compositions of every franchise year-over-year dating back to 1980 and found that the organizations with the most sustained success added about two young players to their roster year-over-year.
The lesson isn't that you should add two young employees a year; again, baseball-to-business is hardly apples-to-apples. The lesson is to think strategically about how you build your team; where young talent fits in; and how and why it will help you succeed.
2. Foster empathy in management. The Globe points out that the Red Sox coaching staff has 57 combined years of minor league coaching or managing experience. This, the team's theory holds, pays dividends as minor leaguers make their way to Boston, only to fall under the management of people who understand minor league players. In a separate Globebaseball article, highly-touted rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts says about the coaching staff: "They’ve been around the game. They know what’s next for me, what’s coming up."
Similarly, you'd benefit from having managers on your team who understand young talent as you bring them into your organization. Perhaps this means encouraging your middle managers to take up teaching courses at local community colleges. Maybe it means hiring management from organizations that are loaded with young talent. Maybe it means hiring young people directly into those middle management roles, if the circumstances are right. In any event, young talent stands to gain from having bosses that understand them and their experience.
3. Pick your spots. In the decisive sixth game of last year's Fall Classic, the Red Sox held a 6-1 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals going into the eighth inning. Manager John Farrell called upon rookie pitcher Brandon Workman to pitch that inning. Workman had been impressive in spots during his rookie season, but also inconsistent. With a 2-1 or 3-1 lead, Farrell likely would have gone with one of his more experienced relief pitchers to bridge the game to the ninth inning. But with a somewhat comfortable margin, he opted for Workman who then blew the Cardinals away.
While that immediately paid off by putting the Red Sox one inning away from a championship, the rookie also got experience pitching late in the game on baseball's biggest stage — extremely valuable for a developing talent. The five-run cushion, however, made it worth using Workman because the Sox could have recovered had he failed. Similarly, delegating low-risk but high-reward opportunities to young talent at your company could serve as important development experience.
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