Thursday, September 29, 2011

Moneyball at work... by Barbara (Ruth)

Each Monday I write a short blog for my team at work. I have an amazing team of close to 70 people scattered across the province, and this little blog of mine is one way to boost the communication opportunities. Most of the time I write about something going on in the province or the government that's of interest, or about topics that employees submit to me - career planning, coaching and recognition, leadership, etc etc.

This week I wrote about the movie Moneyball, not only because I really enjoyed the movie, but because it was relevant to what my team does for ServiceOntario (we are the Business Effectiveness, or "BE" branch, and we do process improvement and design, operational analysis, workforce planning and forecasting, and a bunch of other stuff that only geeks like me really get excited about).

I thought I'd post it here too, just because. Enjoy!

On the money…

Last night I went to see the movie “Moneyball”. Yes, it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, and yes it stars Brad Pitt. But neither of those facts is the reason I went to see the movie.

I went because of Trevor Sparrow.

Trevor is a manager in the Organizational Development branch, and used to be a manager here in BE. Those of you who know him, know that he is incredibly well read, and has a story to illustrate just about any point you can imagine. And, you know that most of his stories are about some kind of sport – Tae Kwon Do, golf, or in this case, baseball.

A few years ago Trevor told me about this book, Moneyball, and how the author invented a term called “sabermetrics” as a way to measure and prove efficiencies that are possible in baseball. This philosophy was adopted by the Oakland A’s in the late 90s, and allowed them to build a highly successful team with about a third of the salary that major market teams (like the Yankees) had. The result was a team that finished first in the American League West with only $41 million in salaries. They also broke a record with 20 consecutive wins.

Why am I sharing this with you? First, it’s a great movie. As with all sports movies, there’s an element of rooting for the underdog that draws the audience in. Brad Pitt is pretty good in his role (tobacco chewing and spitting notwithstanding), and the supporting cast is terrific.

But the real reason I’m sharing this with you is that it’s similar to what BE tries to do every day. We are the group that ensures that our leaders have the right information to make data-based decisions that will lead to efficiencies and improvements. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Logical, even.

But you all know how difficult it is to convince people to wait for the right amount of analysis or data or research before jumping to conclusions. Billy Beane, Brad Pitt’s character and the GM of the Oakland A’s, felt the same frustration. He was fighting against the “old guard” in baseball that believed a player had to be hired based on his face, his walk, or even whether his wife was good looking (because if she wasn’t, the player clearly lacked confidence). They relied also on standard, out-dated metrics that didn’t tell the complete story. The old guard went against him at every turn, and there’s a terrific scene where Billy shouts out “It’s a process, it’s a process, it’s a process!”

Now there was one weakness in Billy’s plan – at least the way the movie portrayed it. He felt that you had to take emotion out of the equation when dealing with the players. He didn’t interact with them, didn’t go to the games, and was quite cool (cold) when trading players. It’s interesting to note that the turnaround came when people finally used his system AND when he started speaking opening and honestly with the team.

Of course this is history, and everyone who knows baseball knows that Billy did very well for himself, and continues to do well as the GM of the A’s. Other teams have adopted his methods, and so he must now continually re-examine and find new ways to apply the concept.

Other organizations are starting to look at what BE does and how we do it. The challenge for us is to stay on our toes, show the value in what we do, and be constantly creative in how we add value.

It’s a process, it’s a process, it’s a process.


PS – I haven’t read the book yet, but I will be downloading it to my Kindle shortly. Any of you read it?

1 comment:

  1. We saw the movie on the weekend and I loved it. Thanks for giving me the insight into your job -- very interesting!