Corporate Moneyball

International readers, please bear with me while I get all North American-centric on you for a sec.  One of my favorite "business" books in recent years is Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis.  On the surface, Moneyball is a book about baseball and specifically about my hometown team, the Oakland Athletics in the year 2002.  For the baseball fan reader, the book is full of great anecdotes about on-field heroics and front office intrigue.  However, below the surface Moneyball is all business.  It's a story about exploiting the inefficiencies in a market, about identifying metrics that directly correlate to success, and about buying low and selling high.

I had a Moneyball moment a couple of weeks back when a colleague and I were discussing "model" employees for a certain role.  As my colleague threw out a few examples that fit his model, I realized he was falling victim to "the good face" mentality described in Moneyball.  Lewis talks about baseball scouts referring to prospects as having "the good face" when they look the part of a major league baseball player: handsome and well built, preferably with a flair to their personality and game.  Of course, this is an utterly bogus consideration in terms of assessing a prospect's major league potential, but some scouts obviously gave it consideration because the Oakland Athletics organization exploited this market inefficiency by focusing on things like track record, college experience and just generally recruiting ugly, chubby guys that could play baseball.

Anyhow, I realized my colleague was falling into the trap of describing his idea of model employees for a role in terms of the attributes he thought someone in that role should have and how he felt they should behave, as opposed to in terms of the results someone in that role should achieve and their track record of successful results (note, by the way, that by "results" I don't simply mean "money" or "profit" but the full scope of metrics and attributes by which an individual's job performance is measured).

This Moneyball moment was a reminder to me be crisp about what success looks like and to let that vision of success inform my actions.  It's nice to do a really great presentation or to craft a particularly brilliant email, but unless it contributes to successfully accomplishing the goal, it's just the good face.