Business and Baseball

As America’s (and I would argue North America’s) favourite pastime, baseball and business language have had a long standing exchange of vocabulary and inside references.

Don’t believe me? Have you ever knocked a presentation out of the park, or had a competitor run the bases? Does your company have a 3 strike rule? Your team has likely talked about its bench depth, or have had to deal with a curve ball thrown by a client or customer.  Last but not least, we all know that we need to keep our eye on the ball.

Watching the Blue Jays season develop in 2016/2017 (still thinking they’ve got a shot at the Wild Card as of writing of this article… Go Jays?), it occurred to me that baseball offers a few practical tips that can be used in day-to-day business.

There are many baseball references that are practical in business situations. 

There are many baseball references that are practical in business situations. 

Swing for the fences, but...

Home runs are a very efficient way to score runs in baseball. However, they do not come around very often (and not often enough if you’re a Jays fan this year). In baseball, teams are set up to score runs a lot of different ways - teams that rely on too much of one type of offense can run into trouble (Jays on the longball *cough*).

Good teams have a mix of offensive scoring capabilities. Being able to have a few people on the team that can “manufacture” runs by using speed or craftiness on the base paths can generate havoc on opposing defenses. Mix in a few people that can hit the ball hard and long, and you create a headache for the other team’s pitcher that pays off in the long run.

Similarly in business, we’ve found that relying too much on the “long ball” of business - RFPs, large proposals, huge pitches and presentations - can cause similar problems to what we see in baseball. When the “bats” are hot, there’s lots of work to go around; however, when you’re trying to hit home runs you’re going to strike out more. The same number proves out in our sales statistics; we are much less likely to close one of these pieces of business than a bite-sized referral or a repeat opportunity.

In our sales mix, we know our “small ball” plays are just as important. Opportunities with existing clients, smaller engagements, and quick turnaround projects play a good complement to our home-run cuts on other projects. Knowing who on your team is hunting for quick wins versus trying for large opportunities can help set expectations within your sales team and allow people to focus in on the rules of their game.

Trust your team

Hindsight is 20/20. Sometimes managing a baseball team means leaving a pitcher in for just one more batter or leaving a struggling hitter higher up in the batting order. The difference between what we (the fans) think a manager should do with a struggling player versus how the manager approaches his team member is always striking to me. If a pitcher is struggling, a good manager will keep them into the next start. Why? A good pitcher will very likely be a good pitcher again, even if that person is struggling currently. The same is true with a hitter that is traditionally good; they will likely return to form sooner or later.

Sometimes a pitcher can struggle before getting back on track. 

Sometimes a pitcher can struggle before getting back on track. 

When a batter goes 0 for 38 in plate attempts, we in the stands start screaming for that person to be benched or to be put lower down in the order. A good manager knows that person needs time and the confidence of their team in order to recover.

Similarly in business, it’s important to trust that your people will go through good times, bad times, be super heroes one day and stricken with kryptonite the next. A good manager will trust that good performers will eventually perform at their best again, and offer guidance and support when they see one of their team members struggling. The worst thing you can do is to be critical of a person in that situation.

It’s a long season

As a fan it’s hard to be happy when your team goes on a 6 game losing streak, but baseball is a long season. A 6 game losing streak is tough… but it will more than likely be offset by a 10 game winning streak later in the year.

You will often hear managers or commentators state that “it’s a long season” - a business year is no different. Sometimes businesses go through similar slumps and winning streaks. For rTraction, we set a yearly plan and have a rough idea of how the quarters will play out. It very rarely goes according to plan, but we learn and adjust through the year. We also keep in mind that it’s a long season. A bad sales month is often offset by a record breaking one. Though the week to week or month to month numbers are important stats, we make decisions based on the trends and indicators that exist within our business.

Each quarter can show an ebb and flow in sales similar to slumps and winning streaks. 

Each quarter can show an ebb and flow in sales similar to slumps and winning streaks. 

It’s always a good idea to remember that it’s a long season. Getting too excited and optimistic about a hot streak is just as problematic as falling into despair about a slump. If you’re already practicing rule #2 and you’ve built a a great team that you trust, you’ll find that you can return to a winning average.

There’s no crying in baseball

In baseball, a successful team will win just a few more games than they lose in a year (a winning percentage of 55% is almost guaranteed to get you into the postseason). My experience with business is very similar. There are a lot of wins and a lot of losses... success is found in the slim differences between the two. If you focus too much on the losses, you may lose sight of the number of wins that you’ve had as a business (and the secret to your success that lies behind those wins).

Ultimately, if you’re in business leadership, go ahead and watch some baseball. You may learn some valuable lessons for running your business and have fun while you’re doing it.

What bit of sports wisdom have you applied to your own business? Let us know in the comments.

David Billson