From Worst to First in One Year—Why the Right Talent Matters

Jan 24, 2019

By Kevin Martin

The next time you are questioned about the importance and impact of “fit,” simply point to the 2013 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, a franchise that improved its winning percentage over the previous year by 41% (a net-plus difference of 28 games) and executed one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in sports history.

Without question, the basement-dwelling Red Sox of 2012 were plagued by injuries to several prominent players (namely Lester, Ellsbury, Pedroia and Ortiz). However, the demise of the team's on-field performance went way beyond physical limitations. This was obvious to the team's ownership and executives and was at the core of a few key human capital actions they took starting near the end of the 2012 season that resulted in their winning equation in 2013.

Lest this come across as a mini-infomercial for the Red Sox, I must state upfront that while I am a fan of the BoSox, I am foremost a Detroit Tigers fan...despite the fact that my wife and I are raising our three children 30 miles west of Boston. But let's get back to what's important; this storybook turnaround holds some lessons for us all, primarily that the best talent should always mean the right talent.

Here are some key takeaways that are substantiated by i4cp research and, irrespective of your personal allegiance to specific teams or sports, are applicable to any organization:

Make sure to have the talent that best fits your organization and the markets it serves.
i4cp research on employee engagement shows that the number one hiring criteria among organizations with highly engaged workers is a passion for work. In contrast, the top hiring criteria among organizations with a highly disengaged workforce is intelligence.

The Red Sox purposefully unloaded some highly paid players, ones that seemingly played for themselves and who contributed to a ruinous culture within the clubhouse. In turn, the team purposefully added talented players who exemplified the values of the Red Sox and the city of Boston. Former Los Angeles Dodger great Steve Garvey once said, “The difference between the old ballplayer and the new ballplayer is the jersey. The old ballplayer cared about the name on the front. The new ballplayer cares about the name on the back.”

Any Red Sox fan or person living in the Boston area would certainly agree that the players the Red Sox added to their 2013 roster were (and are) Boston Strong.

Know your key talent—for both short-term and long-term needs.
i4cp’s research on accelerating high-potential development shows that 73% of high-performance organizations with more than 1,000 employees identify high-potential employees. Furthermore, that research reveals more than two-thirds of high-performance organizations use an assessment to screen individuals for participation in their high-potential development program. Additionally, the company and employer brand serve to attract a talent pool that fits its culture.

The Red Sox made important sacrifices to keep the key talent the team needed. At the end of last season, the team was able to re-sign David Ortiz, who went on to become the 2013 World Series MVP. Also, in the middle of this baseball season, the owners signed their all-star second baseman Dustin Pedroia to a 10-year, $100-million contract. Both players reinforce the culture that Red Sox management wants and both players delivered big time when needed throughout the season. The lesson here is that it's essential for organizations to know and invest in the talent that drives their performance equation...not only now, but also for the future.

Ensure that you have the leadership that will support your objectives.
According to i4cp's research, the two human capital key performance indicators (KPI) with the highest correlation to market performance relate directly to how consistent the behavior of executives and managers is to the organizational strategy.

After just one season, the Red Sox got rid of a high-profile manager (Bobby Valentine) and set the team's sights on the leader (John Farrell) who exemplified the values and behaviors that would ensure the desired culture—this was key. However, much of the credit for orchestrating the right talent in Boston goes to Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. Working closely with the team's ownership to define the right mix of behavior, attitude and attributes, the GM made very calculated personnel decisions that he was certain would pay off.

Sorry to all you St. Louis Cardinals fans, but the 2013 Boston Red Sox are even tops for putting the workforce first!

You can learn about how you can put together a winning team in these AMA seminars: 
Leadership and Team Development for Managerial Success 

Strategic Agility and Resilience: Embracing Change to Drive Growth

About the Author(s)

Kevin Martin is chief research and marketing officer at i4cp.