Corporate Culture Makes a Difference — In Business and in Baseball

Last night the Boston Red Sox won the World Series after coming back from a worst-place season in 2012. Their 6-1 defeat of the St. Louis Cardinals capped a remarkable turnaround that resulted from a mix of a new coach, a blockbuster trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, seven free-agent acquisitions, and a “culture of excellence.” Sabermetrics undoubtedly played its important role, as it does for almost every ball club. But to a player, they created and bought into a team spirit that maximized their talent to reach their goal – and had fun doing it.

Here’s one report of how the team coalesced:

Red Sox players loved coming to the park early and finding several teammates ready to go to work with them to refine the subtle details of their games. They practiced together to improve their execution. And when they did not practice, they discussed their execution so that they could do a better job of preparing for game situations.

The result was a team striving for greatness in the details. And as the players sensed that shared purpose, they recognized the logical conclusion of the undertaking. The players felt empowered to set critical standards for each other, foremost to play the game with maximum effort and intensity, with perfection of execution.

This soon created the identity of a team that believed it could do something extraordinary.

Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington, in discussing the additions to the roster that made a difference, was reported as saying:

He wanted players who had reputations for being good clubhouse guys. He wanted players who understand that playing for the Red Sox is a unique experience — that is, expectations are high, and players are held accountable.

And they enjoyed being with each other — they bonded by growing unruly beards and adopting a team lucky charm. During tight games, TV viewers could see players in the dugout talking animatedly while exchanging insights about opposing pitchers.

In business, as in baseball, good managers depend on their own form of sabermetrics — the employees’ education, work history, and accomplishments. Just as in baseball, goals and accountability are critical. But good managers also depend on less quantitative factors — whether employees are goal-oriented and get people to buy into those goals, how the employees work with one another, whether they take responsibility for their mistakes and try to correct them, whether the workplace has positive rather than negative vibes.

The Most Valuable Player of the World Series, David Ortiz, probably said it best when he pointed out that this victory was the “most special” of the World Series in which he’s been involved. He said that the 2013 team probably didn’t have the talent of the teams in 2007 and 2004 but did have a “lot of players with heart. . . . and when you win with a ballclub like that, that’s special.”

In playoff games and the World Series, the Red Sox came across as the feistiest team on the field and at bat. That could probably be said of a lot of successful businesses too.