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Two Things Baseball Can Teach Us About Talent Management

December 17, 2015

baseballWe are getting into the full swing (bad pun intended) of baseball season. Fortunately for the Pittsburgh-based team at Select, our Pirates are coming into shape and likely to compete for a MLB playoff spot.

The Pirates have had a few good years, re-igniting our town’s love of America’s pastime. It wasn’t that long ago though, that we were in what seemed like baseball’s perpetual loser slot. We finished below .500 for twenty years. (Yes, twenty years, a dubious North American professional sports record). During those decades of ineptitude though, if you looked at our roster, on a player by player basis, we weren’t that much different than perennial powerhouses, like the St. Louis Cardinals.

  1. Talent Synergy Matters. In baseball, the teams at the bottom of the heap are only a few percentage points less successful in individual performance categories than the best teams. Each year, the batting average of each player on the Cardinals was only slightly better than those on the Pirates. The same was true in every other major statistical category. BUT, year in and year out, nearly everyone on the Cardinal’s roster was just “that” much better than their Pirate counterpart. And those few percentage points meant a vast difference in the overall record. The Cardinal’s front office has always been renowned for their ability to identify and develop talent.

    The same is true in other organizations. Hospitals that consistently rate high in patient satisfaction, patient safety and clinical outcomes measures, don’t have all “A” players while their competition is working with “C” players. But, department by department, top performers have a roster of players who are just “that” much better. It’s not usually by chance. Top performers attract a better talent pool and these organizations are generally better at making consistently good selection decisions. Think about those hospitals that seem to churn through failing senior leaders, for instance. Clearly they continue to make the wrong selection decision. Successful major league franchises live and die by the ability to consistently evaluate, select and develop players that are just “that” much better. The same is true of hospitals.

  2. Evaluating behavioral skills is critical. Even in baseball, where physical skills and performance statistics are king, talent professionals appreciate the value of behavioral skills. Teams have a wealth of physical performance data on prospects. They know how fast they run, their height, weight and often have detailed performance data (batting average, ERA, etc.). They have scouting reports and references from former coaches. Yet, sure-bet prospects still fail and teams miss the potential of late draft picks who end up being all-stars (Example: Josh Harrison of the Pirates!).

Often the difference is about what we call in sports, intangibles – what we call in the talent world, behavioral competencies. Baseball teams realize that all the physical tools in the world don’t guarantee success. Behavioral skills play a huge role. Does the player have the necessary drive? How will he respond to pressure? To coaching? What about work ethic? Discipline? These are organizations where the ability to identify and develop talent determines success or failure. Accordingly, they don’t leave this to chance. They use – surprise – valid and specific behavioral assessments

Tools like the Athlete Success Evaluation and the Baseball Athlete Success Evaluation, were built by psychologists to measure the extent to which individuals possess the desirable mental characteristics of elite athletes. Professional sports teams – who value talent and performance above all else, use them extensively. Similar tools are used with elite level Olympic style athletes, and NFL teams.

I still find it interesting when healthcare recruiters and talent professionals question the value or predictive nature of well-designed behavioral assessments. Clinical psychologists use assessments to understand and treat patients. The military has used behavioral assessments for decades. Law enforcement uses psychological profiling. Psychology is a science and patterns of behavior are real. Expert psychologists can predict behavior based on assessments. We have reams of studies showing, for instance, that our tools improve the odds of selecting candidates with the attributes you desire. Need to help convince someone in your organization? Point to their favorite center fielder or shortstop and tell them that the team didn’t leave that player’s behavior to chance – they used a sport-specific behavioral assessment!

Even the best tools aren’t fool-proof and they aren’t a magic bullet solution. But, as part of a well thought-out selection system, they can significantly improve your odds of building a consistently top-performing team.

Healthcare Hiring Essentials

Bryan Warren Bryan Warren was the former Director of Healthcare Solutions at PSI. He was responsible for developing and promoting tools and services designed specifically for the unique challenges faced by healthcare organizations.