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Winning Game #7: Trade The Under-Performers For Prospective Stars

The Cubs and Indians have had decades-long championship droughts and both teams have rebuilt themselves all the way back to instill a culture of united vision and sustained victories.

In this 7-part series to match the 7 games of the World Series, Trent Clark, who worked in 3 baseball organizations – the Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Detroit Tigers, including three trips to the World Series with the Indians and Angels – shares his insight on the ingredients for a winning team. Take these concepts to heart as you transform your own company culture into a winning one.

What an amazing World Series this has been. You couldn’t write a better script for the two teams in baseball with the longest suffering fan bases playing to 7 games. Even though one team will end their championship drought, both of these teams have built winning cultures that should make them title contenders for many more years to come.

In your organization, it works the same way. It’s never just about the big goal in front of you this month, this quarter or even this year. A World Champion Culture is one that lasts year after year. With the management, talent and processes they’ve retained, they don’t rebuild, they reload.

How Are You Trading At The Deadline?

In a baseball environment, top organizations aren’t typically built exclusively by importing expensive free agents. The Cubs found a winning formula by trading away established players to other teams in exchange for prospective talent. Now, this type of swap may seem like a no-brainer now when you see Addison Russell making magical plays at Shortstop or hitting a grand slam as he did in Game 6. But at the time he was traded to the Cubs, he was still in the minor leagues for the Oakland A’s and Chicago was giving up not one but TWO quality starting pitchers. One was a known entity. The other was not. Cubs fans will also remember the trade for a relatively unproven pitcher in the Orioles organization named Jake Arrieta in exchange for a starting pitcher and catcher.

Not everybody at the time was a fan of these moves, even though they turned out beautifully for the Cubs. Yet, even though those players the Cubs were sending out were established, they certainly weren’t All-Stars. They were good and I’d argue not performing to their potential, in some cases. Was there still a degree of risk involved in trading them? Of course.

However, for your own organization, you may have a number of people who are going through the motions and possibly under-performing. I’m not advocating that you dismiss them but unlike a baseball organization, you don’t have a trade deadline. You have a talent deadline.

What do I mean by that? It’s crucial that you take note of your rising stars so that they aren’t trapped within a department and have a decent-but-not-spectacular veteran blocking their path. When this happens, the clock is ticking. Either you provide them the opportunities they deserve to perform or they’re going to depart for an environment that does. As a result, your culture treads water: Not bad…but nothing to write home about either. That makes it hard to attract new talent to replace the ones you just lost too.

This makes it important to value passion just as much as experience, if not more so. When you’re in a leadership position, you can’t hold onto an under-performer who displays little energy for the role they’re in. Is it a matter of them performing better in a different role and moving them there? Or is it that they’re not on board with your agenda no matter where you place them? Standing pat without making a move to elevate someone who has more enthusiasm for learning and promise is a costly de-railer for any leader. They may not know as much as a veteran at this moment, but the potential for going above and beyond where that veteran is today is definitely possible. To not make a move to find out? That’s fear talking.

Look at the Cubs as an example of this. Think they would have been in the World Series without making the trades they did? Not a chance. They could’ve kept some of the mildly good players they had and might not have made the playoffs. What would they say then? “At least we had a winning record.” OK, but is that the ultimate goal? Not for champions.

Keep The Game Simple And Establish Clear Roles

Baseball in itself is a simple game: Hit a ball, get on base and score more runs than the other team. What complicates matters for teams tends to occur at the organizational level from the top down.

  • Who is our President? What’s his vision and agenda?

  • Who is the General Manager?

  • Who is the Director of Scouting and what (and where) should he be concentrating his efforts for the upcoming draft?

  • Who is our Manager in the field and does he have the personality, experience, etc. to lead us where we want to go?

  • Do we have the right Managers and Instructors in our farm system to develop young talent?

  • Who handles our Business Operations? Our Marketing message?

These elements must be in sync for an organization to be a consistent contender for a championship. If not – let’s say the Manager doesn’t get along with the General Manager – there’s going to be a difference of vision and certainly a chemistry problem, which is never good for a clubhouse.

At the player level, you have your best option for a leadoff man to get on base. You have your best hitter batting third? Other players are best further down in the order where they can contribute. Even though we talked about the virtue of having versatility on a team, it’s vital that a manager knows what every player does best and what their limitations are. Each player is placed in a position to succeed in their role and contribute to the greater good of the culture, team and organization. And each player should be able to understand that too.

When every player knows their role, it keeps the game simple. A business environment is not far removed from this concept. From the C-suite on down, every contributor to the organization must understand the direction they’re headed, what the path to the goal looks like and what part they play in moving toward that goal. In the absence of this structure, people begin to freelance. They wander about and make their own rules. They question. They waste time chattering with their peers about the “good old days” when things were better. They lose interest and belief in the company because the direction for them in their role hasn’t been clarified.

All of these negative consequences can pop up and it doesn’t take a lot for it to happen. So don’t leave your communication to high-level speeches. Sit down with every individual one-on-one on a regular basis (i.e. monthly or quarterly). Get to know what makes them tick. Talk about what they want to achieve and why, as well as how you see that fitting in with the organization’s strategic initiatives and your expectations.

When you do this consistently, you’ll have a team that is hard-working, passionate, aligned and full of people who know exactly how they deliver the most value for what the organization needs in that moment.

It’s true for baseball. And for business.

Thanks for letting us share these 7 big wins to form a world champion culture throughout the World Series. Let’s review the first six:

Now it’s time for “extra innings” by practicing the steps we’ve outlined in your own environment. How do you do that? With a Leading With Courage℠ Workshop.

In as little as half of one day, you and the rest of your team can have the insights and tools to string the wins you need together, culminating in you reaching more of the goals you want as an organization. To learn more, call 312.827.2643 or email

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