Lessons from Baseball for HR

Would you ever find a relief pitcher from the stands? Four ways baseball teaches us how to leverage our internal talent to fill key roles.

Picture this, you’re enjoying a summer’s afternoon at the ball park. It’s the sixth inning and the starting pitcher is struggling and needs to be relieved. The manager decides to forego his bullpen and posts an ad for a relief pitcher on the scoreboard. It reads: Relief pitcher needed. Must have 5+ years pitching experience at college level or higher. Fastball a minimum of 90 mph with breaking, off-speed pitch a must. Left handed is a bonus and the candidate must be able to start immediately. Please report to concession stand A to apply for this position.

Wouldn’t that be a bit wild?! Could you imagine the crowds of people rushing to the concession stands? Alternately, the next Greg Maddux or Justin Verlander may be sitting in the stands waiting to be discovered. How effective would this process be though? The screening might take the rest of the afternoon and there is only a slight chance the applicant from the stands would be ready to pitch in the game.

Unfortunately, this is a common trend we see with companies when hiring. Instead of hiring managers and recruiters working together to get the most out of their current talent and find the best fit candidate, we tend to see open requisitions starting at square one by posting a job externally by default. True, bringing new skills into an organization and finding a steady balance of A players from competitors and diverse companies is a key part of recruiting, but not every open job needs to start with an external posting. There is so much depth among an organization’s internal talent to leverage. Using internal talent along with mixing in necessary external talent is the key to success.

Here are four ways we can learn from baseball on how HR and hiring managers can work together in identifying the best internal talent:

Gaining Visibility to Internal Skills

In 1988, the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted a second baseman who was trying to find his place in Major League Baseball. He struggled with his batting in the minor leagues and became unsure about his future. Teammates noticed during warmups that he was throwing a knuckleball that danced in the air and was almost unhittable. This was his unique skill that not even he realized he had. Manager Jim Leland also recognized this special skill and helped Tim Wakefield become a full time starting pitcher. Fast forward 20+ years and 200 wins later, Wakefield found his niche and had a successful MLB career.

Many of your employees have unique skills that may or may not be easily noticeable. Imagine having employees’ unique skills and talents arise in a search when trying to fill a requisition. How much easier would it be to identify the hidden gems that exist in every organization? Imagine even further if there was a way to organize these skills into different categories and integrate that into a search? This would open doors to options companies never realized they had in their own organization.

Succession Planning

There is probably no greater example in professional sports of succession planning than in Major League Baseball. Underneath the Major Leagues there is Triple A, Double A, Class A Advanced, Class A and even Rookie Ball. Every level is a chance at a promotion. Managers and scouts in each league identify potential “employees” for advancement through watching them in each level of play. Along the way, skills, development and progression are continuously analyzed which helps managers and organizations identify the next successors.

This can apply to any organization’s talent. This doesn’t have to be done only through a minor league system, but by keeping track of employees as they progress within the company. Managers and HR can identify who may be a good fit for openings when they arise. How many employees have the dream of getting to a line manager or director level and above one day? How are those employees being identified and is there a place to keep track of their progress? Are we missing employees and potential promotions because we don’t have visibility into this key data? How can we address these issues and invest more in the growth of our current employees?

Creating a Culture of Learning (Mentoring)

There are often situations in baseball when seasoned veterans take rookies under their wings. There is an invaluable transfer of knowledge that takes place on topics ranging from hitting a big-league curve to adjusting to the rigorous travel schedule of a 162-game season. This informal level of learning provides the new player real-life examples that can directly impact his productivity.

In the workplace, there is knowledge being transferred in casual and formal mentorships. One study has shown being part of a mentoring relationship can decrease the odds of turnover by 38% (Payne, S., Huffman Academy of Management Journal). Mentorship is clearly important, but how are these necessary relationships tracked and organized? Mentorships not only help the mentee, but they help the mentor, expand networks, improve employee morale and increase awareness of potential growth opportunities in the company. Similar to networking to find a position with a new company, this is one of the simplest ways to help an employee progress in their career. If mentorships could become more formalized and tracked within a greater system, they could be one of the most powerful tools for employee growth within an organization along with the ability to place key talent into new roles.

Building Talent Pools

Baseball players are categorized under numerous positions: utility outfielder, closer, starting pitcher, etc. How do the managers effectively categorize the players? They analyze and leverage each player’s unique set of skills. Some players may fit into one category but often fit into many. How does this help an organization? First, it helps provide a picture of the talent available within an organization. Once that is clear, it makes it easier to fill gaps when necessary. There would be more possibilities for organizations if they had better visibility into their unique talent pools. If a skills gap or a new vacancy needed to be filled, a database of current employee’s skills, progress and career track would show who’s ready or nearly ready for a position.

Next time you are at a professional baseball game or maybe even one of your kids’ games, think of all the behind the scenes talent strategies that are in play to field the best teams on the field, maybe even professional teams. Then apply those same strategies to make your work teams, the best teams, even professional teams!

The best run companies have two things in common – good leadership and talent that is connected to their company’s purpose to drive phenomenal results. Shatter old mindsets to turn HR into a data-driven powerhouse for the future of your workforce. Read the SAP executive study, “4 Ways Leaders Set Themselves Apart,” created in collaboration with Oxford Economics.

Ryan Pelletier is senior solution value advisor for SAP SuccessFactors.