Michael Lewis has made a career of chronicling the new math that has been taking over sports. His books Moneyball and The Blindside delve deep inside baseball and football respectively to chronicle the paradigm shift underway in the area of player evaluation. The New York Times Magazine cover story this week on NBA player Shane Battier was another Lewis effort in this vein.
The underlying concept is that the assumptions we have made regarding evaluating talent for decades in sports may not be the best if the goal is winning games. Players like Battier don’t put up traditional ‘big numbers,’ but somehow teams that employ Battier seem to win more games, a lot more games. Coincidence? Actually no, according to the new science of evaluation.
This got me to thinking – can the same be true in the business world? I work for Taylor, a PR agency, so that’s what I know and I think a comparison can be made. The ‘big stats’ in a business like PR would be things like landing a big placement or bringing in new business. Those are tangible, easy to understand metrics for success. I’m not suggesting by any stretch they don’t have value, of course they do. But how do you measure, evaluate, train and reward people who make important, but less tangible, contributions?
Here are are a couple of examples:
- Six people in a brainstorm throwing around ideas and ‘Shane Battier’ makes a one sentence comment that subtly alters the creative and the agency ends up winning the business.
- ‘Shane Battier’ mentions to a colleague that the reporter being pitched at Time magazine is a huge Boston Red Sox fan. Colleague leads call to said reporter with anecdote about growing up a Red Sox fan and ends up placing the story.
- Though not his official job, ‘Shane Battier’ teaches colleagues tips for writing better press releases or suggests they sign up for the Help A Reporter Out service.
That’s just a couple of quick examples, but you get the point. I’m sure just about any business or industry has examples of their own. The point is, how does a company recognize those often unseen efforts? In the NY Times magazine piece, it’s noted that (the real) Shane Battier may not get a ton of rebounds, but he often tips a loose ball to a teammate who does get the rebound. That sort of thing simply isn’t measured right now.
The flip side of this is, if you are management, how do you leverage these sorts of talents? How do you put your ‘Shane Battier’ in situations where they can provide the most value? Can you have more than one ‘Shane Battier’ in your office? Can you have too many?
Like sports, businesses often evaluate all talent by a set group of metrics. Perhaps more businesses should read Michael Lewis.
Note – This post is in no way to imply that Taylor doesn’t value diverse forms of contributions. The agency has employees with a wide range of talents and skill sets and does a good job of evaluating them on an individual basis.