Baseball analogies in organizational development are so great.

I hate them.

No, I love them.

I have a love-hate relationship with sports analogies, because they are so perfect and yet so non-applicable to the real world. Performance and contribution are so easily measured in the sports world in ways that are all but impossible in the business world. In sports, you either win, or you lose. You either score, or you don’t. In the business world, and especially in support organizations, this kind of black-and-white measurement is all but impossible. And so, the hoary and ubiquitous sports analogy almost always sounds like the pithy bromide that it is.

The Baseball Team

Sometimes, however, sports analogies provide some applicable juiciness. Here’s one: Consider a baseball team. What happens when someone makes a great play or drives in a run? Usually, the player heads back to the dugout, and high-fives and butt-slaps abound. The team celebrates the player’s contribution.

What happens when someone makes an error? Usually, the player heads back to the dugout, and the other players may put a hand on his shoulder and tell him, “You’ll get it next time!” Maybe they provide some light coaching, like “Keep your head down on that ball!” The positives are celebrated, and the negatives are acknowledged but are not the focus. Each player knows the value of the person who made the error. The total positive contribution of that player throughout the year far exceeds the negative of that bad play.

Now, imagine another baseball team: This time, when the player scores a run or makes a great play, he heads to the dugout. Instead of butt-slapping and high-fiving, there is silence. The other players and the coach look at the player and say, “You want a party or something? You’re paid to make that play. That’s why you get paid.” And when an error is committed? The offending player returns to the dugout to find his teammates throwing empty cups at him and telling him he stinks.

Here’s my question to you: Which of those baseball teams would you rather play for? Which of those teams would earn your best effort? On which of those teams would you feel motivated, engaged and loyal?

We all know the answer, so why do our workplace cultures often bear more resemblance to the second team than the first?

The Business Team

The answer is that problem-solving is the focus of most organizations, which generally means we are focused on looking for problems and failures to fix. While that focus doesn’t preclude us from looking for successes and victories, we only have so much attention, and we often overlook success.

Interestingly, many organizations build processes to monitor failure to ensure that they catch mistakes and failures, hopefully before they happen, so that they can remediate. But, if so, why can’t we build processes to monitor successes so that we can pay purposeful attention to them?

“Catching” people doing it right is the key. Identifying and celebrating people doing their job well, day in and day out, is a differentiator in the level of engagement you will see from them. It is important to celebrate the successful conclusion of a project, but it is better — much better — to celebrate the victories that happen along the way.

There are many ways to catch people doing it right. You might make it a personal goal to find someone doing a good job every day and to let him or her know. Mark it down in a journal to hold yourself accountable. Or, make it a requirement at end-of-day team huddles for leaders to bring up an individual success they saw that day. It is not that great things are not happening in your organization every day — they probably are! It is a failure of leadership not to notice them. Make yourself notice.

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