Guest Article: What’s Your Plan to Win the World Series?

Love this true story about Theo Epstein. Imagine if we set our goals not on incremental growth but on our version of a WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP. Great read and along the same lines as this blog I wrote on the topic:

What’s your plan to win the World Series?

By  / July 12, 2018

My first job out of college was as a financial analyst at a large computer equipment company. Working at its headquarters in Dayton, Ohio, I got a firsthand look at the bureaucracy of a large corporation where great ideas that started out as rich in flavor as rocky road quickly were reduced to another form of vanilla. It was here that I coined the phrase, “Big companies demand excellence but promote mediocrity.” You rarely hear the statement, “Go big or go home” in a large corporation. Incremental improvement is favored because it involves less risk and doesn’t upset the natural order of things at the company.

Another example of this way of thinking was the Chicago Cubs baseball team, commonly known as “The Lovable Losers,” who always started out the year with enthusiasm and great expectations, only to collapse and end the year in the cellar. “Wait ’til next year” was the Cubs’ annual post-All- Star Game chant. The Cubs had patient ownership that was content with incremental improvement, and they hired managers who would hopefully “take them to the next level.”

The Cubs’ destiny changed in 2009 when the team was bought by the Ricketts family, who then hired Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations in 2011. Epstein inherited a team that had posted a 71-91 record, but here is where it gets interesting. He didn’t say to his team, “Let’s get to .500” or “Let’s try to make the playoffs.” Instead, he created a fiveyear goal to win the World Series and instructed his staff that, going forward, all plans and evaluations would be viewed with this goal in mind. Period.

The Cubs lost 101 games in 2012 and had two more losing seasons, but throughout this time, all recruiting, hiring, and player development decisions were made with the goal of winning the World Series. They let go popular players whom they believed couldn’t help them achieve that ultimate goal. They realized that, instead of hiring big-name free agents, they needed to develop their own players out of the minor leagues. They also took the best ideas from other clubs and morphed them into their own way of doing things. They then taught their unique approach to players and staff, making sure everybody bought into the culture. In 2015, the Cubs made it to the National League Championship Series and lost. In 2016, however, five seasons after hiring Theo Epstein, the Chicago Cubs ended a 108-year championship drought and won the World Series.

Let’s think about our own businesses through the lens of the pre-2012 Cubs. I know that I have on occasion set the bar too low to just get to the next level. When you are trying to turn around an operation, it is hard to get rid of anybody— employee or customer—if you think it is going to make you take a step backward. How often do we tolerate a perceived high performer who bucks the system because we can’t afford to lose the sales he or she brings? How about recruiting your competition’s best salesperson because they would bring a lot of business, while overlooking the fact that they also bring a lot of baggage and bad habits?

What if we changed our perspective and set our goal as “winning the World Series”? What if, when reviewing an employee’s performance, we asked ourselves, “Can this person play a part in helping us win our version of the World Series?” Try it out. Suddenly, that salesperson who hits below the Mendoza Line (under .200 in baseball) but is a great utility position player or just a “great guy” doesn’t make sense. Why? Because you can’t win the World Series with a bunch of utility position players or great guys. Hiring the competitor’s top salesperson doesn’t make sense if that person’s ego will disrupt your team that is focused on the goal of winning the World Series.

With a definitive goal that is the equivalent of winning the World Series in five years, you can grow your own talent. Maybe you stop selling those customers who represent a lot of volume but are a drain on your profits. Maybe you look at your legacy product lines, businesses, or locations through the lens of, “Will they help me win the World Series?” and realize they need to go away. If you are the leader of your business and you are looking to change the direction of your company, why not borrow a page out of Epstein’s playbook and set your sights on what you feel is your World Series goal?

Define the culture you want to have and set expectations accordingly.
• Divest employees who do not fit the culture, who are unable to help win your World Series.
• Hire only talent who are a good fit culturally, who want to win your World Series goal.

You then are approaching all your business and personnel decisions from the perspective of “Will this help me reach my World Series?” It’s still early in the season, so it’s not too late to improve your line up and create a winning team for 2018.

The Big Miss

The goals and targets:

  • Beating your competitor in the same market for the same customers under the same conditions.
  • Executing successfully against a strategic initiative.
  • Attracting great employees.
  • Hitting the top line and bottom line numbers.

Why do some “miss” on these while others hit it out of the park?

Beating the Competition in the Battle for Customers

Companies often plod ahead doing more of the same, and often just open more locations, make more acquisitions, sell for less, increase their service, go online, advertise and promote differently, distribute or manufacture a new product, or offer more purchase incentives. But in many cases the customer’s needs and wants were never placed at the center of the strategy.

Companies so frequently design their value proposition as a list of products, locations, and services that looks like a “line card” or brochure of how big and expansive they are.  Or they sell on price, quality, or service alone–and don’t fully address problems the customer is experiencing.

The Challenger Model can be the turning point here.  The Challenger Model drives companies to first develop insights in their target industry and bring those insights to their customers with sales reps who “challenge” their customers to consider new and better methods. These are methods the customers many not have ever heard of before.

Thus instead of the traditional process of asking customers “what keeps them up at night,” the Challenger Sales company “tells the customer what SHOULD be keeping them up at night–and how to solve it with their solution.”

But by far the most critical aspect winning against competitors is to know your customers better than they do, develop your value proposition around their needs, and place customer delight at the center of your focus.  This is particularly critical for large companies where often the distractions of acquisitions and mergers, technology overhauls, and other internally-oriented initiatives direct the focus and energy away from going out to find, develop, and keep a customer.

MISS #1: Allowing more focus and energy to be spent on your company than the customer.  You’ve always got to listen to the voice of the customer, place them at the center, and better yet–go stand in their shoes to help understand what they need, why they need it, and how to deliver it.  Learn how to fix problems customers didn’t even know they had.


Executing an Initiative

First, begin with “why?”  If you’ve never seen Simon Sinek’s “why” talk, or even if you have–watch it here now.  Then come back and keep reading.

What is your purpose, your cause, your belief….and why does it matter to and help your customers?  You’ve got to strike an emotional, then rational chord to achieve buy-in and acceptance.  And it starts with asking “why.”  What’s more, a company’s leaders have to communicate the same FOR IT’S TEAM MEMBERS helping execute the initiative.  What’s in it for them when the initiative is achieved?

Just because “it’s our top initiative” and “we’ve found it’s important to customers” aren’t enough.  You have to help employees see those same things for themselves, their own benefit and improvement.  You have to help employees see how achievement of the initiative will bring them personal gain, upward opportunity, or other benefits important to them.

Aligning compensation up and down the organization is one way to do this.  As a matter of fact, there are many that would tell us that it’s the ONLY way to truly align an organization to accomplish greatness.  But no matter how it’s done, you’ve got to start with “why.”

MISS #2: Expecting your initiative will be seen as your team’s initiative.  Help your employees see the personal benefit in achieving the initiative.  Compensate and reward teams for successfully executing the initiative.  If there isn’t a benefit for them…well–you get what you give.


Attracting the Best Employees

People don’t want a job.  They want a purpose, a challenge, ways to advance and add skills, and achieve their financial goals.

So then why do companies advertise for jobs this way?

“We’re looking for employees in the our new market.  Acme is a national leader with 127 locations servicing 23 states employing 10,000 people.  We carry the leading brands of widgets and were named #2 on the biggest company list in our industry in 2016.”

Where do I sign up?

Here once again is an idea from Sinek, this time on creating a realistic picture of the position you need filled so that you’ll attract the right people for the job.

Hiring managers…it’s about the employees—not the company.  Start with “why” and paint a compelling picture of what your company does from a “contribution to the world” standpoint.  Same as you’d do in sales—make it about the customer.

MISS #3: Focusing exclusively on “what” instead of “why” when attempting to attract new talent. Tell a truthful and inspiring story about your mission, your company’s vision and mission, and what’s in it for the candidate.


Hitting Top and Bottom Line Numbers

So here we are at the bottom line…the numbers.  If you thought I was going to write  here about how specifically to hit the numbers…I’m not.  The point I’m making is that 1) customer focus, 2) inspiring teams by connecting personal benefits and compensation to reaching initiatives, and 3) attracting the right people to your company by appealing to their needs for contribution will help build the strongest of foundations on which to build the rest of the strategy and execution plan…to help hit the numbers.






Featured Blog by Jack & Suzy Welch

I was talking to a friend this weekend about his desire to call out the things that are wrong with his company and the faulty processes they use.  Of course, some of this is fine…but going overboard and being the “truth sayer” day after day with comments or complaints about all the things that are wrong…will get you uninvited to the inner circle at best…and uninvited to remain at the company at the worst.  Then on Monday morning, I saw the blog that follows written by Jack Welch.  Perfect advice!


By Jack and Suzy Welch

jack_suzy_welch_headshotYou’re out having lunch at your favorite pizza spot, sitting around with your colleagues, and the hot topic of the day is the new evaluation system at work. You hate it. It’s all a bunch of bureaucratic phoniness.

At last week’s lunch, it was the strategic planning process. All chart-making, not real discussion – no one can stand it. And budget reviews, they’re just one big negotiation. Who’s the smartest negotiator in the room? Usually it’s your guy Joe in the next cube, who always gets a little more money in his budget, just because he’s smoother and more articulate. He somehow pulls it all off on personal relationships – it’s not really fair.

Not to mention your frustration at your latest raise, which you learned was the exact same amount everyone else got – even though you did so much more of the work. If only, you wish, someone would recognize it.

Just stop all this, okay?

You’re on an absolute suicide mission when you moan about what you can’t fix. A victim loses every single time. You can be sure people are sick of listening to you, even if you’re completely justified in everything you’re thinking. Even if you’re the smartest person in the room, you can’t just go and tell your boss (or worse, the person sitting next to you) that they’re doing something backwards. They bought into it. They’re doing it. They own the responsibility for the outcome, you don’t.

But there is one thing you can do about it. Actually, a lot you can do.

That is, you can make it your mission to change all the things you’ve been thinking about within your own little group, whether it’s three people or six people or ten. Make the way you operate more transparent. Make the planning sessions real – with true give and take, taking the market into account. Encourage your team to find a better way every day. And celebrate when they do – making a big party out of each small win. Have the kind of straight-talk performance reviews that inspire your people to stretch and always be reaching for more (and be sure you don’t punish them when they’re willing to do that.) And finally, differentiate – rewarding the people who do the most with the most, versus sprinkling dollars and resources evenly.

Make your own project or department hum. Make your place the place to be.

In other words, do what you control. The best vent for all your frustrations is within your own reach. You’ve got to create an atmosphere for yourself where you focus all your energy on the things that you can impact directly. It’s the best antidote to whatever annoys you.

And when you do, two things will happen: 1) you’ll see better results start pouring in and 2) everyone will start wanting to hang out in your group because it’s more fun.

Guess what? You’ll get noticed for those things. You’ll become a magnet. All of a sudden, you’ll see that everybody wants to come work for you, because you’ve made your place more exciting, open, and transparent. Other departments will start looking to your little laboratory trying to figure out what it is you’re doing that is so wildly effective.

That’s the kind of action that gets you promoted. It’s the type of action that gets your people promoted, as you push them onwards and upwards with these great behaviors and crazy results. Not to mention, every time you move up, you and your team will bring all the stuff you know works in your area with you, spreading it throughout the company as your sphere of influence grows and grows and grows.

And, if you play this long game well, in time, we’d bet, you’ll find yourself in a position where you have the power to really drive the larger change initiatives and culture improvements you’ve always wanted to see throughout the organization on a greater scale.

Instead of just venting about them.
Jack Welch is Executive Chairman of the Jack Welch Management Institute. Through its online MBA program, the Jack Welch Management Institute transforms the lives of its students by providing them with the tools to become better leaders, build great teams, and help their organizations win. The program was recently named the #1 most influential education brand on LinkedIn and one of the top business schools to watch in 2016.

Suzy Welch is co-author, with Jack Welch, of the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post best-seller The Real-Life MBA, and of the international best-seller Winning.

Written by

Jack Welch

Executive Chairman, The Jack Welch Management Institute

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