Don’t Widen the Bases: A Baseball Lesson at Conference 2016

This week the 2016 Chicago Cubs may have taught the world that baseball can be rich in life lessons, but it was Rick Carlson of Harvyst Consulting Partners who brought another powerful baseball message to life at the 2016 TechServe Conference. During his Friday afternoon session, “An Onboarding Plan to Improve New Hire Productivity & Retention,” Carlson shared the story of baseball coach John Scolinos, who at the age of 78 once lectured at a conference in startlingly unique attire. He spoke with a home base dangling around his neck.

Theatrics aside, this sparkplug of a Hall of Fame college coach had an important message about expectations and accountability that’s as true for IT and engineering staffing firms as it is for baseball teams (or any other team for that matter). Below is the story Carlson shared (one first told by blogger Chris Sperry and available here). It’s one well worth keeping in mind as your firm recruits, hires, and onboards talent and determines what is expected of employees.

Why the Neck Base?

After Scolinos kept his conference audience in confusion and suspense for 20 minutes, he finally acknowledged the base hanging around his neck. He asked the audience of coaches in front of him how wide home bases are⎯from high school all the way to the Major Leagues. They are all 17 inches wide. Once that fact was confirmed, he asked his audience this: “What do we do when a pitcher cannot get his pitch across the base? Do we widen the base by a few inches? Many inches?”

No, came the responses. Pitchers have to be able to get the ball across the plate. If not, they don’t play or they get sent down to the farm leagues. If pitchers have to be accountable, why not the rest of us? This was the feisty coach’s point. Are we ensuring that people are getting the job done or are we making it a little easier for them to stay in the game? Are we in the IT and engineering staffing industry widening the bases rather than keeping expectations high and accountability constant?

Expectations, Accountability, and Consequences

Rather than enabling employees’ poor performance, Carlson also challenged his conference audience to take a different approach. Rather than widen bases, he advised, today’s business leaders need to establish (or re-establish in some cases) the kind of hearty workplace ground rules that would make an old baseball coach smile. For Carlson, the following simple but critical trio of talent tenets are essential best practices for any IT and engineering staffing firms that wants top performance from its employees:

  • Set clear expectations
  • Track progress and hold people accountable
  • Define and give consequences for missing goals

With these tenets well established across an organization, it’s very hard for either an employee or employer to scoot by. They are united in clarity and shared purpose, like today’s once-in-a-century baseball team in pursuit of a World Series Championship. Did the Cubs widen the bases on their 108-year long path back to glory? Not even by a hair and that is exactly the kind of commitment to high expectations and results Carlson advised TechServe Alliance members to adopt and maintain. “Don’t widen the bases,” explained Carlson. “Play and win by adopting high standards for employees and their performance.”