What Business Leaders Can Learn from the San Francisco Giants
As the World Series frenzy is settling, we reflect on all of the elements that led to the Giant’s win. And note how their strategy so similarly points to victorious technology companies.
In September the Wall Street Journal reported that three out of every four venture-backed of start-ups fail. It is hard to get the timing and product offering right. Even if you recruit top talent, you still are not assured success. It is how you form that talent into a positive team culture working toward a greater goal that helps a business beat the odds and find success. So, how do you do this?
- Drive employee investment
When you look at the Giants’ leadership you have Larry Baer as the president who credits his organizations success to the coach, players and fans rallying the community and strengthening the position of his team. This galvanizing leadership approach is also evident in many successful tech companies. When Tony Hsieh stepped into a CEO role at Zappos, he developed a company culture statement that starts: “The best leaders are those who lead by example and are both team followers as well as team leaders.” Zappos and Tony Hsieh with the Delivering Happiness movement is probably one of the most praised tech companies for its culture. Even with the sale to Amazon for $928M in 2009, and subsequent move to Las Vegas—the culture thrives because of Hsieh’s ability to build a community the employees embrace and want to protect.
- Grow leaders money can’t buy
Establish leaders that empower each individual to do their job. Look at how Bruce Bochy did managing the Giants this season, he knew how to put good people in place, and then allow them to do their job. At the World Series, struggling starter Tim Lincecum was taken out of the rotation and put in the bullpen for the World Series. In his new position, he thrived and became a key player in the Giants’ win.
Once a startup and now an icon of Silicon Valley, Google implements one of the most effective ways of investing in their employees through their “20% time” policy. Google employees are encouraged, to devote one fifth of their work week towards individual projects and experiments, as long as they advance Google in some way. The philosophy is simple; smart and creative people will thrive in a culture that gives them freedom, allows them to innovate, and asks them to be leaders. As a result, some of Google’s most innovate products have been created from the 20% program, including Gmail, Google Earth, Google Talk and Google News. Apple similarly began a new initiative allowing its employees to spend time on pet projects called “Blue Sky,” in an effort to drive employee retention.
- Put the Team First
Just like professional sports, there are a lot of egos to manage in a business. Good managers are consistent at delivering the message: “We are all in this together, and there is no one above the team.” We saw this with Bochy’s decisions not to reactivate left fielder Melky Cabrera after his drug suspension to preserve the team dynamic. At Zappos, every employee that is hired goes through a two-week training course and at the end is offered a check to leave. Only a few people over the years have taken up this offer, getting employees to buy-into the culture as immediately as they are hired.
- Emphasize Culture Matters
Before the playoff and World Series games, you would see Giants players horsing around in the dugout. Rather than reminding the team of the high stakes game ahead of them, Bochy allowed the team to relax, and enjoy playing together. It is so important, that company leaders reinforce on a daily basis the company values. Many companies with a history of success offer extensive employee reward and benefit programs, but those with a unique focus differentiate their cultures from the rest. At Salesforce.com, the work culture has a particular focus on philanthropy. While the company gave away more than $3 million last year, their focus on community service allows employees to give back to their community without taking time out of work; everyone gets six paid days off per year for charitable work. “Employees ‘rave’ about the company’s commitment to philanthropy. They are committed, too: in 2011, our employees volunteered over 75,000 hours with more than 900 organizations,” states the company’s website. Salesforce is consistently listed on Fortune’s annual list of 100 Best Companies to Work for.
- Surround Yourself in a Supportive Environment
One important success factor in team performance stems from the ecosystem around it. Not only do the giants have an avid, die-hard fan base in San Francisco, but the Giants’ AT&T Park has a unique design that makes it potentially advantageous to the home team. Features like the expansive Triples Alley, a high brick home-run wall next to McCovey Cove, and the heavy coastal air give the Giant’s a leg-up on any visitor. However, successful teams cannot just rely on their arena. Since 2010 the Giants were a total of 55 games over .500 at home, but when they started the playoffs with three straight losses at home, they were forced to find the winning solution within their team chemistry. Outside of their comfort zone, with the usual tactics not working, the Giants had to find success much like a bootstrapped startup would, with no funding, a product in development, and, hopefully, a phenomenal team.
For us The World Series games weren’t just great to watch for the sport. It was about rooting for a team that achieved success and community above and beyond each individual contribution. We embrace this story and strive to achieve this type of success in our own business practices. Let us know your favorite moment of takeaway of the 2012 World Series.