Lessons from the Outfield on How to Run a Business

By: John Rossheim

Whether you’re managing a major league baseball team with a nine-figure salary budget or a small business with a six-figure payroll, your talent — and how you manage it — makes all the difference in how to run a business successfully.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the greatest baseball movies of all time for lessons in maximizing small-business talent management in the 2010s.

The Rookie: Stage a Big Comeback
In the 2002 based-on-a-true-story flick The Rookie,  Dennis Quaid’s Jim Morris tosses off his hard-luck past to return to the mound at age 39 and surprise everyone with a 98 mile-per-hour fastball.

If your business can harness the right talent, you might be able to overcome tough odds imposed by the long, deep downturn of the 2000s and have another shot at the “bigs.”

“The small employers that are getting the best people are thinking big and have thrown recession mentality off the train; they’re not trying to hire people on sale,” says Roberta Matuson, principal of Matuson Consulting and author of The Magnetic Workplace.

To attract interest from top talent, you’ve got to communicate what sets your company apart from the competition. “The whole concept is to be different as a company, and you have to let people know what you’re doing differently,” says Matuson.

Small businesses get an edge in the war for talent by scouting for promising people in creative ways.

“Very small firms can promote themselves by partnering with classes at local colleges and universities,” says George Cook, professor of marketing at the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester.

Baseball Takeaway: Swing for the fences to hire the right talent.

Moneyball: Talent Management by the Numbers
Who are your best prospects and where in your organization might talent be deployed less than optimally? Take a nod from Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane in Moneyball and look to the numbers to discover your competitive people advantage.

Think of Jonah Hill’s Paul DePodesta. Don’t depend entirely on hunches gained through the interview process and references hand-picked by the candidate.

“In interviews, we look at how people carry themselves, how they tell their stories,” says Kevin Meyer, a senior consultant with Hogan Assessments, a provider of talent measurement tools. “A scientific instrument gives you more systematic answers about how people can perform.”

The numbers that come out of behavioral assessments can help you focus your talent searches on what will most likely matter to your business’s bottom line. Among other things, “interviews are a measure of social skills, which are important for sales, for example,” says Meyer. “But in many roles, being witty or charismatic is less relevant.”

You may also want to consider hiring moneyball marketing talent to mine your data and tap into new markets — as well as old opportunities that you might have missed.

Baseball Takeaway: Use data to tap outfield talent.

Field of Dreams: If you Build a Marketing Team, Customers Will Come

As the owner and creator of a product or service, it’s all too easy to believe that your baby will attract all the attention by way of its intrinsic beauty.

But when it comes to running a business, “if you build it, they will come” is really just a magical philosophy best left to fantasy films like Field of Dreams.

“Some businesses don’t always see the value in marketing,” says Karen Mishra, professor at the Meredith College School of Business in Raleigh, N.C. “Marketing seems intuitive, so the owners try to do it themselves.” With no professional marketers on board, that’s a mistake.

So if you’ve been sent to the showers in the early innings by disappointing sales volume, rebuild with a long-term investment in the stuff of sustainable growth: hiring marketing talent.

“It’s all about pulling the talent in toward you, where employees love to work and customers love to do business,” says Matuson.

To recruit top marketing talent who likely will be tempted by bigger enterprises with more to offer up front, dangle the opportunity to be a strategic partner in the business.

“Small businesses give their marketing people much more authority than large corporations do,” says Roger Beahm, professor of marketing at Wake Forest University. “Just make sure that your marketing leadership does take part in the company’s top-level decisions, not just marketing matters.”

Performance-based pay — often given lip service by large corporations — can be a lot more meaningful in a small business context. “Let marketing talent benefit financially, and in a public way, from the fruits of their labor,” says Beahm.

Baseball Takeaway: Make a winning play for marketing talent.