It’s that time of year again. Baseball superfans know what I’m talking about. It’s time to draft your fantasy baseball team. If you’re like millions of Americans, you’re grabbing your peanuts and Cracker Jacks and getting ready for an exciting season.
For many, the fantasy draft isn’t a one-and-done event. Avid baseball fans actively observe signings, releases, injuries and news about prospects throughout the off-season. People who would otherwise cringe in the face of data find themselves knee deep in acronyms like OBP and WAR, and statistically normed stats. They know how to separate the five-tool players from those who wear their glove on the wrong hand.
What’s it all for? The thrill of winning. The ability to demonstrate your strategic prowess to your closest and/or geekiest friends. Something to fill the blank space between lunch and your regular 2 p.m. meeting. All of the above.
As a management consultant, I find this annual ritual quite interesting from an organizational dynamics perspective. I get a kick out of watching fantasy sports addicts inadvertently tapping the same skill sets organizations seek in their strategic workforce planners:
- Future focus
- Scenario-based planning
- Evaluation of skills; planning for retirements or releases
- Developing a succession plan
This high-level (often dreaded) activity within organizations becomes many employees’ favorite leisure activity once you throw in some pinstripes and a rosin bag. Here are five tips for capitalizing on this annual excitement and using the world of fantasy baseball to draw lessons for workforce planners:
1. Access and experiment with data, data and more data. Sports aren’t all about TV ratings and product endorsements. Baseball has a deep-rooted statistical history going back to the 1800s. Data covers players on every team and every year. The average fan can easily investigate any stat-related query with a quick Internet search. The ease of access to data allows fantasy planners to investigate trends and hypotheses on a real-time and experimental basis.
Similarly workforce planners need access to both their current and historical workforce trends. If it is difficult to access needed data, planners are less likely to be engaged or make fact-based decisions.
2. Participate in open and honest discussions about abilities. Baseball fans may be defensive about their home team, but in the end they are willing to concede which stars from their most hated rival still deserve a spot on their fantasy team. Effective fantasy team-building requires fans to put aside personal biases and focus on those individuals most likely to excel.
Workforce planners face similar challenges. Projecting future organizational capability requires an open and honest assessment of employee skill sets and developmental potential. Playing favorites can put your organization at risk for a losing season.
3. Make decisions based on performance and real-time changes. On fantasy teams, managers bench poor performers when they hit a slump or get injured, and give their bench players an opportunity to prove themselves worthy of a spot in the starting lineup. Certainly, emotional and incorrect decisions can be made in fantasy sports, but the underlying lesson for planners is: Have a backup staffing plan to support decisions when unforeseen events occur.
4. Monitor the waiver wire, even if you are happy with your team. Sometimes other teams in your league make crazy decisions, like releasing Miguel Cabrera after a 0-for-8 batting slump. Expert fantasy players understand the importance of regularly monitoring the waiver wire to be able to pounce when their competitors make such dire mistakes.
In the workforce planning world, organizations must have top-notch recruiting and vetting procedures in place. Accordingly, when the Miguel Cabreras of the business world become available, they can be spotted quickly, acquired and rapidly integrated into your team.
5. Observe what winners do. Some fantasy leagues are dominated by power players who are able to win year-in and year-out. There must be a method to their madness. Good managers observe the power players’ strategy, review the successful transactions that were made, and attempt to apply similar strategies to their team the next year.
In the same way, workforce planners must be observers and best-practice vacuum cleaners. Look at what your competitors are doing with their workforce, note their results, and adjust your own strategy to remain on a competitive footing to attract and retain the best workforce.
One note of caution: Workforce planning is analogous to fantasy baseball in many ways. But the consequences of a poor strategic workforce plan are much more tragic than a poor fantasy draft. It’s easier to recover from a bruised ego than it is to correct a bruised bottom line.
Paul Eder is lead consultant for the Center for Organizational Excellence Inc. in Rockville, Md.