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Leadership
Business Observer Friday, Mar. 13, 2020 4 months ago

Baseball executives seek big hit in cultural shift

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Changing an organization’s culture, a pair of professional baseball executives are learning, requires a steadfast ability to remain patient — without missing fast-moving opportunities.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Major league baseball team leaders Mike Elias and Bandon Hyde, starting in Sarasota, are attacking the business equivalent of a corporate turnaround — taking an underperforming asset and building it back into a winner.

The stakes are high: The team they oversee, the Baltimore Orioles, is a top-tier brand that’s hit a rough patch. The team finished last place in its division last year, 49 games behind the New York Yankees. It finished last in 2018 too, 61 games behind the Boston Red Sox. Yet this is also a team that’s won three World Series and has had some all-time great players and managers, from Frank Robinson to Earl Weaver to Cal Ripken.

The team has performed so poorly, and has had so much turnover in players and staff, that in addition to a turnaround, what Elias and Hyde are doing is akin to a startup. Embracing new tactics, taking big risks and empowering young employees are three of the pair’s principles and priorities. Another key move: building a culture where process is more important than prizes, where doing things the right way requires long-term vision and patience.

‘In most jobs, not just baseball, what you did yesterday can be a good indicator of what you will do tomorrow.’ Mike Elias, Baltimore Orioles

“Were open, realistic and transparent about what we are doing,” says Elias, the team’s general manager who previously worked for the Houston Astros, in the scouting department. Elias helped improve the Astros’ scouting unit while working for the team for seven seasons, including the 2017 World Series championship team. (Elias, named the O’s GM in 2018, wasn’t implicated or part of the Astros sign-stealing cheating scandal.) “I think that resonates with players, employees and fans."

Hyde, meanwhile, the O’s second-year manager, embraces such phrases as “Try not to suck," "Be present, not perfect" and "Stay out of your own head.” All those are courtesy of Joe Maddon, longtime Tampa Bay Rays manager, known for his quirky yet inspirational leadership sayings on T-shirts. Hyde was a coach and player development director for the Chicago Cubs for six seasons, including 2018 as the bench coach, Maddon’s top assistant. He was the first base coach for the 2016 Cubs World Series championship team. “I probably still have 76 T-shirts back home in Chicago,” Hyde quips.

In a recent interview at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, the Orioles spring training home, Hyde and Elias talked about leadership and how they aim to build  a winning culture with the Orioles

What are your priorities when launching a massive organizational turnaround?

Elias: We have a whole new energy where everyone is new, and people want to be part of this. They’ve come from successful places to join this effort. It gives it a lot different feel than we would have otherwise. We are prioritizing infrastructure, meaning our people, our processes, our tools, our facilities. We are taking the long view and trying to lay down a really healthy long term foundation for how this team evaluates, signs and develops young talent.

Hyde: It’s all about the right people — and surrounding yourself with people who are unbelievably driven, impact type people who are passionate about what they are doing. You create the culture you want by getting the right people in place.

What do you look for in hiring people?

Elias: In the same way we look for players with high ceilings, we look for front-office people with high ceilings. We look for intellectual people who have had successful stints and demonstrate the ability to grow, a willingness to learn and a desire to work with others. In most jobs, not just baseball, what you did yesterday can be a good indicator of what you will do tomorrow.

What did you learn from Joe Maddon?

Hyde: I thought Joe’s strengths are he’s incredibly patient and positive. He allows young people to make mistakes. It’s all about learning, teaching and coaching, and allowing young players to feel comfortable, which can be really hard to do. He does a great job of creating a culture in the clubhouse where everyone feels comfortable being themselves. Young players fit right in with that, and he has a lot of patience, which is rare sometimes.

Joe was one of the first managers open to getting as much info as possible and not being afraid to try new things, whether it was the [infield] shift, the four-man outfield or the way he utilized his bullpen. He's open to creative ideas people have. I hope to take some of those great traits. I look up to him. It’s not easy to manage in the big leagues without fear and he does that.

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