Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Demotivating Conditions: A Giant Organizational Problem

Why do we care about professional baseball, or sports teams generally? Perhaps it matters to us because rooting for a team is an initiation into a culture, a history, a tradition, and a people. The club confers its identity on all who root for it, and everyone who plays for it, if the player lets it. We belong. And, that's important to people.

This post is about the team of Noman's heart, the one he's belonged to all his life: the San Francisco Giants.  They traded for Carlos Beltran at the end of July, and will enter long-term negotiations with him shortly.  This article expresses two-cents worth from a life-long fan whose loyalty was finally requited last year.  He cares, therefore he writes.

For all of the demigods and Hall-of-Famers that have played for this historic franchise, the 2010 Giants gave Noman a gift that no other Giants team had since he was eight months in the womb, a World Series Championship.

His father had been a Giants fan in New York. The team moved west four years after his birth in San Francisco, and they became his team by osmosis. His loyalties were fated, though seemingly destined never to be feted.

His earliest Giants memory occurred three years before he was born: "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" Russ Hodges immemorial call redounds in his soul like a Platonic form.

His earliest actual memory is of the 1962 Giants improbable pennant, which depended on the Dodgers losing ten of their last 13 games, blowing a four game lead with seven games left to play, and a two game lead with three remaining. He still thanks the 1962 Cardinals for sweeping the Dodgers in the final three games of the season (and taking five of six from them in the final nine) to set up a playoff.

The Giants needed to win a three-game playoff series with the final two games set in Los Angeles where the Dodgers were all but unbeatable. They needed to rally for four runs in the top of the 9th inning to win game three by a score of 6-4. It all came to pass.

Noman can't remember a time when the Giants weren't important to him. Twenty-five years after leaving his native San Francisco--eleven of them living abroad in Europe—they’re still his team.

The 2010 Champions emerged in the least expected of fashions--when there were no giants among mortals leading them onto the field; when every game down the stretch was so agonizing as to prompt Giants’ announcer Duane Kuiper to dub them "torture"; when the Phillies and Yankees and Rangers, oh my, were oh so formidable. It all added to the wonder and joy.

What an unlikely bunch: Andres Torres, Freddie Sanchez, Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Juan Uribe, Cody Ross, led by a rookie catcher, Buster Posey. Who dey? They were the guys who rose to every occasion, and astonished—sometimes even overwhelmed—its chop-licking adversaries.

The Giants dispatched long-time nemesis Bobby Cox to retirement on a down note. Cody Ross et al. dispatched the unhittable Doc Halladay. Edgar Renteria et al. dispatched the unbeatable Cliff Lee.  Juan Uribe dispatched everyone.

The secret, of course, was lights-out pitching, a September ERA of 1.78 to win the division coming from behind, and a postseason ERA of 2.47. Of fifteen playoff games to the crown, the Giants’ staff allowed fewer than three runs in eleven of them.

Lincecum and Cain and forget about rain; Sanchez and Baumgarner; Lopez and Wilson. Fear the beard! Tight defense was nearly all they needed.

Something happened on that team that doesn't happen in many organizations, not even on championship teams. It grew to become greater than the sum of its parts.

Every man filled in wherever another man vacated. Twenty-five men each made the team his personal problem, and not his personal problem the teams. The players self-identified as castoffs and misfits who had found a home. This team was the place where they belonged; they became one with it, and with each other.

The players adhered from the heart outward, and it raised their game to unconquerable heights. They merged to form a unity. They became champions, together, as one.

The World Champion Giants departed from the organization's historical modus operandi. Giants teams were always built around a savior: Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bobby Bonds, Barry Bonds, Jack Clark, Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, Hackman Leonard. Normally, it was a dynamic duo or trio: Mays & McCovey; Bonds, Matthews & Maddox; Mercer & Montanez; Clark & Evans; Mitchell & Leonard; Williams & Clark; Bonds & Kent.

GM Brian Sabean built the Champions around young pitching. He brought in a bunch of role players who performed capably and fit in with one another around the mound talent. They fielded like they knew it was important. They hit clutch home runs in key situations.

Sabean, top management and manager Bruce Bochy let them grow, fit in, find their niches, learn, and somehow gave them something to care about bigger than themselves. They responded as ballplayers, and as men. They made their fortunes; they won; and they bonded.

For most of 2011, the Giants deployed the same Punch & Judy attack and remained in first place in their division. They won fifty games by the midseason All-Star break. Most importantly, they remained true to form.

Then, they made a giant organizational mistake. They reverted back to their ineffectual savior mentality. They put their faith in a big bat rather than in unity. Not that there's anything wrong with a big bat. The mistake was to let its possessor dictate conditions.

Desperate to defend their championship, and thinking that they needed a star in their lineup to do so, they traded for Carlos Beltran at the deadline.
Sabean also said he would be more open to a rental because of the Giants’ dire situation. Let’s face it. You can’t look at this team right now and say it can beat Atlanta, Philadelphia and Texas/New York/Boston in the postseason.

Sometimes, when you have a shot for the grand prize, you have to ease your principles. Sabean said he’d trade for a rental if he was a “difference-maker.” That’s exactly what Beltran can be.
Honestly, you couldn’t have looked at the team last year and said that it would beat Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Texas/New York/Boston. Nobody gave them a snowball’s chance in hell, even as they won. Yet, they took on all comers including three of the aforementioned powerhouses.  O ye of little faith.

Moreover, most of the time it’s best to stick to your principles, which is what got you in position for a shot at the grand prize in the first place.

As a veteran player with ten years in the league and five on the same team, Beltran had no-trade rights, which he used to exact conditions from the Giants. The rumor was that Beltran conditioned the trade's acceptance on playing right field (his normal position) and batting third in the order. Sabean has denied part of that, saying only that Beltran's position in right field was "academic."

The important point is that the Giants organization and players know what the conditions were, and so does Beltran. They acceded to them, and proceeded to collapse.

The Giants were 16 games over .500 when they traded for him, with the third-best record in the National League despite having the third-worse offense in baseball. They held a four game lead over second-place Arizona, and made a statement by taking the rubber game of a series with the cocky Philadelphia Phillies on the road the night that Beltran joined them.

To play Beltran in right field, they moved Nate Schierholtz, who was slowly maturing into a star, over to left field. They departed from their core philosophy of not trading homegrown talent for a big-bat, high-priced free agent. They added to a burgeoning pack of outfielders, and trifled with their castoff-and-misfit chemistry.

Most importantly, they acceded to his conditions in order to secure his approval to the trade, rather than insist on his acceptance of theirs in order to take him onto the defending World Champions in the thick of a pennant race. That was the beginning of the end.

By August 10th, twelve days after he'd joined the team, they’d fallen permanently out of first place in their division. By August 20th, they'd capped a 6-16 stretch that dropped them 2.5 games behind the first place Diamondbacks. By August 29th, a month into his rental, they were 5 games back.

On September 18th, the team won its 8th in a row, too little, too late. The Diamondbacks clinched the division by pummeling the punchless Giants on September 23rd, and knocked them out of NL Wild-Card contention the following night.

It was an inglorious ending to a glorious run.

They died like flashes-in-the-pan, confirming critics’ assessment of their achievement as a fluke. Ignominy of ignominies: there would be no post-season defense, no stand at Thermopylae, no reconquest of Everest.

The Giants finished 2011 at ten games over .500 (86-76), second in the NL’s Western Division, eight games behind the Diamondbacks.

The Giants lost their je ne sais quoi along the way. That wasn't Beltran's fault, or any individual player's. It was management's fault. It was the organization's fault for letting it happen.

When the season ended, Noman realized that the Giants had been—we had been—campaigning for two years running. Last year's Championship caught this season up into it's whirlwind, and extended 2010-2011 into one magnificent quest to remain atop the pinnacle they'd scaled for the first time in 56 years, and first time in San Francisco.

Thank you, Giants. It was fun. Noman will see you next year.

The Giants are watching the playoffs rather than defending their championship because a star player's conditions were placed ahead of the team's, ironically for the team’s sake, and it killed the team's unity.

The episode is a mini-retreat to the Barry era, albeit on a much lesser scale. Everyone knew about Barry's special treatment, his three lockers, his lounge chair and personal trainer in the clubhouse.

Barry Bonds was a transcendent talent, however, and so superior to his contemporaries as to warrant the experiment. That was especially true because the Giants didn't know yet what worked.

Barry, despite giving one of the greatest playoff performances on record in 2002, couldn't win the championship for San Francisco, even with Jeff Kent. Lincecum, Posey, Huff and Wilson did. Yet, the Giants succumbed to the temptation to toss aside what worked to pick up what hadn't.

Carlos Beltran, for all of his hitting prowess, couldn't carry Barry Bonds’ batting gloves. Standing alone, he wouldn't warrant the experiment. And, today, the World Champion Giants have less excuse for misplacing faith in a salvific bat.

Worse, however, is that he failed to adhere to the team’s gravitational pull. He is still a rental player, not a Giant; he is still laying down conditions. 

With their season over, the Giants attention now turns to signing Beltran, who is a free agent.
Agent Scott Boras expects slugger Carlos Beltran to seriously consider returning to the San Francisco Giants beyond this season...

The 34-year-old Beltran, who joined the defending World Series champion Giants in a July 28 trade from the New York Mets, has said he will think about his next step once he is home for the offseason.

"Well, you have to remember when Carlos and I sat down to determine what teams he was going to go to, it was his choice," Boras told The Associated Press on Monday night... " He came to the Giants for a reason. Obviously he has played very well here. He has gotten a chance to get to know the city and the organization."

The switch-hitting Beltran told the San Jose Mercury News last week he would like to see San Francisco take steps to upgrade the offense — aside from just getting back a healthy catcher Buster Posey and second baseman Freddy Sanchez, both out with season-ending injuries — and the parties would be in touch regarding the plan this winter. Addressing the leadoff spot is something else Beltran has noted.
He said quite a bit more than that, actually. He wants more from the Giants.  Despite it's "unbelievable pitching," he wants to be around players "that will make the lineup better." The Giants "have missed a leadoff hitter," a huge issue for Beltran who earns his money by producing runs. He believes that the Giants have a "good team," but at this point in his career he wants the opportunity to win. Moreover, there is no guarantee that returning injured players will be the players they once were.

Unfortunately, this reads as if the World Champions are not quite good enough for him, yet. Its lineup doesn't measure up to his expectations, especially not it's leadoff hitter(s). He needs more people on base to drive in, and he wants better odds of winning than presently exist in San Francisco.

Presumably, he knows that an injured player is a risk, being one himself. He has a history of knee problems, and didn't play between August 7th and 23rd due to a strained right hand.

His comments are commonplace for someone pondering his own circumstances in splendid isolation from the context of others. To be fair, it is understandable that he would coax the Giants into complying with his expectations while he has negotiating leverage over them.

It would certainly be better for him not to sign if he can't get his way than to sign, whine, pine and consign his leadership responsibilities to others.

But, his tack is not good for the Giants, who need him, and everyone in the enterprise, to conform to the team's expectations and to think about his contribution to the organization rather than the other way around.

He wants more from the Giants?  Poppycock. They want more from him.  Paradoxically, his giving it to them rather than withholding it and making demands will more likely produce what he wants.  

Beltran’s comments underscore that his and the Giant's worlds are separate and distinct even two months after his arrival in the thick of a pennant race to defend their championship. Despite his investment in getting to know the city and the organization, he is still an outsider and not a Giant. 

As for Beltran's contribution in San Francisco, Scott Boras might more accurately have said that his stats were good rather than that he played very well. In 44 games and 167 at bats with the Giants, he scored 17 runs, drove in 18, batted .323 and was on base at a .369 clip. His power numbers were equally professional: seven home runs, nine doubles, four triples and a 1.471 SLG+OPS. He hit his milestone 300th career home run on September 14th, his second homer of that game, which led the Giants to a sweep of the San Diego Padres.

In sum, he is a star ball player who performed capably. The Giants got what they paid for, but not their money's worth.

If Beltran wants to play with the Giants--as his actions in choosing to join them in the first place indicate, and as his agent's comments confirm--he would be better served by saying so and signing a contract that affords the team leeway to negotiate with other players. The last thing he should do is to dictate conditions and call teammates out publicly for their deficiencies.

I can't imagine that his comments will help him in the club house, especially with Andres Torres--last year's Willie McCovey Award Winner who was voted the team's most inspirational player by his teammates--whose subpar year at the top of the lineup he highlighted; or Buster Posey and Freddie Sanchez, two mainstays of the Giants championship team whose ability to recover form he questioned.

Self-centeredness and friction are the norms in organizational life as in everyday life. We're only human, and organizations are filled with human beings. But, these postures are neither ideal nor salutary for an organization, especially not when contrasted to the Giants championship team, which was idyllic in crucial respects despite torturing itself and its fans.

The champions were notable for their unity, which translated into character and the ability to tough out close wins on the road or at home, the kind you need to win in order to be winners. That context accentuates Beltran's faux pas, and his role in the team's late season collapse. 

Though it's little appreciated even in business schools where Organizational Behavior is studied and taught, creating the conditions in which unity can occur is a key function of management, and the key function of leadership.

Management creates the conditions for unity, or conversely disunity. Either can only happen through organizational participants (e.g., teammates) free election of real (not just apparent) goods on offer. The organization proposes values that the human heart can freely elect, if capable.

Unity thus exists because favorable conditions exist, and players are capable of choosing it. It comes about by appealing to human beings where they can be drawn in--first by the belly, next by the head, and last by the heart. 

 Achieving unity requires reaching players at all three levels of motivation.  Thus, players must have capacity at all three levels, which depends ultimately on them--on their uses of freedom.

Note the dual conditions: (1) the organization must structure and make its appeals to the belly ($), the head (professionalism) and the heart (service), and (2) the players must be capable of personally responding to those appeals at all three levels of motivation.

No heart; no unity. No interest in excellence; no unity. Base needs unsatisfied; no unity.

One might classify managerial types by motivational emphasis. Strategists align people to the organization by appealing to their material well-being. Executives do that and additionally secure buy-in from people via their assent. Leaders do that and additionally unite people to the organization by appealing to their desire to belong, to give, to participate in something good in and of itself, in something bigger than oneself.

Leadership, in sum, is a three-dimensional operation. Organizational behavior, which manifests itself on the playing field, is a three-dimensional phenomenon initiated by leaders wherever they are found in the organization.

Not just any offer will suffice to draw the human heart. People must believe that cooperation with the organization promises some good worth serving, worth loving. This is something beyond money (belly), and even beyond winning (head).

Participants' true good--from players to fans to vendors--forms part of the rightly-directed organization's mission. Human flourishing occurs only where all three motivational levels are satisfied. And, that’s not likely to come about by serendipity.

Knowing that one will get rich through participation, as all players do, will suffice to draw the belly. Knowing that one may win the championship will draw the head. But neither will draw the heart. Only service to teammates, coaches, fans, a city, an organization, a team, others, someone or something will do that.

Naturally, teams win championships without creating conditions for human flourishing. They might overwhelm opponents with talent, or payroll. The 2010 Champion Giants, however, weren't one of them. They didn't overwhelm opponents with their sheer brilliance or superior talent. They won because they played as one.

Where there is smoke, there is fire. Where there is unity, there is the fire of love.

The Giants may attach Beltran by the belly, as did the Mets, as surely will the next team that acquires his big bat. But, they don't have his heart, and it cost them. Their appeals to it, if they made any, failed to reach him.

He was invited to join a unified championship team and proceeded to ask what it could do for him rather than what he could do for it. And, Giants management let him, even before he joined so as to gain his consent to the trade. That was their mistake, which is why they are not now defending their championship in the post-season.

If they continue to let Beltran impose conditions, they will continue signaling that they are not really interested in his true good, his fullness as a human being capable of service. They'll signal to the entire team that they just want a hitting machine, not a person.

They will have to signal that his learning to appreciate what's fully on offer forms part of their intention towards him. His bat is not enough. Neither is his desire to win.  They need his heart. 

It follows that an organization unconcerned with building up people capable of identifying the authentic good and choosing it is not fully rational. It has no plan for achieving a sine qua non of unity, a condition of its own success.

In brief, improving moral quality--helping people to become more generous, to think of others, to serve the team--forms part of the intelligent organization's mission, and vivifies its leaders and managers.

The moral quality of an organization's people is like the tensile strength of a bridge's steel. Just as it would be foolish to build a bridge without knowing the tensile strength of the steel going into it, it is foolish to undertake a project without knowing the moral quality of the people on the field.

From public indications given by Beltran regarding what he considers essential, his tensile strength could stand improvement. Its current state hasn't helped him to achieve what he says he wants. He's being irrational. And, the Giants aren't helping him.

It's not a question of his prowess, competitive fire or work ethic. By all accounts, he is an exemplary player, a star. For him to grab the brass ring on this team, however, he's going to have to learn to give to something bigger than himself.

The Giants accepted conditions to bring Beltran to San Francisco that he had no right to impose, and they had no business acceding to. It was bad for him, and caused him to miss out on a true good. The Giants let him be self-centered; they let him hurt himself.

Had he agreed (or merely been willing to agree) to play left field, for instance, to allow Schierholtz to continue dominating AT&T Park’s Byzantine right field and to mature undisturbed, or to bat behind Pablo Sandoval so as to make Panda even more dangerous than he was, Beltran might be playing for a Championship this very week.  Regardless, he'd be loved in the clubhouse and in San Francisco.

In matters of the heart, reasons for action--the "why's"--are determinative.

Despite his professed passion to win a championship, Beltran’s participation on the reigning World Champions devolved to his playing well, racking up stats and setting himself up to secure his last big contract.

The Giants didn't educate him about using freedom for something bigger than self. Noman's suspicion given the Giants perceived urgency and manifest covetousness of Beltran's bat, is that they didn't try to, not that he lacked the capacity to freely respond had they.

Regardless, he missed out on unifying his heart to a championship team. Consequently, it missed out on a post-season defense of its title. Pity.  They deserved better.

At the risk of reaching for too sublime an authority, Noman would like to suggest a theological insight.

Taking the miracle(s) of the loaves and the fishes as a point of departure, the lesson is that God works by mediating his action through the participation of faithful disciples. There is normally no certitude of the type that Jesus could have provided by converting the loaves and fishes available into mountains of food so that everyone could see, and relax.

Ask the 2010 Braves, Phillies, or Rangers who were loaded with talent but yet gave way to the nasty Giants (Lincecum’s description), a relatively rag-tag bunch, whether this makes sense. The perennially overloaded Yankees and Red Sox didn’t even get the chance to face David.

There is something to learn from this parable whether one is religious or not. There are no assurances of victory in life, or in baseball, no matter how many stars a team accumulates in its firmament. Better for Beltran to concentrate on excellence and service, play ball rather than politics, and see what the baseball gods have in store for the team.

Noman would like to end with a suggestion for the Giants organization, and to make a prediction.

The suggestion: the Giants should let Beltran stay (if they can afford to feed his belly) only if he agrees to their conditions, and stops laying down his. Otherwise, he is simply not worth the cost to team unity. Better to look for a lesser talent with a bigger heart.

The prediction: the Giants team that won last year's championship will repeat another time or more, if and only if the pitching staff is kept relatively intact, and the Giants revert back to last year's motivational form.

If Beltran thinks that his bat is insufficient for the Giants, then let him go, and find a hitter with more confidence in his teammates. This team is built around pitching, not hitting.

The pitchers might be frustrated with anemic run support. But Lincecum is on the way to Cooperstown, and the rest of them are World Champions. They will all be celebrated and regaled beyond their wildest dreams if they stick together.  That’s not bad for a life.

The 2010 San Francisco Giants strike Noman as being more like the 1981 San Francisico 49ers than like the 1974-1975 golden State Warriors.  And, he saw both teams play many times, the 49ers every week for years as a season ticket holder.

The 49ers went on to dominate football for a decade, and more. They went on to become a star-studded organization. But, they didn't start that way.

The Warriors conversely shocked the basketball world, and collapsed in self-admiration to a hungrier team in the following year's playoffs. They've never recovered.

The Giants know that championship baseball counts more on timely hitting than on big-time hitters. With pitching like they have, they'll always be in the game. That's when unity--which comes from self-donation--pays off, torture or no torture.

Ultimately, organizational flourishing, just as personal flourishing, is a matter of heart. The Giants can ill afford to let any player, no matter how talented, jeopardize that.

Postscript: On 12/22/2011, Carlos Beltran signed a two year, $26 million contract with the 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, who lost star player Albert Pujols to the Los Angeles Angels (ten year, $254 million contract).

2nd Postscript: On 10/22/2012, the Giants eliminated Carlos Beltran and the defending champion Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.  Showing indomitable character, the Giants rallied from a three-games-to-one deficit to beat the Cardinals.  They'd rallied from a two-games-to-none deficit against the Cincinnati Reds in the first round of the playoffs (best-of-five-games series) sweeping three games in Cincinnati where the Reds had not lost three consecutive games all season.  The Giants went on to sweep the American League Champion Detroit Tigers in the World Series to capture their second championship in three years.  Buster Posey recovered in 2012 to win the National League batting championship and MVP award along with a host of other honors.  Freddie Sanchez did not recover, and did not play for the team in 2012.  Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence--lesser talents than Beltran-- arrived as late-season acquisitions to contribute heart, prowess and whatever else the Giants needed to win the championship.  Pence's fiery motivational speeches during the playoffs were widely praised for rallying the team's spirits when it faced elimination.  Pitching and incredible defense led the way for clutch hitting.

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