The Red Sox Way: Pointers for Transforming an Underperforming Team

I’m a Red Sox fan, and a long-suffering one at that, while waiting until 2004 and 2007 to witness their two World Series titles. After those championship years, I thought a dynasty would take shape over the next decade. Instead, last year, with one of the biggest payrolls, the Red Sox were perhaps the worst team in the Major Leagues with, by all accounts, toxic management and a toxic clubhouse culture.

The Red Sox made their move in the late part of the season to rethink and completely overhaul their team. “Established” stars like Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez were shipped out. The manager was fired the day after the season ended. General Manager Ben Cherington brought in players who had great character – along with baseball talent and a passion for the game – to reshape the organization’s culture.

He brought in players like Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, David Ross, Ryan Dempster and Stephen Drew, who taken individually are not great, but together create a fresh culture. It’s too early to tell if the Red Sox will be able to contend in their very competitive division, but their bold moves compelled me to think about business and turning around poorly performing divisions in a company.

Here’s my short list of what to do when you have a poorly performing company or business unit on your hands:

  • Assess the culture. Before making big decisions on the future of a particular business unit, assess the type of culture you have. Is it client focused? Does your team have a passion for what they do? Is it a culture that drives employee engagement? Once you get a handle on what’s wrong, don’t wait – take action toward transformation.
  • Assess the talent. This is a big one. Often times, managers may hire people either like themselves or under their skill level. One of the biggest reasons business units underperform is they have leaders who don’t hire employees who possess the skills that are lacking in their organization or don’t – or won’t — hire people who may possess better skills than them.  With every hire you make, determine if you are increasing or decreasing the average employee/organizational IQ.  Understand that in many organizations, there are hidden gems who have yet to shine. Find them and find out why they’ve been hidden for so long.
  • Assess the focus on execution, not just strategy. Strategy is great – you can’t succeed long term without a strategy, but most businesses don’t fail because the strategy is wrong or needs to be tweaked. They fail due to a lack of day-to-day execution. To meet a strategy, you need tactics that must be executed correctly and consistently. The most “strategic” businesses are the ones who nail the tactics.
  • Assess what is being measured. In some businesses, it is necessary to measure what’s going right; but for some, the issue sometimes becomes not having enough time to address what’s going wrong. Managing by exception is a forgotten art (more on this in the future). Lastly, often times organizations are measuring the wrong success indicators. Regularly revisit the three to five metrics of what should be tracked.

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