Thoughts on an 8 Year Opening Day Missive Ritual

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One of the most exciting parts of business is building a culture with a team.  Taking part in events, and some of those turn into traditions.

Before I acquired LM Foods, I was lucky to be part of a great little Memphis based company, Monogram Foods for over 8 years.  When I started there were no more than 12 people in the company (today they have over 1,300!).

Every year I decided to write an annual Baseball Opening Day “Missive.”  I will admit they were obnoxious and probably annoyed more than a handful of people.  I would try to convert southerners to not only become a baseball fan (try that in the South!), but also to become a YANKEE fan.

For the appropriate context, Yankees are not a baseball team to southerners, they are a Species, and many would prefer that they were the endangered type!  Bless their heart…..

I felt bad for my fellow Memphians.  You see, they did not have their own baseball team.  And this didn’t bother them.  But it should have.    

Sure, they can get in the car and drive 3+ hours to claim the St. Louis Cards as their home team, but what a pain, and built in factor not to fall in love with baseball.

PS:  If you ever want to REALLY experience life, I recommend signing a 1 year lease no more than 10 blocks away from 2 stadiums:  Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.  Life will be forever changed, to the good.

Enter the solution to a modern day sports/city/complex crisis……the Yankee is in the house!

I needed to at least TRY to enlighten them to the greatness of the game AND the greatness of the worlds best sport franchises despite their geographical challenges and built in sports biases.  I cared too much for my brothers and sisters in Memphis and in the plant locations to let these things continue.  So I tried.  For 8 years I put my best case forward.

For the record, if the goal was to convert one person from a passive fan to more active, AND to adopt the Yankees, I was an outright failure!   Can’t win them all, especially in baseball.

The Opening Day Missive gave a platform to unsuspecting talent in far away places outside of our headquarters.  One that comes to mind is my dear friend in Accounting in one of our plants, affectionately known as “brother Dave.”  Dave is a pro.  He’s also a character.  A technical whiz in a lumberjacks body. He’s also a sniper behind the bushes waiting for my annual Opening Day Missive so he could destroy me and leave his buddy bleeding in the streets.  He did it well.

As it turns out, and much to the risk of my fragile ego, more people looked forward to Brother Dave’s counter argument and dismantling of everything Yankees than they did to the missive itself.  The rant became the avenue for bloodshed in the airwaves.  His replies were painful to read, but hysterical.  Hysterical to everyone.  Except me.

Small things define cultures in business.  Many times they don’t cost a ton of money.  It could be a cook-out celebrating great results, or even a simple recognition publicly for a small victory.  As long as they are authentic and not overly scripted, traditions matter.

Old School? Maybe.  But it matters.  Just like Baseball.

On a slow Sunday morning, I was curious to see how many times I wrote about America’s past time on Hustle or Bust.  Out of the 173 posts as of this date, 11 of them sprinkle in Baseball (below are the links).  Hustle is not confined too business, it cuts through all of life.  In fact, it probably originated in sports.

Yankees & A-Rod:  I Didn’t Charge The Yanks for this Advice

And perhaps the deepest, most important one?

An email I sent to my former team (with their heartfelt thoughts attached as well) on one of the country’s defining days.  What does that have to do with baseball?  Simple.  Baseball is what brought the country back together, when it needed it the most.

What is important about opening day is revealed in the Remembrances post.  Any opportunity to bring people together on a human level is one worth capturing.  

Happy Opening Day.  Where everyone starts in first place and anything can happen on the long road ahead.

Best of luck to your team!

baseball opening day

image credit: baseballism.com

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Integrity Matters: What We Can Learn From The A-Rod Saga

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I’ve been disgusted with the A-Rod saga for a long time.  Yes I’m a Yankee fan, and yes I love winning.  There is no doubt that a talent like A-Rod, (albeit his numbers have plummeted in recent years) is a talent that can tilt the odds in the Yankees favor.

A-Rod Ban

First, let’s try to suspend the steroid issue for a moment, granted that is difficult.  Here’s a superstar with plenty of baggage outside of this core issue.  Yankee leadership had to be struggling with the basics that all leaders confront when it comes to questionable employees:

When is enough, enough?  At what point does the baggage become too much to tolerate?  When does this impact the rest of the organization to the detriment?  The rest of the league?  The fans?  The sponsors?

The answer relative to the Yankees/A-Rod is probably “too much” and has been for years.  And what has Yankees ownership done?  They have sat back while Major League Baseball plays out their investigation.  Guaranteed contracts certainly don’t help.

There is one part of the human anatomy that is dangerous for Leaders to lean on in the decision making process:  Their heels.  

People can find a way to rationalize the “baggage.”  Baggage: Attitudes, surliness, off-field high profile romances, struggles in clutch time that can’t be over-come.  Stupid remarks that erode team-work vs. help it.  Office politics, gossip.  That’s baggage and it erodes performance.

Every organization has it’s “baggage factor.”  There are degrees of baggage everywhere.  You have a bit, average, or excessive.

An organizations “Baggage factor” can be managed. But one factor is simply Non-negotiable in Business:  Integrity.

Why is integrity different than baggage?  

  • There tends to not be “degrees” of integrity.  It is more absolute than baggage.  You have it, or you don’t.

  • If you do NOT have integrity, anything and everything is fair game.  Rules go out the window.  Self-interest trumps organizational/Stakeholder interest.

  • When integrity is questionable, the lines of decision making are blurry at best, vs crisp black and white.  That is dangerous.

The Yankees have been struggling with a clear Integrity issue on their team for years.  They knew this years ago.  They could have acted before hard evidence came out, but chose not to.  It’s easy to be on the outside, and armchair quarterback what they SHOULD do.  That’s not fair, but Fan is short for fanatic correct?  

I gave a prescription for the Yankees options in Feb ’13, which they didn’t take.  They would have been much better off, and their “brand value” would have increased substantially.  And the overall industry (Major League Baseball) would have been further along than the mess they find themselves in now.  

There are times when a market leader needs to suspend “self-interest” for the good of the entire industry.  Like a rising tide that lifts all boats, a falling tide has the same impact.  

Choosing to Lead is often difficult.  Sitting on your heels seems less painful.  But in the long run, the heels rarely are the right part to rest on.

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Lack of Hustle: Worth Mega Millions….

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Robinson Cano Signs with Seattle Mariners

Congrats to Robinson Cano on his mega $240mm 10 year deal with the Seattle Mariners, a pay day beyond comprehension.

Cano is a phenomenal talent.  Maybe the sweetest swing in the game.  The strongest arm of any second baseman I’ve seen.  Hits for power.  Hits for average.  Always made things look easy, sometimes too easy.  Loves his dad, his personal pitcher at All-Star Home Run Derby hitting contests.

But Cano has one fatal flaw.  He has a bad habit, and a reputation, whether fair or not:

Cano has a tendency to NOT HUSTLE.

And I have no facts whatsoever to back up what may be the outlandish statement of the century:

Not Hustling cost him a boatload of money.

How much is hard to tell, but a geek could easily put a figure to it.

  • What’s the big apple worth over 10 years vs. 10 years in Seattle?
  • How many championships will he win in Seattle vs. NY over next 10 years?
  • What’s the endorsement market in NY vs. Seattle?
  • What is a post-retirement career look like going down as the “greatest second baseman of all time” as a career Yankee vs. a Seattle Mariner?
  • What are sound, non-emotional answers to the above worth?

$100 million?

$200 million?  More?  

So why did lack of HUSTLE cost him money?

First, Context That Matters

  • Baseball is a TOUGH game.  Many people say the hardest thing to do is to hit a baseball thrown by another human being.  Not just in sports, but in LIFE.  Stats bear it out.  Greatness in baseball is defined as failing 70% of the time.

  • History matters.  This is America’s favorite past time.

  • No team in SPORTS, let alone baseball has more success (championships), history and legends than the NY Yankees.

HUSTLE is one of the first things every little leaguer learns.  It starts every kid’s baseball education (and life for that matter.)

  • You run hard to first base.  No exceptions.

  • You run hard in and out of the dug-out.  Look alive.  Like you CARE.

  • The rules of HUSTLE apply to everyone, regardless of ability.  No discrimination on HUSTLE.

Have you ever sat in the stands of a Major League ball game and witnessed a big leaguer loaf it to first on a routine ground ball?  The chatter that follows in the stands is comical.  And the lessons Dads give junior IF he catches it are priceless.

The Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio…

 When asked why he hustled on plays that had little effect on a game’s outcome or on his team’s standing, Joe replied:

“Because there’s always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.”

 

Here’s the brutal reality.  

Decisions on people’s future always get made behind closed doors.  Often times they are made on a combination of “gut feel” and logic.

Results always matter.  Great stats are a huge factor.  Great stats in the playoffs matter more.

Here’s the logical argument

  • 10 year deals are risky, just look at A-Rod.
  • Cano’s a phenomenal talent.  Great stats.  However, his stats fall off the cliff in the post season.  That matters in NY more than anywhere.

What else matters?  INTANGIBLES.

  • How do the decision makers FEEL about offering the big/player demanded $’s?  Better or worse?  What about the other critical stakeholders, most notably the fans?

Hustle is one of the greatest intangible on earth.  Hard to value HUSTLE.  But you sure the hell know it when you see it.  Or don’t.  And it shapes that non-logical thought process when people are making big financial decisions.

Last, I present the great Yankee captain and will give my final argument after 45 seconds.

Derek Jeter is a first ballot hall of famer.  Solid numbers, but there are 2 factors that set him apart from the mega stars of days past and present.

1)  He performs as good or better when it matters most, the post season.  The mega stars people say are better than him can’t claim this.

2)  On the subject of HUSTLE.  78 seconds is all you need to know.

When the name Jeter comes up, these are the images and emotion the fans bring up.  And management is no different.

When the name Robinson Cano comes up, can the same be said about him?

Hustle Matters.  It’s 100% controllable.

Take it for granted, you will pay a big price.

 

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Playing Both Sides: The Profile of Jimmy 2 Times

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I’ve profiled a few business types on the blog.

Mr. Get’er Done vs Debbie Downer.

Harry Hustle and his Sales Professionalism.

A Yankee game where unknown players had each other’s back, in the greatest brawl in Baseball History.

All profiles of common business types that create Excellence, or in some cases, anti-Excellence.

Now I present:  Jimmy 2 Times.

Jimmy 2 times

There’s a difference with business Jimmy and the Jimmy from Goodfellas.

Jimmy in the business world doesn’t say the same thing.  He says different things, 1 message to your face, and a different message NOT to your face. When the different message comes back around to you, and it always does, you wonder who you are dealing with?  And trust falls rapidly.

It could be over a business decision, feedback on a meeting, conflict within an office, forwarding (or BCC’ing) an email with a completely different tone or message, or simply trivial matters.

Regardless of the topic, 2 Timers pose on of the best TRUST KILLERS in business, when people choose to be inauthentic in their communication.

I have never seen this under-handed technique work in business.  MAYBE it works outside of business where hours with multiple people are not as constant.  Not in the hotbox of business.

It is why people can’t stand politicians; they don’t know where they stand.

There are reasons why many companies have a “No Gossip” policy:  It kills morale and erodes trust.  I’ve never worked in an organization that does, but certainly see the merits.

Like most areas of leadership, confronting the 2 timers comes down to a choice:  Do you drive a better outcome by dealing with it, or ignoring it?

Usually ignoring a problem is NOT a recipe for fixing it.

  • Set your expectations clear and often:  Authenticity is EXPECTED, not just appreciated
  • The Leadership Dare:  2 Timers always erode trust and hurt results.  They always get found out.  If you like this kind of high risk behavior, feel free!
  • Handle one on one when it happens:  Usually don’t need to address more than once….

All Relationships start with a foundation of trust.  The quickest way to build it is to “Do what you say you will do.”  The reverse is also true. Multiple it by 10 when the message is different, AND it’s also behind someone’s back.

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When $114 MILLION is Chump Change

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A-Rod & Cashman, a Saga of Bad Terminations

Image credit: Nydailynews.com

The A-Rod Saga.  Once a surefire hall of  famer, now the poster child for a circus in sports.  It’s painful to watch, and must be more painful to be on the team.  $114mm left on the worst contract signing in sports history (with the benefit of hindsight of course).  I wrote in February 3 options for Yankees Management to deal with this saga.  Surprisingly, they didn’t listen!

You have to wonder, when does a massive sum of money, even $114mm become irrelevant?

Said another way, when do you know you are better off saying good-bye, even if it means EATING the cost?

Some sure-fire signs you’re better off parting ways….

  • When the cost of paying it (and keeping the player) is  less than the negative consequences of KEEPING the employee

  • When the intangible “value” of the brand is far greater than the cost of maintaining a contract

  • When the economic value and/or cash flow generated of franchise  is far greater than the contract at hand

  • When eliminating the contract (eating it) re-enforces “what’s right.”  The moral high grand.  A principled stand on values that are non-negotiable.  Can you put a price tag on your organizational values?

  • When removing a contract becomes the equivalent of removing 20lb ankle weights for a team running a marathon.

Substitute “contract” with “salary” to apply the A-Rod Yankees saga to any difficult employee situation.

Leaders need to be concerned about $’s and cents.  But they need to be MORE concerned when $’s and Cents trump what makes broader organizational SENSE.

No one individual trumps the greater good of the organization.  Or the Team.

Individuals matter.  Sometimes, in the case of the highest price individual, their cost is far greater than what the contract reads.

Superstars, by definition carry risk.  They can take you to a championship.  They can also take you down.  Thinking through worst case scenario before bringing superstars on is smart planning.

If you can stomach worst case scenario and have a plan to deal with it should it unfold, jump in!  If this scenario unfolding makes you ill, think twice!
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Dear Yankees: Say Goodbye to A-Rod And LEAD, for the Good of the Game

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NY Yankee Logo

I’m a die-hard Yankee Fan.  I bleed the pinstripes, the tradition of excellence, the big market, the history.  The Babe.  The Iron Horse.  The Yankee Clipper.  The Captain.  There’s one name I used to tolerate, but now I can’t stand:  A-Rod.

The A-Rod saga has been playing out for years.  Once the most gifted ballplayers of our generation, and the most highly compensated as well with a long term $275mm contract that would enable him to smash sport’s most prized record:  The Home Run King record.

Then he admits to steroid use, without of course uttering the word “steroid.”  And yet another publication comes out in early 2013 with more PED allegations.  This of course off the heels of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, injury plagued and less than 20 home runs, hitting in the 270’s  and the drama in the tabloids that never ends.  A-Rod had a better shot being on the back page with Madonna, Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz vs. a triumphant walk-off for a Bombers victory.

A-Rod steroid allegations

Then came the final nail in the coffin.  The 2012 playoffs where Joe Girardi benched him in three of the nine games and pinch hit for him in 3 critical spots.  But you have to hand it to A-Rod, he still managed to pass his phone number to some females in the stands.

A-rod benched in playoffs

The NY Yankees have one standard: CHAMPIONSHIPS.  

The playoffs are what counts.  A-Rod has rarely performed in October, when it counts.

What does it say when the most highly paid athlete in sports is given multiple, clear cut votes of ZERO confidence in the playoffs?  Simple:  Game Over.

The Yankees operate in a world a bit unlike American business.  They still owe him $114mm despite non performance.  A-Rod can veto any trade the management wants to make.  The Yanks appear stuck, as A-Rod has never indicated a desire to retire, or accept a trade.   Let’s assume that A-rod’s position does not change.  But there are always options, in sports or business.

Option 1:  Do Nothing.  Keep A-Rod on the team.
  • A-Rod has another Hip Surgery, rehabs and MAYBE comes back in late 2013.  Yanks continue to pay the rest of $114mm
  • Let’s say he comes back in late summer.  What will his performance be?  Could he even match the production he put up in 2011-2012, which was far less than HALF of his “average” year?  Long shot.
  • If the Yanks make the play-offs, what are the odds that he would not be benched more often than he was in 2012?  Slim.  Confidence is fragile even in the most gifted athletes.  The NY media has a field day on A-Rod and the pressure would be like nothing he has ever seen.  That can’t help performance.
  • Option 1, simply stated:  SUCKS.  No fan wants this.  I bet the players don’t want this.  Girardi already gave you his vote when it mattered most.
Option 2:  Reason with Him; Tell him You are saying Goodbye.  He’s off the team, effective immediately.

But here’s a token of our appreciation we hope you’ll accept.

  • Sit him down.  Tell him we are saying good bye.  Thank him for his service.  Give him ONE full year’s pay, maybe 2.  That’s more than fair.  If he accepts, everyone’s a winner.  If he does not?
Option 3:  Go to the Mattresses in the courts.  He’s off the team effective immediately, win or lose in the courts.godfather go to the mattresses
  • Sue him.  He hasn’t showed up for work due to injuries.  Prove that it was self-induced, at least in part due to PED usage.  Downside is you loose and owe him the money anyway.  Upside is you don’t, and maybe send a message along the way.  Win a few chits in the court of public opinion for taking a stand.

No choice is acceptable other than getting him off the team.  The only debate is do you fight to get out of the contract, or pay him sports richest contract when he’s not on the roster.  Easy to say “get him off the team and pay him” when it’s not my money.  The fact his the drain on the team, his performance, and the drama that comes with him ON the team, this is one of those events where addition happens by subtraction.

How about this in addition to saying goodbye on option 1 or 2?

Take the $114mm compensation they MAY save (if victorious) and LEAD major league baseball in the effort to clean up the PED issue once and for all.  Set up a commission funded with this money, bring in outside talent from business, academia, and some trusted insiders.  Have the games great ambassadors (ie Derek Jeter) take leadership roles.  Lead the effort with Major League Baseball to clean up its act.  Invest in youth education.  Put money and talent against the problem.  If MLB doesn’t get on board, do it anyway.  Be bigger than the game.  Your the NY Yankees.

You have the might, you have the brand, and you can and should get it done.

Integrity matters.  No sport cherishes its records more than baseball.  Nobody means more to the game than the Yankees.

I applaud the baseball writers of America for voting nobody into the 2013 class due to steroid allegations.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1477358-mlb-announces-2013-hall-of-fame-inductees

Unfortunately, the problem still exists in the game.  The writer’s sent a message, which is a start.  The problem won’t be solved unless it’s from the inside out.  Leadership is needed.  Who better than the NY Yankees to take a stand?

Start with getting your own house in order.

Kill two birds with one stone.  Say Goodbye to A-Rod, for the good of the team.

Lead the effort to clean up the sport, for the good of the game.

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Old School vs New School: Excellence From The Yankees

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Winning.  If your going to play, you might as well Play to WIN.  It’s about Hustle and Results & the principles are timeless:  Old School and New School.
“Everything looks nicer when you win. The girls are prettier, the cigars taste better. The trees are greener.”
Winning
“When we lost I couldn’t sleep at night.  When we win I can’t sleep at night.  But when you win, you wake up feeling better”   Joe Torre 
Joe Torree Winning
“I get the ball, I throw the ball and then I take a shower.” 
Winning results
“There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.”
Winning Joe D

“If you’re going to play at all, you’re out to win. Baseball, board games, playing Jeopardy, I hate to lose.”

Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter on winning
“Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.”
Babe Ruth
Babe Ruth Winning
“You play the game to win the game and not worry about what’s on the back of the baseball card at the end of the year.”
—Paul O’Neill
Winning Paul O'neill
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