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What’s “Your Way?”

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I had unexpected knee surgery recently and received a “Get Well” gift from my friends and colleagues, Laurie and John Slifka, in the form of the book, The Cubs Way (by Tom Verducci), which was especially meaningful coming from die hard St. Louis Cardinal fans.  The book traces the genesis of their 2016 Championship season, using the World Series as the backdrop.

If you are a baseball fan, you know who Theo Epstein is.  He became the youngest General Manager in baseball when he took that position with the Boston Red Sox (28 years old), and took them to their first championship in 86 years, a drought exceeded only by the Cubs.  After winning another championship, he came to Chicago to try to bring the same magic to the North Side’s “Lovable Losers,” the Cubs.

Epstein brought with him some staff from Boston and kept some staff from the Cubs, and gracefully integrated them into a team by creating a spirit of collaboration and a focus on winning.  Listening to their input, he created a 259 page manual called “The Cubs Way.” It covered every aspect of behavior on and off the field, from the top of the hierarchy to the bat boys.

I am writing this blog piece and this particular topic because of several themes I have been pursuing in my writing and presentations regarding topics such as how to create a culture and the role that trust plays in that process, and then how trust must be established at the level of the supervisor-subordinate relationship where feedback is difficult and sparse.

Trust, Respect and Culture

I believe that trust and respect are created between people when honest feedback is given, both the favorable and unfavorable.  This is in direct contrast to the “strengths only” movement that has gained much too much popularity.  I believe if you respect a person, you are honest with them.

So I had to put down the book and take up the keyboard as I was reading this book as Verducci relates parts of Epstein’s philosophy that became a key part of “The Cubs Way”:

“For years baseball teams rarely shared evaluations about players with the players themselves… It occurred to Epstein that the first time a team truly tells a player he’s not good enough is when it’s too late – when it releases him. It sounded absurd to him that a team wouldn’t tell a player about his strengths and weaknesses… It (a player development plan) does really create a great connection with the player and helps him develop himself… Epstein wanted a culture in which the players could trust the front office. And the way to help build that trust was to develop an open and honest personal connection.” (pp. 104-105).

For fun, they dug out an old scouting report on one of the coaches, and the report said that he was slow at turning double plays.  The coach was angry; “Why didn’t anyone tell me I needed to work on my turns?… I would have gotten to the big leagues so much quicker!”

Unfavorable Feedback is Better than None

I just completed chairing a dissertation that confirmed what most research says, i.e., that the most engaged employees are those that get both favorable and unfavorable feedback, and the least engaged are those who get neither.  Employees who get mostly unfavorable feedback are more engaged than those who get neither, and about the same as people who get mostly favorable feedback.

This philosophy is a core part of the culture the Cubs have built, “The Cubs Way.”  Your organization should have a “Way” as well.  When a Cubs employee does something exceptional, they yell out, “That Cub!!!”  And the example is set by the leaders; their behavior sets the culture.

What is “Your Way?”

Written by David Bracken

November 5, 2018 at 9:20 pm