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Handle the Loss of a Top Employee the Moneyball Way

Losing a valuable member of your team can place any manager or business owner in a bind.  The key is to know how to handle the situation.

In a recent Oscar nominated film, Moneyball, a national baseball team, Oakland A’s, faced losing 3 of their top seated players right after they were inches from winning the World Series.  What made matters worse is that they didn’t have the budget to attract the same caliber star back to their roster.

Scene with Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) working with scouts trying to fill in the 3 vacant positions on his team. - © Sony Pictures

These days, many companies are in this same Moneyball situation. It can be extremely painful coupled with the loss of a top performing employee.  Budgets and money are tight and it isn’t always easy to find all the same skillsets the departing employee had.

Even if you’re not a baseball fan, the concept of Moneyball provides a lot of insight as to how to handle losing your key employees.

Identify the right problem

During the movie, the main character, Billy Beane, went around the table asking each of the other scouts what they thought the problem was that they were trying to fix.  Each one answered the loss of 3 top performing players.

However, based on Billy Beane’s assessment, they were all wrong.  They were trying to deal with the situation as if the Oakland A’s were a big ball team that could simply replace like for like.  The reality is that no matter how hard they looked, they were bound by very tight constraints which limited their options.  If they were to succeed, they had to think within the boundaries they had and not simply dismiss the obvious limitations of the club.

Normally to solve a problem, we brainstorm to find possible solutions. This is a good start to get our minds’ thinking.  Business, however, is not free.  If we don’t inject reality into the equation and identify what our limitations are as well, we will always come up with solutionss that we cannot obtain.

Identify the right desired outcome

It is critical that the right issues are identified or we may find ourself running off on a wild goose chase.  During the movie, the scouts were operating on the premise that they had to find replacements for each individual player they lost in order to build the team back up.

The mindset difference that changed the game for them was to look instead at the desired outcome as an entity.  It isn’t about the individual player but rather how the team does overall.  In baseball, that equates to how many runs they achieve which starts with how many times they get to each of the bases.

In business, if we start by looking at the desired outcome, aka our goals, rather than the individual skillsets we’re losing, we open ourselves up to more possibilities and more solutions that will fit within our constraints.  For instance, if we lose our top salesperson, we don’t necessarily have to go out and find another top salesperson to replace hime/her.  The desired outcome isn’t to get a top salesperson; the desired outcome is to sell the same amount of product to maintain current profit margins.  You can see from this example that the solution may be a person with a completely different skillset that can help our business accomplish the same goals.  It may not even be a physical person.

Identify the right required skills

During the movie, one of the biggest objections to the players selected was that none had experience covering a particular position on the field – namely first base.  However, being able to play a particular position is a matter of training, not necessarily skill.  Given the right coaching and support, someone else might be able to fill in the position.  At the same time, there are some skillsets, such as being an effective pitcher that have to be present for someone to even attempt to fill the role.

In business, we often confuse skills that are trainable versus those that are inherent.  We may be stuck in seeing only one way to perform a particular task.  This leads us to overlook those we have internally who can be trained to have the desired skills we need.  Training someone who already fits with our culture, who is interested and desires to learn something new can be very advantageous to the organization and a lot more cost effective than bringing onboard a whole new employee.

If we do have to hire a person, by focusing on the right skillsets, we open ourselves up to more candidates and potentially better salary ranges.

So there you have it, from a simple movie about changing the face of baseball comes a great canvas on how to approach hirning.  It all involves spending time to correctly identify the right problem, outcome, and skills.

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