Leveraging Your High Potential Employees: How to Hit an HR Homerun Based on Moneyball

What could possibly link baseball and HR? Here is how to get inspired by Moneyball and place your bets on high potential employees!

Team Building
People Strategy

Cindy Boisvert

Sunday, March 22, 2015


Building a capable team, hiring the best, retaining only the most efficient… all of this to reach a single goal: to ensure the success of your enterprise while relying on your most precious asset – your employees.

One way to go about it is to make use of well-known strategies, such as hiring the candidates with the most pertinent experience, recruiting those with the most appropriate academic competencies and selecting those who most successfully convinced you during the interview. But here is the option I propose: focus on the high potential employees. I intend to convince you (or at least try!) with the help of the movie Moneyball.

Here are a few tips that you can implement in your HR strategies that are inspired from the approach seen in the movie.

Similarities between Moneyball and Evaluating High Potential Employees

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I strongly suggest you do so (though, admittedly, my passion for baseball might contribute to my eagerness).

If you dislike this sport, however, please don’t run away just yet – I promise that you will still understand the comparisons drawn here, even if you have no clue what a double play or an infield fly are.

What Is Moneyball About?

This cinematographic adaptation is based on real-life events and tells the story of Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s, a major baseball league team. Unlike the other hyper-wealthy teams, this one has an extra-tight budget; hence, our protagonist tries to create a capable team despite deep financial troubles and the departure of key players, whom he was no longer able to pay.

Moneyball movie

source: internet movie database

What happens next is where it gets more interesting: the A’s attempt to bypass the classical measures of talent and performance assessment by exploiting sabermetrics, a modern approach to statistics and analysis.

By establishing a set of parameters meant to objectively study the velocity of an athlete, this approach determines a result that is rooted in standard analysis and tangible statistical comparisons. In other words: how do you compare the speed of two players without making them run after each other while timing the event? Just try comparing a 1940ies player and a modern one… Good luck!

Let’s leave the topic of sports aside for a moment and have a look at the parallel to be drawn between this measurement and the measurement of human capital at work.

It’s Not Just CVs and Diplomas Anymore

Moneyball is based on the idea that, to this day, the general knowledge acquired by baseball professionals, like coaches and scouts, can be flawed. Indeed, sometimes, statistics drawn from past experience, such as the accumulated points or stolen bases, cannot in fact predict the true talent of a player.

Same goes for hiring high potential employees: we should no longer rely solely on people’s pasts. I am not saying that having relevant experience in a given field or academic environment is worthless! I am simply saying that we are now living in times when these experiences are complementary to the true potential an employee occupying a certain job.

I suggest you try evaluating an employee’s potential by attempting to detect elements of their personality that may be hidden below the surface, such as character traits, values, interests and motivations. What makes these workers and potential candidates so precious to you? Remember, we want more than simply good employees – we want THE BEST employees for YOUR organization.

Which leads me to my next point…

Measure and Rely on Your Employees’ Potential

Let me ask you the following question: how can you measure productivity? What about talent? Should we time two employees performing the same task in order to come up with some answers? Absolutely not!

It is crucial to understand different individuals’ natural reflexes in order to be able to detect high potential employees. Plus, in order to build the perfect dream team, complementarity between individuals is essential.

Moneyball built its team according to the players’ potential as well as their compatibility level as a team. If a batter has a tendency to reach the bases, awesome! But if the following hitter can make twice the points when there is a runner on the bases, it is a match made in heaven and will allow the whole team to perform magnificently and reach success.

Hence, make sure that you understand the potential of your key players, but also surround them with professionally compatible people in order for the whole organization to benefit from the arrangement!

The SME Competing Against Large Corporations

With the war on talent raging on and on, how can small companies financially compete with giants, who can promise so much more when it comes to salaries? The answer is simple: they can do so by choosing to give a chance to the potential and motivations of individuals. Why? Because most of the time, salary is not a long-term motivator.

Make sure you know the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic factors, and study your employees’ motivations in order to strengthen your company with their talents and grow alongside them. Intrinsic motivations contribute to job satisfaction (for instance, self-accomplishment) while extrinsic motivation (like salary or hierarchical status) have little influence on overall job satisfaction levels.

In Moneyball, the A’s (the small enterprise) with a total value of $41 million, managed to be just as competitive as the Yankees (the very, very large company), whose value was $125 million.

The All-Important Relationship Between the Manager and the Employee

In the movie, the team manager and his managing director had a hard time agreeing with one other. The reasons for conflict were legion, their relationship was tense, and the whole organization had to suffer the consequences… Do you see where I am going with this?

The relationship of any person in a management position and their employees is so very important to the proper functioning of a team or organization. Micromanagement, where every little detail is observed under a magnifying glass, is clearly not a solution. But employee empowerment, on the other hand, is! It is a question of trust and communication, as well as the recognition employees’ potential.

Not only should the manager have the right profile to lead his team, but there should also always be a good the fit between the manager and his team!

If your manager is strongly result-oriented and directs a team that is focused on teamwork and collaboration, there will surely be a clash of values that will not benefit anyone.

Build a Winning Team and the Players Will Stay

It is one thing to ensure that employees are comfortable in their positions, all the while having the natural talents to respond to the requirements of the job and not having to go against the flow and exhaust themselves at the task. It is a quite another to make sure that their professional relationship with the manager is in good health. But let us not forget to also consider the team in which they must perform!

Make sure that you know and understand the members of your team in order to be able to rely on their global talents. It is actually a wonderful empowerment tool, and one of the keys to employee retention and organizational performance. The Oakland A’s would never have known as much success had they not considered each player’s individual talents and how they matched up with their teammates’.

With a worthy employee retention plan, you will be able to make sure that your employees are satisfied, and will therefore not have the sudden urge to go see how things are done elsewhere… simply because they are happy and comfortable with their work!

Of course, not all conventional baseball professionals agree with the conclusions drawn by the A’s in Moneyball. However, some teams did hire full-time sabermetric professionals in order to evaluate the players’ potential. Some HR tools can allow you to do the same: to place your bets on natural talent, on the complementarity of individuals and on true potential.

There are only two things left to do now: discover the true potential of your current and future employees and, obviously… go see the movie!

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