Saga of One Baseball Player Speaks Volumes About Being Open to Change

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"I was working way too hard to make 20-something errors a year," said all-star Texas Rangers center fielder Ian Desmond in a story in The Washington Post yesterday. Desmond had been an outstanding and popular shortstop—arguably the hardest position to play—for the Washington Nationals for a long time, but in recent years his batting average had been slipping and his errors increasing.

So the Nationals let him go last year. After other teams also passed him up, the Rangers had an idea. Let's move him to the outfield—less stress and we have a need there. So far, the idea looks brilliant. Desmond is having the best year of his career, and the reason may be that he has found the right place in an organization.

This reminded me of a quote from Dan Oswald, CEO of BLR, at the SIPA 2016 Conference.

"[Change] starts with people. Building trust within the organization, getting [the staff] to buy into the vision, the new revenue streams. Giving up what they know and think they're good at can be frightening. You have to convince them that it's absolutely necessary and they can trust you... If you hire the right people, they can change and adapt. The ones who don't want to change are the challenging ones."

In the opening CEO panel at SIPA 2016, Lynn Freer, president of Spidell Publishing, spoke about the importance of "empowering key employees to be successful" and "seeing employees grow with the company." Brian Crotty, CEO and president of OPIS, an IHS company, talked about finding people in your company with special skills. 

Robin Crumby, founder of Melcrum, said that his initial goal was to bring in people with different skills. "I was 27 and didn't have much experience... [There were] some false steps, senior leaders who didn't work out, but eventually we found a team that worked well together and had complementary skills and told us to get out of the way."

Unfortunately, the Nationals did not have the vision to suggest a change to Desmond. And ironically, while they are in first place this year, their center fielder is not close to being as productive as Desmond has been.

I can think of times in my career where the specific job I was doing was not the best fit for me. But, of course, I wanted to keep the job and there was no boss like Oswald to approach about finding a better fit. It's not an easy thing for an organization, but it could pay dividends.

Donna Jefferson, CEO of Jefferson Communications, spoke about their staff meetings where she believes "it's good to include everyone. We might get answers that we don't expect. Turns out our art director has creative business ideas. There are no wrong answers at this meeting."

You want an atmosphere where employees feel they can communicate freely and use their strengths. "We won't talk about salaries but you can ask [higher ups] about anything else," Oswald said. "It's honest, open and two-way. We try hard to foster that in the organization."

It appears clear now that the stress of playing shortstop was affecting Desmond. That type of stress could affect anyone. It's one thing to take on a challenge and extend your abilities, but another to tackle something that makes you uncomfortable.

"I think [Desmond] stands for everything we believe in and what we want our young players to be and what we want our veterans to emulate," said a Texas Ranger executive. "His performance speaks for itself, but what he does for our franchise outside the white lines has been equally impressive, equally valuable."

Maybe there's an Ian Desmond in your organization. It would be a shame to lose that person to find out later that she or he could have helped you in other ways.


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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…