I have been a Cubs fan all of my life. Some of my fondest memories of Wrigley Field were shared with my step-grandfather Victor, who has long since passed away and never got a chance to see his Cubbies win a World Series. I brought him with me in spirit to Game 3 of the World Series this year. While at the game, I also teared up seeing the many father and son duos in attendance, in addition to the many octogenarians who had waited their entire lives for this moment in time.
Is it a coincidence that there are 108 seams in a professional baseball, the exact same number of years it took the Chicago Cubs to win a World Series? I think not. In fact, I think it was destiny, especially since many of the moves the team made to end the single-largest championship drought in history are a mirror image of what companies do to reach Best-in-Class employee engagement status.
Let’s take a close look at why the Cubs ended a spectacular season in world-class fashion and why companies should emulate these key success factors:
1. Hire The Right Senior Leaders
After the Ricketts family bought the Chicago Cubs from the Tribune Company, they made the sage move to hire a proven turn-around leader as the President of Baseball Operations, Mr. Theo Epstein. The Ricketts were smart in hiring a proven leader, as Epstein had already turned around the Boston Red Sox and led them to a World Series victory.
2. Hire The Right Managers
The next seminal success factor was when Epstein hired the right manager for the team, the unusual and experienced Joe Maddon. Maddon was more than instrumental in making the 2016 Chicago Cubs the winningest team in the game, orchestrating all the key on-field decisions, such as establishing the lineup cards, determining pitcher rotations, and defining team strategy. But by far Madden’s greatest success was guiding the culture of the team and locker room environment, specifically encouraging his players to stay loose, have fun, and not choke under the pressure to win as the best team in baseball, especially during the playoffs.
3. Establish Clear Goals & Prioritize
While faced with what looked like an immediate need to fix at least 30 things wrong with the organization and team, the Ricketts, Epstein, and Maddon were quick to prioritize to three key objectives:
“Fans don’t want to hear how your values system is fantastic or your performance appraisal system is great. But that’s important to keep us marching forward in what is a really ambitious plan – which is to win a World Series, preserve Wrigley Field and be a good neighbor.”
– Bryan Robinson, Vice President of Human Resources, Chicago Cubs
4. Establish And Brand The Culture
Establishing a winning culture was a key to the Cubs’ success. They actually branded and titled it “The Cubs’ Way,” which is an actual manual that defines the club’s philosophy in great detail. So detailed in fact that The Cubs’ Way established which foot should hit the bag when players make a turn on the bases.
Epstein said: “The Cubs’ Way really boils down to the people — the players, obviously, but everyone, all the scouts and all the people in uniform in the Minor Leagues and the big leagues. For us to teach the game the right way, it’s more than words on the page. It comes down to how deep we dig to get connected to players to teach the game the right way, how much we care, how committed we are, how hard we work. There’s a lot that goes into this and building an organization.”
5. Develop Your People
The Cubs and their HR Department put an enormous effort into developing their staff, even establishing a partnership with Kellogg at Northwestern University. Every quarter, all of the Cubs’ front office staff attends training sessions at Kellogg. A special part of the employee development effort is focused on clearly defining career paths for each and every staff member.
6. Have Fun
Little did Joe Maddon know that when he jokingly told Javier Baez to try “not to suck” last year after Baez was called up from the minors that the saying would end up on a popular T-shirt.
And if the Cubs suffered a loss, Maddon would only allow the team 30 minutes to sulk about it, before moving on to think about how they would win their next game.
Great organizations relish in, and celebrate, their successes.
At the beginning of the first home World Series game in 108 years (Game 3), the Cubs Leadership made it a point to let all of the Cubs’ staff members walk onto the field and get acknowledged by the crowd. How awesome is that?! Their faces were beaming as they walked the warning track from right field to left field.
One of the funniest post-World Series stories that I heard was that Theo Epstein and Cubs GM Jed Hoyer celebrated their team’s World Series win by eating a goat while sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley Field, permanently extinguishing any future reference to a Billy Goat curse on the Cubs. I love it!
The similarities between how the Cubs turned around a consistently losing organization and what it takes to succeed in business are uncanny. Hiring the best talent is pivotal to the effort, but without the right culture in place, even the most talented teams will never achieve their goals. Go Cubbies!