The Original Boys of Summer: Part One

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Finally, spring is almost here. According to the calendar, March 20th is the first day of spring. The spring season always brings new hope, life and hopefully, for our shops, new business.

For me, spring also brings my favorite sport back to life. Major League Baseball starts spring training in March. I know the calendar shows the Grapefruit League starts at the end of February but even they would tell you, March. Last year, my wife and I fulfilled a dream and spent a long weekend in the Phoenix, Arizona area watching the Cactus League on the last weekend before the regular season started. I was thrilled and if you ever get the chance, I would encourage you to go out and watch.

For baseball fans, spring training is the first look at this year’s teams. In our house we support the Texas Rangers so going to spring training in Surprise, Arizona, was a chance to see this year’s new talent and a chance to evaluate our veterans. The 2015 spring training was especially interesting because after seven years with coach Ron Washington who we liked a lot, we got a new head coach and several new assistant coaches. Watching the games and the new coaches as they sat along the fence and watched their team, I was reminded although good talent can make a coach look good, it still takes a smart coach to win games. I was reminded of an article I read several years before in Business Insider. After some research, I found the article titled, “10 Business Lessons You Can Learn From Baseball,” by Bianca Male. I thought I would pass along some good advice from baseball management experts, Jeff Angus and Brian Goff that Male brought out in her article.

It’s not hard to see why baseball analogies have been used in business for ages. The sport is filled with great lessons in management and leadership that easily transfer to the business world.

“Baseball is the perfect test lab for zero-sum competition; for every win, there has to be a loss,” said Angus. “Virtually every event that makes a difference in the outcome is captured.”

Even if you’re not a baseball fan, there are many lessons you can use around the shop.

First Inning

Hiring: Team flexibility is critical

How many times have we discussed this issue? You may be surprised to find out hiring challenges everyone who has a business. When hiring, the highest-performing candidates aren’t necessarily the best candidates for your business.

“You need to build in complementary skills and the mandatory mutual-support messages and incentives. The most successful teams combine skills to meet most probable environments,” Angus said.

In other words, you don’t need a shop full of pit technicians. You need different skill sets for different positions and having the right person in the right place starts with hiring. Does anyone remember the 2011 season when the Phillies had enough of not advancing in the playoffs and went out and hired a stable full of ace pitchers? Their theory was if they had great pitchers, no one would score off of them. They violated the hiring rule and overstocked on the most talented pitchers. With an astonishing 102-60 record, the Phillies got beat in divisional playoffs. That’s right, the best pitching in the current era and they couldn’t make it out of the playoffs. The moral of the story is you can’t have too many performers and not enough players.

Second Inning

Leadership: Observe, measure and analyze your talent

You should regularly evaluate and adjust your game plan based on your observations of your team’s strengths.

Angus suggests in any organization, the single most important decisions you make are:

1.           Who you choose to hire and how you deploy them.

2.           How you learn to adjust how you use the players on your roster as the game you’re playing changes, how your players evolve and how your competitors mutate.

“As Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver explained, it’s the ballplayers who win or lose the game, rarely the manager,” Angus said. “The manager’s job is to do everything it takes to set his or her team up to win.”

It was fun while in Surprise to watch Jeff Banister, the new head coach of the Rangers. Even after the 2015 season started, he was still tweaking the lineup, trying to put the best person in the best position to bat. He also changed the lineup and even moved a few position players around. In my opinion, the reason he was the American League Manager of the Year was because he never stopped leading. Effective owners and managers must learn this lesson. Good leadership needs to happen every day. Putting your technicians in the right positions ensure your customers are taken care of.

Third Inning

Customers: Your product and its value to your customers should be driving forces behind your decisions

The success of your business rides on always considering your product’s value to your customers when making decisions. Brian Goff, economics professor and author of “From the Ballfield to the Boardroom: Management Lessons from Sports” described how MLB let the All-Star game devolve into a sort of “company softball game.”

“The embarrassment to MLB had been in the works for at least a decade as the production of the game lost touch with consumer value,” Goff said.

Your product has to be what your customer wants otherwise it will fail. Last year I developed a simple funnel for all shop decisions. When making a shop decision, if what you decide is good for the customer, it is the right decision. If your decision is to benefit the shop and not the customer, it is the wrong decision. A pet peeve of mine is when I am in a shop and the shop closes a bay or slows down their service time so the shop can take a break or send people to lunch. I always ask, “Do you think your customer is also on their lunch break?”

It is the wrong decision to lessen your staff during a good productive time for the shop. Eat lunch some other time.

Fourth Inning

Strategy: You can’t stay static

In business, you can’t stop adding, adjusting and evolving.

“Your competitors learn, adapt and re-craft their strategy, changing the returns and strengths and weaknesses of the way your approach plays out,” Goff said.

You should be doing the same. Strategy is the most interesting part of baseball to me. Good managers and owners are always considering the next move. Last year I was in a shop where the owner in an effort to save on some inventory costs, chose to install a less expensive filter. Instead, the savings he thought he would experience cost him thousands of dollars in repairs and untold damage to his reputation. Another time I worked with a shop that thought it was a good idea to close the shop early on Mondays and Wednesdays because they looked at their traffic reports and saw those were slow times. To save some labor costs, they started closing. Soon other days started slowing down. Customers who drove by on Monday or Wednesday afternoons saw the shop was closed and assumed they were closed for good. It was a bad strategy. In another case, I watched an operator stagger start and end times for his employees that resulted in keeping his labor costs manageable and always having a full crew when customers came in. That was a good strategy. Of course, the best strategy in our industry is to never stop training.

Fifth Inning

Decision-making: Decisions within an organization are never independent of one another

You can’t make decisions without considering their relationships and impact across the board.

“Key organizational components and decisions are not independent of each other,” Goff said.

For example, a manager who only hires name brand players without considering how they’ll function together and within the team is likely to crash and burn. However, the business that makes “sound decisions that [dovetail] with each other” is setting itself up for success.

 “Like with strategy, good decisions will lead to good outcomes. A wise person will realize each decision affects the next decision,” Goff said.

Always keep in mind what the overall goal is and make decisions that support it. I have seen poor decisions made to solve a short-term problem when in reality it creates a bigger problem. A few years ago, I watched an operator abandon his drug-testing program because he needed help and wasn’t getting any applications. Within a year, his new employees had run off his clientele and had replaced them with a less desired customer. That one was a bad decision that has nearly ruined his business.

In next month’s column, we will look at some other fundamental lessons about owners, managers and ultimately, success that we can learn from the great game of baseball. Batter up!

RAGAN HOLT is the quick lube advisor for National Oil & Lube News. He is available for consulting and training in the quick oil and lube industry. He can be contacted at:

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