moneyball, organizational change, Joe GirardI am not really a baseball fan, but I was watching the movie “Moneyball” the other day and it felt like I got slapped in the face with a perfect example of how many companies struggle with organizational change.  I was so excited that I started pausing and rewinding the movie (thanks PVR!) and taking notes about the glaringly obvious similarities to organizational issues in any business.  I have also included some clips off Youtube so you get a break from reading…  Let me know if any of the clips don’t work, and I will replace them!

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t watched it yet, I do give away the story line, so watch it and come back, or read on and then watch it with the same eye that I used.  Either way, read this stuff.  It’s good.  

Setting the Stage

The movie opens with the Oakland Athletics having just lost the last game of the season and they had a massive set of challenges to overcome. As we go through the scenes, I will give you some take-aways for your business and how to manage your own organizational change.

I am also going to reference the four stages of team development as we go along. Tomorrow, I will post about these stages, so make sure you have subscribed to the list to get that post as well. I will discuss what the stages are, and more importantly, how to work through them as a leader. When making changes, building teams, or launching new initiates/projects, keep in mind that people go through these four stages:

  1. Forming: The team is formed, positions are created, and roles are explained. This is where everyone is kind of finding their place in the group, seeing who the emerging leaders will be and feeling each other out.
  2. Storming: People start to vocalize their concerns and some are adamantly opposed to the change becoming agitated. This is where many changes get derailed because it seems like the project is not going to be successful and people are unhappy. Push through
  3. Norming: People start to come together, accept their futures that the change is here to stay, and they begin to comply. There is still not yet a dramatic lift in results, but being patient through this face and re-enforcing the best behaviors will get you to the last stage
  4. Performing: Now we’re talking! Why don’t most changes and teams get to this stage? Because it’s hard work, as you can see from the last two stages. It takes a string leader with conviction to battle through the rough waters.

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Now, let’s talk Moneyball.

M & Ms

The first realization for me while watching Moneyball happened towards the beginning of the movie. Oakland Athletics GM, Billy Bean (Brad Pitt) was sitting there with all of his scouts and managers and they were discussing how to get the results they needed this year. Two things were against them though:

  1. They had less than a quarter of the budget of the teams they were competing against
  2. They had just lost three of their star players

All the “managers” in the room were sitting around talking about solutions, and my buddy Brad Pitt says, “We’re not talking about the real problem here.”  

Watch the clip:

Head Scout – “We all understand what the problem is.”
Pitt – “Okay good, what’s the problem?”
Scout 1 – “We have to replace three key players in our lineup.”
Pitt – “No”
Scout 2 – “It’s the same as it’s ever been. We’ve gotta replace these guys with what we have existing.”
Pitt – “No”

Then a few more answers he says no to, until Pitt says that the problem is that it is rich teams versus poor teams. It’s an unfair game. The heart is gone. We are talking the same old nonsense. We need to think differently because we are the last dog at the bowl and the runt of the litter always dies.

Then a scout speaks up and says, “You need to let us do our job. We know what we need to do.”
Pitt – “Do we?”
Scout – “We’ve been doing this a long time.”

They keep discussing how they need to find star players to replace the ones they lost. And they need to find the money to pay for it…

Take away: A lesson I learned years ago is that two things kill productivity. M & Ms. Managers and Meetings.  Think about how that applies to your own personal experience in business. Managers and meetings – a bunch of people sitting around a room trying to solve new problems with old solutions. Explaining their inadequacies away and justifying their ideas with “experience” and “that’s just how we’ve always done it.”

Don’t get caught in an endless cycle of the same problems year after year. When the market changes, and you have a problem that won’t go away, don’t fall back on experience. Don’t resist change. And when your team complains, help them understand or find a better team that embraces change and thinks differently. Maybe it’s time to clean house?  Find people who will go into battle with you.  Check out my other post on the football coach who never punts.

Remember that if you continue to do what you’ve always done, you’ll continue to get what you’ve always got.

[Tweet “Two things kill productivity. M & Ms. Managers and Meetings”]

Going Out on a Limb

A few scenes later, Pitt meets Jonah Hill’s character who is an economics grad and has some insights into the business of baseball. Different than how anyone else looks at the game. Hill takes a scientific approach to the way players are measured and shows Pitt a better way to look at performance and challenges the archaic mindset about paying for players.

Watch the clip:

Hill – “The business of baseball is buying wins. Buying runs.”

It was about matching the skills to the needs. Hill explains to Pitt that baseball needs to change its thinking and get away from spending cash on superstar players. Moneyball.

Hill says to Pitt that it’s about using all the intelligence they have on players and getting things down to one number.

It is about using the formulas so they can find VALUE in people nobody else can see. Players are overlooked for a variety of unbiased reasons.

Hill says to Pitt that based on the data and the skills needed, he can look through a database of 20,000 available players and find 25 players that everyone undervalues. So that he can create a championship team that they can afford. An island of misfit toys.

Watch the clip:

They then explain the numbers that show why they don’t need to replace the star player with an equally talented person for the same price, but actually THREE people for less than the total, that combined (and within the formulated plan) will meet the desired results.

Take Away: During the forming stage, are you being clear with your team what the expectations will be and who will be involved? Ensure your vision is shared and that you have basic buy-in from the team. Do you have expensive franchise players just because they’re there? Look at your business and determine the skills needed to match your organizational goals. It is not about having a few superstars. It is about finding people who are being undervalued, giving them the opportunity to use their best skills, and getting the things done to meet the goals of your business.

Make sure you have clearly understood your critical number and mapped out what it will take to get there. Then go and find the right skills to get you there.  And find people to support.  Look for those intrinsically talented people you can get behind.  Find these talented people and support them at all costs.  Help them grow and give them the chance to create magic.

Everyone’s a Critic

Pitt buys into Hills plan and hires him to be his assistant GM. He takes him to the next meeting with his scouts and introduces him and the plan. His head scout asks to speak with him and it doesn’t go well.

Scout – “You’re discounting 150 years of baseball history, the way it’s always been done, and our scout experience.”
Pitt – “Adapt or die. You can’t predict talent any better than anyone else.”
Scout – “You’re never gonna get another job when [the owner] fires you.”
They have a scuffle and the scout ends up being fired. Pitt reviews some players with another scout and the scout tells him, “He can’t do it. He lacks confidence.”
Pitt – “Well, give him some.”

Pitt goes over and pats Hill on the back and says in a serious voice, “This better work…just kidding ya! Haha!”

You can see clearly that the group is going through the storming stage and Pitt has to stick to his guns and back his plan. He sends a clear message that what had worked before, does not work now, and times have changed. And he BACKS Hills character on this. He owns the idea along with him.

Now that they plan is underway and the new players on board, one of the players says to Pitt, “Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Nobody else had given me a chance.”

Next we get the disgruntled manager, played by Philip Seymour-Hoffman who tells Pitt to stay out of the discussion on how he should be using the players.

Seymour-Hoffman – “It’s about you doing your job and leaving me to manage this team you assembled for me.”
Pitt – “I didn’t assemble them for you.”

Then as the season gets underway, and the team loses 14 out of 17 games, the critics become quite vocal.

  • “He tried a new approach and failed”
  • “He bought a ticket on the Titanic.”
  • “They are calling for his head.”

And to top it off, Seymour-Hoffman keeps going back to his old ways.

Take Away: Everyone has an opinion.  And most often the first opinions you get from other’s are going to be why you can’t do something.  Because they don’t know how they would do it and they are scared.  If you are going to create change, you must expect that people will tell you it can’t be done. You have to welcome the criticism and back your plan and the people involved. You also must be willing to lose people that don’t support what you are trying to do. It will not be easy, but stand for what you believe is right!

Do you have people that undermine your vision? Do you have critics all around that tell you it won’t work? Can you stand strong and have conviction to see your plan through?

Your markets are changing. Your customers have changed. Adapt or die. Innovate or die. Ask the REAL questions and find the REAL answers.

[Tweet “Your markets are changing. Your customers have changed. Adapt or die.”]

Going All In

After seeing another loss, Pitt goes into the change room of the players and sees them having fun, playing music, and dancing around. Up until now, Pitt had never interacted with players. He didn’t want to build relationships with them in case he had to get rid of them. But he had enough.  This was my favorite scene from the movie.

Watch the clip:

Pitt yells out – “Is losing fun?”
Players – “No”
Pitt – “Then what are you having fun for?”
He points at the ceiling and it becomes dead silent. He says, “That. Is what losing sounds like.”

Pitt then goes and trades two players. One of them because Seymour-Hoffman kept playing him when Pitt told him to use a different guy. And the other one, because he was the one making losing fun for everyone else. The good time guy.

Hill – “What are you doing?”
Pitt – “Cleaning House.”
Pitt – “We’re not asking the right question. The question is, ‘Do you believe in this thing or not?’”
Hill – “Yes I do.”

Take Away: You may have a great group of people working for you that are fun to be around but underperforming. If that is the case, ask yourself if you have a team of fun losers. Harsh, but true. Don’t let relationships cloud your judgment. Don’t let past performance dictate future decisions.

Are you loyal to people just because they have always been there?

Do you have the balls to back your goals 100%? Can you make the tough decisions to take your business to the next level and find a way to win? Can you go all in with your plan and go past the point of no return? If you are going to make big changes, will you do whatever it takes?

Are you willing to send a message to the entire team that you will see this thing through? By allowing bad behavior to continue, you say to everyone that they don’t need to try hard. That their jobs are safe. And then what happens? The ones who were prepared to go to battle for you and work their tails off, just stop showing up.

And most often we lose talented people without ever knowing why.

Training, Development, and Empowerment

Everyone has strengths and everyone has weaknesses. As a leader, it’s what you do with them. The next part of the movie jumps to Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt explaining to individual players what they find in the data. They sit down with the first player and show him the reports.

Hill says to a player, “When you are getting your ‘pitch’ you are hitting 625 (63%) and crushing it. But when you swing low and away, you are at 158 (16%).”

They show a few scenes like this where players are shown the real truth behind their performance.

Pitt then goes and visits David Justice, a smart experienced veteran of the team who the critics say is past his prime. When Justice cops a bit of an ego, Pitt helps him understand…

Pitt – “We’re not playing you for the player you used to be. We’re paying you for the player you are now. You get what we are trying to do here. We need you to be a leader to the younger players. A role model.”

They then approach a former catcher who can’t make the throws anymore and they ask him to play first base. They take him completely out of his comfort zone. He reluctantly accepts.

This is the part of the movie that shows the beginning of the norming stage. Everyone settles into their roles and accepts that change is happening.

Take Away: How can you look at the individuals around you, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and find a way to help them build a growth plan? As John Maxwell would say, “You need to be caring before you can be candid.” How are you showing your team that you are helping them be the best versions of themselves, rather than a means to YOUR end?

Can you be specific enough in your training that your team REALLY sees what you see? Can you also challenge people to get out of their comfort zone? Can you push them to their potential?

And…can you empower your current leaders to be better role models to the up-and-comers? Can they step in and echo your plan? Read my post on the Five Levels of Leadership

Thinking Strategically

Now that everyone starts to buy into the plan, they outline the strategy for the team that flies in the face of conventional baseball wisdom.

  • The goal is to get on base more
  • Take more walks
  • STOP attacking
  • When the enemy makes mistakes, don’t interrupt them
  • No more stealing
  • It is a war of attrition
  • Play smart
  • Get on base

Can you imagine? Totally different!

A player calls Pitt out and says, “You pay me to steal.”
Pitt responds with, “No, I pay you to get on base, not get thrown out at second.”

Take Away: How can you create a long-term strategy that focuses on the small steps all added up together? Not tactics and not wins. I will be writing later this week on Strategy vs Tactics.

Can you get laser-focused on the skills to target and how they fit your strategy? Can you then articulate it to your team? Build the strategy, show them how they contribute, and help them understand how every little action adds up to big results.

Cultural Shift

In the movie at this point, the team starts to gain momentum, seemingly out of nowhere. They post a decent record of 17 wins/4 losses. The critics now start commending the manager and not Pitt.

Pitt continues to work with the players, connect with them, and show he cares about their progress. He promotes their strengths and empowers them.

At this point, Pitt has changed the culture.

They are still in the norming stage, and they are feeling pretty good.

Take Away: During the norming stage, you must model and celebrate the best practices, showcasing those who are doing it right. Be totally present and involved with players and their progress, as well as be open to suggestions that fit in line with your plan. At this point, people will start to offer ideas!

And when things are going well, let your managers take credit. Always.


Now, Moneyball accelerates and the Oakland Athletics seem to come out of nowhere! They end up breaking the record for the longest win streak in baseball! They do the impossible and post a record season. With a crazy strategy and misfits.

The fans become obsessively loyal and have something to believe in again! Very exciting.

Sticking it out to the end brought him to the performance stage. They achieved the impossible and beat the critics.

“If we win on our budget with this team, we will have changed the game.”

They don’t win the World Series, and Brad Pitt is a bit broken hearted. But in the end he is offered a job with the Boston Redsox which would have made him the highest paid GM in sports history. The owner was blown away at how he really did CHANGE the game.

Watch the clip:

He turns them down to keep going with the A’s, but as the credits roll, the story tells us that Boston takes the strategy and two years later wins the World Series.

Take Away: What can you do to change the game? What will you do to battle adversity and shut the critics up? Will you be willing to go through the pain and suffering, to fire people you care about, to make necessary changes, to stick to a strategy, and take a risk? Because you believe? Can you do something so amazing that YOUR fans will go crazy for what you try and do?

[Tweet “Think differently. Be daring. Stand for something.”]

Adapt or die.

How will you stand for something and see it through this year?  How will YOU apply these organizational change lessons to your company? 

Well that was a longer than usual post, but I thought that I would share this with you. I was so inspired by Moneyball that I made a plan to take action with the lessons I learned. Please make comments below and let me know how these lessons apply to you. Do you have experience with this too? Share, share, share!  I plan on growing my audience this year and any help from you is greatly appreciated!  Tell me what I can do to provide awesome content and answer your questions.  

Joe Girard
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