From Worst to First: Lessons from the Red Sox Comeback
This month I’m thrilled to co-author this blog with my 18-year old son, Ben Weiner, whose knowledge and love of sports is at an All-Star level compared to my young rookie status.
Together we apply lessons learned from the amazing comeback story of our beloved Red Sox (Worst-To-First) to help you think about your business in a new light. Whether you’re struggling to grow your firm or to turn your losses into World Series caliber wins, there are valuable lessons to be learned for everybody (even Yankees fans)!
Just over 13 months ago the Boston Red Sox found themselves in the cellar of the American League East Division with a 69-93 record, the worst the franchise had posted in nearly a half century. The team had over a year’s worth of clubhouse problems ranging from drinking beer before and during games to players flat out not getting along. Plus, there was so much bad karma in the locker room that it couldn’t help but affect their on-field performance.
If you’ve spent any time in the world of business, then you’ve most likely been in this position –struggling with daily drama that has nothing to do with the actual business you’re running or working in. Unfortunately all of this negative energy has a huge impact on what you deliver for clients and eventually, if unresolved, on your bottom line. It’s hard to stay focused when you’re consumed with these diversions, but in order to achieve your true goals, focus is a MUST!
So how did the Sox launch their turnaround and what lessons can you take away and apply to your business? The first big move to clean up the club was made in late August 2012, when the Red Sox agreed to send big name players Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford to the LA Dodgers in exchange for lessor known and prospect players. Beckett was in the middle of many of the clubhouse troubles that had followed and haunted the team over the course of the season and the 7-20 September collapse the previous season. This deal sent over $250 million in future salaries to LA and cleared up plenty of space for offseason acquisitions.
But they didn’t stop with the rank and file, they took a hard look at the leadership too. The Sox dropped manager Bobby Valentine just one year after bringing him in to replace Terry Francona. Valentine’s relationship with players and management in the clubhouse was poor at best and identifying a leader who was a better fit became a top priority in the offseason.
Business owners: when was the last time you cleaned house? Have your star performers begun to disappoint you but you haven’t addressed nor corrected the situation? Are all your players in their proverbial “right seats on your bus” or do some seem out of place now that your company has grown? If you are experiencing any of these common growing pains, then you know it’s impacting your performance.
These challenges go beyond personnel so when cleaning house you also need to review your systems, processes and even your products and/or services. Are these working in your favor or have they outgrown their original value? As business owners we wear so many hats that sometimes we don’t spend the precious time required to sit down and evaluate what is no longer a logical part of our business operation. This time of year is perfect for re-evaluating all aspects of your business and making much needed and oftentimes overdue changes to people, processes and products. Do you need to clear out space for new acquisitions?
For the Red Sox, the 2012 offseason was a huge success from the start, trading with the Toronto Blue Jays for manager John Farrell, who was the pitching coach for the Red Sox from 2007, when the team captured their 7th World Series title, until 2010. Farrell brought back a familiar and well-liked face to the clubhouse. Farrell’s prior success with the pitching staff was a result of the respect they had for him and he quickly recreated a will-to-perform that the pitching staff had lost. The Red Sox also signed free agents. Not only did these players perform on the field, but they also brought a will-to-win to the Red Sox clubhouse that was truly lacking.
The phrase ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way’ clearly epitomized the performance of the team in the past season and helps emphasize how critical it is for every organization to ensure their passion to win (however winning is defined) isn’t lost at any level. This lesson can clearly be applied to businesses that have lost their way. Comebacks don’t just happen in baseball. They happen all the time in business but ONLY when the team and the leaders strive to make it happen. I have had the honor of watching many business owners go from being in the red to driving profitable growth.
World Series Caliber wins are never easy – they take courage, leadership and a team willing to put the time into the dream to ensure the turnaround happens and sticks!
Finally, Spring training in Fort Myers, FL brought a revamped and refreshed team committed to making a splash in the AL East. Heartbreakingly, just 15 days into the season, on April 15th, 2013, the city of Boston was struck by tragedy when 2 pressure cooker bombs exploded on Boylston Street near the finish line of the 117th running of the Boston Marathon. The Red Sox had just finished a 3-2 victory at Fenway Park that afternoon when they received the horrific news. Third baseman Will Middlebrooks tweeted out his condolences for the tragic event and added a hashtag: #BostonStrong, which grew to become not only a motto for the city, but a way of life.
The Red Sox returned home that Friday, April 19th for 10-game home stand but the first game was postponed due to ongoing searches for the suspects of the bombing attacks. The next day, the Red Sox felt it was safe enough to play and they wore home jerseys that did not read the usual “Red Sox” across the chest, but instead “Boston,” and David Ortiz grabbed the microphone prior to the start of the game to talk to the Fenway Faithful and yelled out, “This is our f*****g city!” and from that point on, this was a different team.
They had one vision and a new camaraderie. They had something important to play for; the victims, the fans, and the city they loved. What are YOU playing for and who’s inspiring and supporting you and your team? Without support and motivation – those big wins are really hard to achieve.
This determination played out through the season and proved the adage: Where there is a will, there is a way. The Red Sox went on to win the American League East Division title, their 7th all time; the American League Pennant, their 13th all time; and their 8th World Series title, all in dramatic and heroic fashion. The team dreamed of winning, they had a passion to win, and they proved it through every pitch, every hit, every walkoff win (all 11, impressive!), and every single awesome beard.
When the dream is bigger than the obstacle, nothing can stop you.
A lesson learned over and over by sports players, fans and business owners. Ben and I have never been so proud to call ourselves Bostonians. From worst to first, anything is possible.#BostonStrong