Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Back in my university days, I played varsity baseball.  I was a pitcher and a center-fielder, but more importantly, I was pretty well aware of what my strengths and weaknesses were.  I knew the key players on the other team, their tendencies and how I should approach each of their at bats.  One sunny Saturday afternoon in the first game of a double-header, our opponents’ best hitter came to the plate with a couple of guys on base.  Now when I say best hitter, I mean this guy could absolutely rake.  He didn’t just hit balls out of the park, he hit them out of the entire stadium, across the street into the driveways of local residents.  We simply referred to him as Johnny Muscles.  You couldn’t let Johnny Muscles beat you.

Our manager called timeout and came out to the mound.  “I want you to throw him only high fastballs.”  My catcher and I were astonished.  “High fastballs?!!!” we both exclaimed.  “I know, I know, you think he is going to knock it out of the park, but trust me,” our coach said, “you have enough heat that he won’t be able to catch up to it.”  He turned around and went back to the dugout while my catcher and I stood there staring at each other.  There was no way we were going to throw high fastballs to one of the best hitters in the league.  We might be able to get away with it once, but to do it multiple times was baseball suicide.

We worked out a strategy of throwing curveballs off the plate, hoping we could get him to chase them and if he did, then maybe we could bust him inside with the odd fastball to keep him off balance.  We needed the win and couldn’t jeopardize our chances by playing a game of chicken with a big time hitter.  So after we devised our plan, we put it into effect.  After I threw the first curveball (which he chased), I peeked into the dugout and could see our manager fuming, arms crossed.  If looks could kill, I wouldn’t be writing this right now.

The guy ended up with a bloop single, just flying over our shortstop’s head, but we considered that a win in that situation.  No runs scored and we ended up getting out of the inning later completely unscathed…or so we thought.  After the game our manager came into the clubhouse and fired his clipboard off the sink, smashing it to pieces.  He gave us a pretty good tongue lashing about chain of command, how he was there to strategize and we were there to execute and to be honest, he was right. If we had concerns, we should have spoken up, but we should have also told him what we wanted to do.

I was thinking about this series of events the other day in my office because I see the parallels all the time in the workplace. Employees end up going along with strategies they don’t like and sometimes know are not going to work even though they are the ones who are in touch with the day to day business.  Who better than the people on the floor to point out any flaws with strategies coming down from above?  But the problem is, if employees actually speak up in certain situations, they don’t come with any alternate plans.  There isn’t any alternative solution provided, just a lot of negativity which the manager is going to take personally (to some degree).  Sure, a good manager will ask the employees what they think should be done or to come up with something better or at least throw out some ideas, but there are a lot of managers who don’t do this or don’t even know that they should.

I knew Johnny Muscles was strong enough and fast enough to knock my fastball into another area code, but I also knew that he though he was strong enough to pull pitches off the plate.  I should have let my manager know that and then we could have worked out something that might have resulted in an out.  Not an earth shattering bomb, not a bloop single.  It was the perfect moment for some collaboration and we missed out because the people in touch with with the situation, the people who had the most knowledge, didn’t bring that to the plate (pun completely intended).

So if you’re a manager and you have a plan that you think is brilliant (and you’re a manager, so you probably think everything you do is brilliant), take a look at your staff…are they staring off into space?  Do they look like they are holding in gas?  They very well may be, but they could also just be looking for an opportunity to make that big play.  Give them a chance.  And if you’re one of the team, speak up.  Good teams make their managers look great…and good managers usually look to return the favour.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment