I’ve been a baseball nut ever since I was a kid. So it’s great living in the hometown of the St. Louis Cardinals, the second winningest team in baseball history. They make the playoffs virtually every year, and their presence permeates life in the region from April to October. Every game draws a virtual sell-out crowd that energizes the home team and makes most opponents green with envy.
Lots of factors have contributed to the team’s phenomenal success over the years, and you can get a lot of arguments about what’s most important. Recently, I came across a great video clip that highlights one of those factors, and it applies to businesses as well as baseball teams.
Be Obsessed with Getting Better
It’s captured in an entertaining 11-minute video clip featuring Dr. Jason Selk, who was hired in 2006 as a mental fitness coach for the Cardinals.
Selk weaves an engaging tale of his first day on the job when then manager Tony LaRussa told him sternly that he had 10 minutes to talk with the team. Somewhat shaken but remaining undaunted, he managed to step up to the proverbial plate and turn those 10 minutes into a 6-year career.
During the few fateful minutes when he was “trying out for the team,” Selk was struck by what he saw as a key to their success. What he observed is true for every successful company striving to create an organization where people love to work and customers love doing business. He calls it an obsession for improvement – a passion to learn every minute, to soak in everything you can and make adjustments every step along the way every day all the time.
Minor Improvements – Major Impact
Teams like that – whether it’s baseball or business – know that success isn’t about the big things, the home runs. It’s more about “small-ball,” the base hits and all the little things that add up to success over time. Sure, home runs are exciting, and they sometimes win a game. But the teams that win a 162-game season rarely hit the most home runs.
Here are some revealing stats to prove the point. There are 30 teams in major league baseball. In 2013, the Cardinals were 27th on that list in home runs – and they missed winning the World Series against Boston by one game. This year, the Cardinals made it to the National League Championship series, and they finished 29th in home runs.
Base Hits Beat Homeruns Over Time
That same basic philosophy is at the heart of our ImaginAction System – a tool for getting employees deeply engaged in systematic continuous improvement. Traditional suggestion programs promote the notion that “bigger is better” – the home run syndrome. And guess what? That kind of approach encourages employees to pass right by all the “base hits” that add up to winning in the long run.
The ImaginAction System starts with the timeless principle that “it’s the little things that count.” It’s designed to focus on the constant day-to-day opportunities for improvement that everyone can identify and employees have control over. And guess what? When the system fosters lots of little improvements, it also generates more big ones.
That’s just one of the distinctive features of the ImaginAction System, and the results are compelling. The system typically generates 3-5 times the number of implemented improvements over the traditional suggestion program. It also increases the annual participation rate from the typical 10%-15% of employees to more than 60%.
Regardless of what approach you use, don’t let your organization get caught in the “home run trap.” Always remember, the key to winning in the long run is systematic small-ball woven throughout day-to-day operations rooted in an obsession for continuous improvement.
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