I watched the film, Moneyball last night. A true story.

For those who have not seen the film, it’s the true story of the Oakland A’s  general manager Billy Beane’s successful attempt to assemble a baseball team on a lean budget by employing statistical analysis to acquire new players.

Historically, baseball coaches had valued athleticism. They still do. They’d be mad not to. But they had probably overvalued it.

From the bedsit and campus computers of a maths student who played fantasy baseball – a game in which real on-field events are translated into points – came the heretical realisation that some players, while not as traditionally elegant or as fast or as strong as the others, were nevertheless highly effective in some important aspect of the game.

Such was the weight of accumulated industry wisdom, and the size of the resultant blind spot that had built up over the years in the eyes of coaches and scouts, these players were significantly undervalued.

The Oakland A’s – led by their charismatic and maverick manager Billy Beane (played by Brdd Pitt in the film) – were the first team to recruit a stats expert (in this case one the aforementioned maths student) to their scouting staff and so exploit this inefficiency in the market.

(Spoiler Alert!) Billy Beane goes on to recruit bargain-bin players whom the scouts have labeled as flawed, but have game-winning potential. The A’s go on win an unprecedented 20 consecutive games, setting the American League record.

For me, the film was not really about baseball, it was about creating a winning team based on measuring and predicting the performance of players or, indeed, of people.

So, how might this apply to business?

Well, I’m reminded of multiple businesses, with whom I have worked, who have operated with the belief  that those with good grades who come from highly ranked universities will make the best performers. Or, indeed, the fact that someone who has a strong track-record from a similar role in their industry will be a high performer in their company. So their recruitment, selection, and promotion process is based on these drivers, some might say those of “Athleticism”, similar to that of Baseball.

Overwhelmingly, though, when you actually do some analysis, the real answer to high performance lies somewhere else, not in Athleticism, which (taking the Baseball analogy) is often over-valued. It’s elsewhere – in a person’s wider characteristics:

  • It can be a behavioural thing: it might be a person’s ability to perform under unstructured conditions, for example.
  • It can be a motivational thing: it might be a person’s desire to make a difference in some way.
  • It can be a values thing: it might be a person’s curiosity and desire to learn that is a vital part of who they are.

It can be a combination of these things. It’s always about the overall fit. Like, Billy Beane, you just gotta work out what it is.

Once you’ve worked out what the data telling,  you can then start to measure it. And there’s no excuse because the tools are out there to measure these things…

  • We can measure someone’s Behavioural Preferences – how they think, act and behave themselves and around others – their colleagues and customers.
  • We can measure what motivates someone –  the things that will drive them to perform their best.
  • We can measure someone’s Values – and whether they fit our culture and our ways of doing things.

Are people predictable though? And some say that they’re not. My Grandma used to say, “there’s now’t so funnier than folk” (she was a Yorkshire lass).

I disagree, people are highly consistent. Who we are – is extremely predictable.

If you take me, for instance, I will always

  • Get enthused by the new, bored with the old.
  • Be more creative. rather than logical.
  • Be motivated by making  difference (and getting feedback from others on achieving such), not by the money.

Put me in this kind of environment, I flourish. Put me in the opposite (which happened to me once) I suffocate (I lasted 3 months).

Billy Beane and the many companies, with whom I have worked, have proved that measuring and predicting people performance is possible. And, indeed, with better performance comes better results.

I invite you to think differently about your hiring – break the rules (this is my creative side coming out!) Because thinking differently delivers different and (and in this case, predictably) better results!