What Connected Communications Professionals Can Learn From Spring Training
Like a utility player in baseball, enterprise technologists should work to make themselves more valuable within their organization.
How is baseball's spring training a metaphor for the connected communications professional? What insight can we (or our colleagues, friends, family) gain as hundreds of players vie for one of just 25 spots on a Major League team?
One spring, when working in a large corporation, I asked a co-worker, a former Minor League Baseball player, who was the last, 25th, player kept by our local Major League team? He told me it was Player A. I asked if Player A was more talented than the other players who didn't make the team. Since this colleague knew baseball fairly well, he laughed and said, no. In fact, Player A was not very talented at all.
Then why did he make the team? After thinking about it for a while, my co-worker wasn't sure. Player A didn't hit for a high average, he only hit a few home runs a season, was a rather slow base runner, and he was only an average fielder. He was just a utility player.
Herein lies the answer. The player could adequately play all 4 infield positions and 2 outfield positions (Left and Right Field). He was learning how to become the 3rd string (emergency) catcher on the team. He was a decent switch hitter. His versatility made him valuable, as it gave his manager/team more options.
This veteran utility player was smart enough to know the financial difference between the 25th player (@ $500,000/year) versus the 26th player (and in the minor leagues @ $3,000/month). He worked very hard to become as valuable as possible, playing different positions, pinch hitting, providing a good attitude/leadership and mentoring younger players. The manager and team executives viewed him as a very valuable asset.
How valuable are you? And what is your "true" value to your organization or company?
The process of ranking the employees within an organization is called "stack ranking". Say there are 25 people in the organization. Which of the 25 employees is considered to be the "most valuable"? Not necessarily the most experienced, or the most highly paid, or the most educated, or the highest job title.
After picking the "MVP" (Most Valuable Player/Employee), the next step is to identify the 2nd most valuable person. Then the 3rd, the 4th, all the way to the 25th.
At first blush, it seems impossible to fairly rank everyone since there are likely different job functions. How does a "telecom" person compare against a "data" person?
However, this is no different than a baseball team. How do you compare the value of a pitcher with a 4.43 ERA versus an infielder with a .269 batting average? A baseball team is composed of a variety of players: pitchers, batters, fielders, etc. What a team is trying to do is to come up with the right mix of players to win a championship.
This is likely to be true about your organization. Do you have a skill set and experience that can be easily handled by someone else or even outsourced? Or are you "less dispensable," with some unique skills and experience that would make you hard to replace? Just like Player A, are there ways of making yourself more valuable?
"Stack ranking" has been a subject of controversy within corporate America; Microsoft and its former CEO, Steve Ballmer especially were criticized for rigidly implementing stack ranking as a method of evaluating employees. Certainly as a formal employee-evaluation method, stack ranking may be debatable. But whether a company creates a formal system of "stack ranking" or not, every company must to some extent evaluate its employees' value to the enterprise relative to that of other employees. This is necessary in order to understand which workers are indispensable in the face of potential needs to adjust to changing business conditions.
Improve your Ranking
How do I make myself more valuable? Remember the baseball metaphor? The last player kept on the team was an average player at best. But his edge was that he was the most versatile, allowing his team the best chances for success.
So how valuable are you? Here are just a few areas to consider.
How are you keeping up with the latest issues in the IT/Telecom industry? What do you read to keep up to date? What conferences do you attend? Do you ask questions at seminars, conferences, webinars? Do you try to "pick the brains" of experts (e.g. consultants)?
Are you able to work effectively with other groups within your company? Since we work with other groups (HQ, field, user departments, etc.), there are natural opportunities for misunderstanding. Have you developed a reputation of being someone who can work with others?
Are you able to talk and translate technical concepts/ideas to financial/accounting personnel? At some point, your projects will need approval from a financial person.
Are you able to articulate issues and solutions, in a way that adds perspective? Do you look at the "bigger picture" or do you get bogged down in the details?
Are you thinking "out of the box" and proposing some new and/or innovative ideas, especially in areas that can generate revenue, save money or improve productivity?
Are you willing to share with others? Or do you withhold information from others, thinking this will protect your job? While counterintuitive, being open and mentoring others makes you more valuable to an organization.
Do you go beyond what is expected? What can you do to exceed expectations?
Let's face it, we are so focused on our day-to-day issues and internal environment that it is easy to lose perspective. This baseball metaphor provides us an opportunity to step back and assess our value to our team. Just like being on a baseball team, our job/position/performance is constantly being ranked within our organization. Where do you rank and what are you doing to improve your ranking?
The Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC) is an international organization of independent information and communication technology (ICT) professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.