The Objective/Subjective Brilliance of the Tampa Bay Rays
As I consider the Rays success over the past few years, I am not nearly smart enough to do any kind of statistical analysis or close enough to tell you stories of what the Rays have done in the community. What I have seen is an incredible balance of objective and subjective measurements and accomplishments.
When I was a manager for Starbucks, we had secret shoppers come to the store 6 times a quarter. These secret shoppers had two set of criteria that the stores were being judged on. The first was objective, measurable. Our drinks had to weigh a certain amount. They had to be just the right temperature. The bathrooms had to be clean. The barrista had to know the answer to a semi-obscure piece of Starbucks information. All of these things were clearly measurable.
The Rays objective brilliance has been well documented. Jonah Keri’s recent book, The Extra 2%, is about this in particular. He shares stories of secret statisticians the Rays keep on staff. In the blogosphere, these men have come to be known as the “Rays Sabermetric Keebler Elves”. They can give you any kind of breakdown on pitchers, hitters and fielders.
The trouble with managers at Starbucks and with some baseball teams as well is that they get so transfixed by the numbers, the measurables, that they become machines. No one wants to work for a manager who only cares about the bottom line. No one wants to play for a manager who is such a slave to statistics that he will never go with his gut.
On the other hand there are subjective grades. At Starbucks, the secret shoppers would also judge the store on how it felt. Was the service good or legendary? Did the store feel like a place you would want to be. These things were far less measurable, especially in any kind of quantifiable way. Some managers really chafed under these grades; others flourished. Often, if a manager could effectively create the feel Starbucks was looking for, they struggled with the details of their store. Barristas weren’t adequately trained; drinks were often made wrong. But it felt right.
The Rays have included this as well. A few examples show how loosely the clubhouse is run. Last fall, Yahoo sports ran an article (found here) about how the Rays were all addicted to Farmville on their iPads. As you read the article, it oozes fun. Combine that with a manager who insists are themed road trips (see the picture above) and a GM who has an original NES system set up outside his office to play classic baseball games, you have an incredibly fun environment.
And that is the difficulty of any leader or manager. Whether in baseball, retail or whatever field you like, maintaining the balance between these two things is essential to success. Go off the rails on one side and you become a number-crunching-bottom-line-robot. Jump in the other direction and you become a warm-and-fuzzy-get-nothing-done-teddy-bear.