November 02, 2007

714

I was probably ten years old when my Grandfather and my Dad took me to a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game.

And in the 9th inning, with the home team trailing (again), the manager called upon a pinch hitter named Henry Aaron.

The crowd rose to their feet, hoping for a pinch hit home run that would save the day.

Aaron connected with a pitch, and the crowd roared as the ball sailed up and up an up, between center and left field. We felt the excitement, the possibility, of a home run from the greatest slugger of all time.

But as the ball began to drop, we noticed that the center fielder hardly moved at all. Sliding a few feet to his right, he easily collected the "can of corn". Game over.

My Grandfather reminded me that everybody was so excited because Aaron broke the record of 714 home runs, established by Babe Ruth. Aaron started his career with the Milwaukee Braves, and was ending his career as a Milwaukee Brewer.

Given that inspiration, I decided that I, too, would break that record.

With a giant pink bat, and a half-dozen over-sized plastic balls, I set out to do what only Henry Aaron had done.

Our yard was surrounded by a horseshoe-shaped gravel driveway. Near the apex of the driveway was home plate. Any ball hit onto the road, or over the road, was a home run.

I'd throw the ball in the air with my left. As the ball peaked in mid-air, both hands gripped the bat. I launched my swing, hoping/expecting the ball to fly over the road. I contrived a series of "games" pitting "teams" against each other, to make the home runs feel more meaningful.

Late that summer, I hit home run number 715.

And then I stopped playing the game. Like Aaron, I broke the record, no need to continue.

In business, what is the incentive once you "break the record"? Maybe your business never achieved ten percent pre-tax profit. Your owner or board hire a new executive team, and this team sets out on an ambitious plan to achieve this objective.

Four years later, you make it, you hit ten percent pre-tax profit. You celebrate for a few days. And then what?

I once worked for a leader who was masterful at "creating an enemy". Somebody was the enemy, and it was our job to "defeat" the enemy. At the end of the year, if we beat the enemy, we "won".

This went on for a few years. The technique, if you sided with this leader, was motivating. I doubt it was much fun for the "enemy".

And then suddenly, the leader left us, and in some ways became our enemy. The whole game was a lot less satisfying from that point forward.

Each year, it is essential for leaders to put tangible, achievable, challenging objectives out there. It is essential for leaders to properly celebrate achievements.

Unlike sports, we have to move on. Once we "break the record", we don't get to rest in peace in the hall of fame. Life goes on. We need to come up with tangible things that "get our teams excited".

When I look at the multichannel industry, I don't see a lot of excitement these days. We really need something to lift our spirits. We can wait for something, or we can create something. Let's create something.