For those of you who have been reading my columns in various venues during the past six years, you know that I am an avid sports fan and that Major League Baseball (MLB) is among my favorites. Therefore, when I heard those magical words, “Pitchers and catchers report,” a couple of weeks ago, signifying the start of MLB’s pre-season “Spring Training,” my excitement for the coming season began to build.
If you don’t follow MLB, Spring Training takes place from mid-February to late March, with some MLB teams training in Florida and others training in Arizona. MLB teams use this time to evaluate their players to construct their rosters for the upcoming season and prepare their players for the season. This preparation includes players working into shape for the rigors of a 162-game regular season and practicing fundamentals of pitching, hitting, fielding, and baserunning. While MLB teams play games against each other during Spring Training, those games do not count in the standings and are used to prepare for the season.
Most businesses do not have the luxury of having a “Spring Training” like MLB teams. However, most companies have some sort of cyclical nature to their businesses in which there are times when you are busier than others. In those times when you are less busy, my recommendation is for you to treat them as your “Spring Training” to get your business “in shape” and prepare your employees and yourself to compete effectively and have a “winning season.” Here is how I propose you take the tenets of MLB’s rite of spring and apply them to your businesses.
Remember that the primary goals of MLB’s Spring Training are to prepare its players and construct its rosters. Similarly, you should use your “Spring Training” time to work on your roster by developing your people, both individually and collectively. During Spring Training, MLB players and their minor league counterparts receive a significant amount of individual training that there is not as much time for during the regular season.
Similarly, there is much more time for you to develop the skills of your people during your slower times. There are many forms this development can take. It can include sending your people off-site or professional development and training. In addition to making your people more capable, they will more likely stay with your company if you are making an investment in their personal development. You can also bring in development and training in-house for a substantial number of your team together. Beyond personal development, your designated Spring Training time is also a good opportunity to develop your group to better collaborate and trust one another. MLB teams use their pre-season to help build the chemistry needed for the team to thrive during the long season. Your slow periods are a perfect time to work on the chemistry and culture of your team. This can often be a great time to have a fun offsite activity to let everyone get to know each other better.
One of the other major goals for MLB teams during Spring Training is to hone its fundamentals. For example, pitchers work on their mechanics and their moves to keep runners close to the base, outfielders work on throwing the ball to their “cutoff” men to prevent runners from advancing, and baserunners work on getting a good lead off the base or a good “jump” when the ball is hit. You will see pitchers work for hours on covering first base when the ball is hit to the first baseman. Over a long season, executing these fundamentals can mean the difference between winning and losing games and potentially winning a championship.
Similarly, businesses should use their Spring Training to work on their fundamentals. By this I mean, examine your processes for getting things done. You should first determine if your process is set up to perform well and if not, work to improve it. If your processing costs are high, or it takes too long, or your quality is poor, it is likely that you need to work on improving your process. Once you fix your process, then it is critical for your employees to be trained and practiced on how to best execute that process. If your fundamental processes work well, your output will be good.
For MLB teams, Spring Training is a great time to begin scouting their regular season opponents, and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the other teams and their players. Similarly, during your less busy times, it is a good time for you to evaluate your competition. Take long looks at your competitors and understand what they do better than you do and where you can outshine them. This will enable you to define which parts of your market you are better able to capture and/or identify what areas you need to work on to better compete.
Finally, during the Spring Training, MLB teams do a final assessment of their current roster and determine if they need to add to the team before the season starts to improve its likelihood of success. When you are in your slower periods, it is a good time to “evaluate” your roster of not only your employees, but also your supply chain partners, whether they be upstream suppliers or downstream distribution channels. These periods provide an opportune time to improve your team.
While it looks like MLB teams are having a lot of fun in Florida and Arizona prior to the games that count, they are putting in serious work that will determine the fate of their season. You can put in similar work during your less active times to ensure your future business success as you emulate their Spring Training.