Pitchers, PA announcers, and passion

Two very different stories have dominated Red Sox Nation this week, and both contain lessons for employers everywhere.

The first story is a true tragedy, where 59-year-old Fenway Park PA announcer Carl Beane was killed in a single-car accident after he suffered a heart attack. In the rash of stories that followed his death, Beane was portrayed as a gentle man with a distinctive, booming voice. He was successfully able to parlay his radio background into what he always described as his dream job. He certainly didn’t do it for the money; when he began announcing games in 2003, he was reportedly paid $50 a game. But nearly every story written about Beane following this tragedy focused on how much he loved his job. Devoted Red Sox fans would hire Beane to perform at weddings and bar mitzvahs, or to record outgoing voicemail messages for them. His work was his passion, and it showed in his performance. (For more on how much Beane loved his job, see this terrific article by ESPN Boston’s Godon Edes.)

The second story is a sports tragedy, in that it’s not a real tragedy but sports fans see it as one. It involves Josh Beckett, an arrogant, petulant starting pitcher who used to be the Red Sox ace. Beckett helped lead the Florida Marlins to a World Series championship in 2003, and then did the same for the Red Sox in 2007. But since then, he has lost his elite status and begun pitching like he doesn’t really care. So far this season, Beckett has pitched poorly, owning the second-worst ERA in the American League.

On Wednesday last week, new manager Bobby Valentine announced that Beckett had an issue with his lat muscle and would be skipping his Saturday start against the Orioles. That weekend, because of poor starts and two extra-inning games, the Sox bullpen was called upon to pitch 27 innings. Even an outfielder had to pitch two innings. But Beckett was unavailable to pitch, presumably because of his lat.

A few days later, it was revealed that Beckett had played golf on the Thursday before the Orioles series — the day after Valentine announced that Beckett would skip his Saturday start. The Boston sports media had a field day, and Red Sox fans were livid.

Beckett finally returned to the mound this Thursday and got only seven outs while giving up seven runs on seven hits. When Valentine pulled him in the third inning, the Fenway faithful booed heartily, and one fan behind the dugout was caught on camera mimicking a golf swing.

Then in his postgame press conference, Beckett poured gasoline all over the place and lit it on fire. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Showing incredible tone-deafness, the pitcher defended his golf outing despite his inability to pitch that weekend.

“I spend my off-days the way I want to spend them,” Beckett said to the reporters assembled. “My off-day is my off-day.” He then went on to point out that players only got 18 off-days a year. Which is true, if you don’t count all that time off from October to February. Or all the days during the season when he doesn’t pitch. As he put it, “I think we deserve a little time to ourselves.” (Another Edes story here for more on Beckett and golfgate.)

Here’s a guy making nearly $500,000 a start who apparently doesn’t care enough about his job (which is secure through 2014), his employer (both the team and the fans who pay the bills), or his teammates. Contrast that with Carl Beane, a man who adored his job, even when he was making one ten-thousandth as much per start as Beckett.

When people work for money — even a lot of money — they’ll usually (but not always) show up when they have to and do just enough to keep that job. But they won’t show you the passion that excellence requires. Beckett used to have it back when he was an ace pitcher. Five years, 30 pounds, and 80 strokes per round later, that passion appears to be gone, and with it, any hint of excellence. On the other hand, Carl Beane left us and the job he loved too early, and he left at the top of his game.

Employers: hire passion first and talent second. Passion can turn talent into outstandingess (which may not be a word, but whatever), but talent without passion will eventually land you in the bunker.

The 10 most important traits for job candidates

Here’s an excerpt from Firing at Will: A Manager’s Guide, Chapter 17, “Hiring to Avoid Firing”:

How do you know the right talent when you see it? Remember: past accomplishments and skill sets are merely table stakes for candidates. Without those, a candidate shouldn’t even get through the door. Instead, what you’re really looking for is a culture fit, which is the best determinant of a successful employment. You want candidates who truly want to work there, and who will want to spend time with you and your coworkers, and with whom you will want to spend time. If you’re just looking at work experience and qualifications, you’re missing the opportunity to bring in the right people.

Here are what I think are the ten most important traits to look for in a job candidate:

  1. Differentness. You don’t want an office full of cookie-cutter duplicates. Instead, your team will be stronger when you have a truly diverse workforce. And not just race and gender, but also background and life experiences.
  2. Sense of humor. You’re more likely to enjoy working with people with a good sense of humor, who know when to laugh and who can bring the funny from time to time. They don’t have to be comedians, but they do need to know how not to take life — and themselves — too seriously. A good sense of humor is also a leading indicator of intelligence.
  3. Optimism. I’m not talking about Pollyanna-ish types who are naive and unrealistic. I’m talking about people who have positive attitudes, and can help lift coworkers up instead of bringing them down. Life’s tough enough without someone telling you how tough life is all the time.
  4. Eye sparkle. This is a Tom Peters term. It’s that look you see in a person’s eyes that shows that they’re alive and thoughtful and engaged. It shows warmth and empathy and fun. It says that the lights are on and someone is indeed home.
  5. Connectivity. Look for signs that the candidate knows how to interact with other people. Ask about his or her friends and family. This is why going out for drinks or lunch is such a good idea. Someone who connects well with people will be an asset to your team.
  6. Creativity. Even if the job isn’t what you would normally consider a “creative” position, it’s better to have creative people. They tend to be more positive and engaged, looking for better ways to solve the customers’ problems.
  7. Perseverance. The workplace should be a marathon, not a sprint. You want to find people who will stick with it, even when it gets dif- ficult. Look for signs that they follow through with things that they start. Someone who jumps around a lot from job to job might be deficient in this area.
  8. Initiative. Few things are more frustrating than having an employee who sits around passively and waits to be told what to do. I’d rather have someone who oversteps his or her bounds and needs to be reined in than someone who doesn’t show any initiative.
  9. Self-confidence. This is a critically important trait. It’s difficult to teach, although it can be developed and fostered. You’re better off hiring a candidate who believes in herself. Then she’ll also be more likely to believe in your company. Self-confidence is contagious.
  10. Passion. If you know that the candidate is passionate about something — anything — then it’s easier to believe that he or she will care about the company, the customers, and their problems.

You might not agree with everything on this list, and you might list other traits that are important to you or to your company or industry. That’s fine. Just make sure that you go into the hiring process with a strong idea of what you’re looking for in a candidate. It will make your task much easier, and it will improve your chances of getting the right people for your team.

Want to learn more?

Get in touch with Jay today