5 Lessons IT Managers Can Learn from Ray’s Skipper Joe Maddon

Lessons for IT Managers that can be learned from baseball.

Its summer in the US and that means baseball. Stick with me as I draw some parallels from baseball for MSPs and IT Departments everywhere.

For me, baseball will always be America’s game. As a sports fan, I follow it. When I was an IT manager, I always tried to think about what I can learn from those who are successful in managing teams in a highly competitive sport.

It doesn’t get much more competitive than the American League East: The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, and The Tampa Bay Rays.

For years, the Rays were epically unsuccessful. In their first ten seasons, the Rays managed nine last-place finishes. Once, in 2004, they were next to last in the AL East.The poor performance shouldn’t be a shock. The Rays are a small-market team with a payroll that is about a quarter of what some other teams in their division spend.

Yet, here’s how the Rays have done in their division since 2008: first place, third place, first place, second place, and third place. The Rays have regularly appeared in the post-season. Once, in 2008, they made it all the way to the World Series.

In 2004, new ownership improved the Rays’ fortunes. Stuart Sternberg and Andrew Friedman have done an outstanding job. Hiring Joe Maddon to manage the Rays has been one of their best decisions thus far. From watching the Ray’s skipper, I’ve gleaned a few management lessons for IT managers:

  • Use Data to Produce Advantage – The Rays use data about the tendencies of the hitters that their pitchers face to position their defensive players. Drawing upon data covering years of at bats, Joe shifts the defense when a player who consistently hits the ball to a certain part of the field comes to the plate. He massages his lineup based upon the numbers against a pitcher. He will even go against conventional baseball strategy when the numbers tell a different story. IT management tools like Kaseya produce a wealth of actionable data. For example, One Kaseya MSP created scripts to make the routing of help desk calls more efficient so his engineer time was devoted to significant issues. Even though it only takes a minute or two for an engineer to close a useless ticket, the savings at this MSP from streamlining were equivalent to recovering the time of two full-time techs. As system admins, you have the power to use data to be more productive.
  • Make Your Success Replicable – When Joe Maddon was a manager for a minor league team in the Angels organization, the skipper of the big club complimented him on creating the right kind of atmosphere for the players.  According to a profile of Maddon written by Pat Jordan, Joe began to systematize all that he was doing intuitively so that he could recreate it.  Where you are extraordinarily successful, make sure you record and keep the elements of your system so that you can replicate the success.
  • Be Loyal – How much more comfortable do you feel working in a place where you know that decision makers above you have your back? Joe demonstrates loyalty to his players. For example, recently when John Lackey of the Red Sox threw a pitch that hit Ray’s outfielder Matt Joyce, Joe called out the pitcher in public, backed his player’s account of events, and warned that the intentional bean ball made Lackey a “bad teammate.”
  • Be Better Prepared – Although Joe has a reputation as easy going, he is extraordinarily well prepared to face every opponent. Don Zimmer, a Ray’s coach with a lifetime in baseball, said this about Joe in an article by Pat Jordan about the manager in Men’s Journal: “Maddon has his fun, but when the game starts, he’s the best prepared manager I ever saw.” Every day is game day when you are responsible for a large network.
  • Master the Soft Skills So Talent Wants to Play on Your Team – Sports Illustrated recently asked 291 MLB players which manager they most wanted to play for. Joe Maddon finished first. Even though the Rays cannot afford the superstars on many other teams, they are able to get some excellent players when all else is equal because they want to play for Joe. What could you do differently to earn the reputation as the IT team to play for?

Joe Maddon and the Rays have been extraordinarily successful over the last few years. This year’s season is less than half done and the Rays are in the thick of things in the AL East, even though they still have among the lowest payrolls in baseball. Understanding the way the Rays win can help all IT managers who seek to thrive in competitive arenas.

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