You Recruit For Talent, But Are You Missing Something More Important?

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Oct 31, 2017

Here in Los Angeles, where World Series fever is pandemic, even those who don’t know a softball from a baseball know the big Dodger names: Clayton Kershaw, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig.

These – and I only named a few — are the “A” talent; the players who make the big plays, hit the home runs, and strike out opposing batters. They’re the ones people here are talking about.

But what Ned Colletti is talking about is not the big bats or the big pitches. In an interview Saturday, published in, of all places, the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times, the former Dodgers general manager spoke of culture and grit.

What he looked for during the nine years he helmed the Los Angeles Dodgers was talent, but also something more. Listen to what he has to say about how he recruited players:

I would love to get to the ballpark early, whether it was an amateur game, a minor league game… because I want to see who comes out first. I want to see interaction. I want to see who works.

That’s grit. We’ve all known smart, talented people who don’t live up to their potential. They have the skill and the ability, but lack that drive to push through the obstacles and remain motivated. As Ron Thomas, a leading HR thinker and TLNT contributor, wrote,”As a gym person, I notice that the first of the year, after the holidays, the gym is crowded… But as we regulars would wink amongst ourselves, we knew that in a few months they will not be back.”

Dodger third baseman Justin Turner was a not much in demand free agent when Colletti signed him, sensing something in him that the Mets and before them the Orioles and Cincinnati did not. It was a willingness to do the work to improve.

My scouting on him: he was an average fielder at second base and third base who could play some shortstop. That’s how I saw him, and he has worked so hard to become a great third baseman and a really feared hitter…

That grit makes the difference is not a new idea. But it was given academic validation by Angela Duckworth, whose book, GRIT, describes the research showing how perseverance is a far better predictor of success than talent or IQ. Here’s what she told a TEDTalks audience even before the book published last year:

One characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks. Physical health. And it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.

While grit is important to the individual performer, for a team, there’s one other ingredient: culture. Recalling one of his earliest talks with Dodger manager Dave Roberts, Colletti didn’t hesitate when Roberts asked about the biggest challenge:

And I said culture. I couldn’t get it done. I couldn’t get it where I really wanted it to be… I told him that’s the key.

Over just the last year dozens of articles discussing culture in all its permutations have been published on TLNT. Michelle Smith, a regular TLNT contributor, wrote about the powerful role culture plays in determining an organization’s overall success, citing a comment about culture made by the head of Hay Group’s Leadership Development Practice:

It’s the invisible glue that holds an organization together and ultimately makes the difference between whether an organization is able to succeed in the market or not.

Game six of the World Series is tonight. The Houston Astros could win it becoming world champions. Or the teams might have to play a 7th game to decide who takes the title. Either way, the Dodgers are a lesson for all teams — sports and corporate — about the value of seeking grit in those you hire. And having a culture in which they will thrive.

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