Apr 14 2009

The Catcher Hypothesis

The Catcher Hypothesis

Here’s an interesting nugget I just picked up from Harvard Business Review’s March issue in an article entitled “Making Mobility Matter,” by Richard Guzzo and Haig Nalbantian.

Of the 30 teams in Major League baseball, 12 of the managers are former catchers.  A normal distribution would be 2 or 3.  Sounds like a case of a Gladwellian Outlier, doesn’t it?  The authors explain their theory here…that catchers face their teammates, that they are closest to the competition, that they have to keep track of a lot of things at once, be psychiatrists to flailing pitchers, etc.  Essentially that the kind of person who is a successful catcher has all the qualities of a successful manager.

What’s the learning for business?  Part of having a strategic orientation towards the people in the business is making sure that you’re creating development paths for people, which is both good for them and good for the organization to train future leaders.  Another part is making sure great people don’t get bored — especially in tough economic times when organizations aren’t growing, new roles aren’t opening up, and promotions and even lateral moves are harder to come by.

Back to the Catcher Hypothesis.  A good strategic people plan, whether or not you have a head of HR to develop it (if you don’t, it’s your job!), will identify “training ground” positions within your organization.  The larger we get, the more of these we try to carve out.  Sometimes it’s pulling people out of their current roles (fully or partially) and putting them in charge of a high-profile short-term, cross-functional project.  We have a couple more formal roles at the entry level, one in account management and one in application support, so we can start growing our own talent and reduce reliance on more expensive outside hires.  Another we are developing now is basically a “mini-GM” role, which should develop a whole future generation of leaders as the company grows from ~200 people to hopefully a much larger group down the road.

Who plays Catcher in your organization?