Boston Red Sox VP Of IT: Invest In Your Farm Team - InformationWeek
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Boston Red Sox VP Of IT: Invest In Your Farm Team

Brian Shield, the vice president of IT for the Red Sox, thinks IT departments and CIOs can learn how to solve hiring problems by learning from how baseball teams recruit.

10 IT Hiring Trends Confounding Private, Public-Sector CIOs
10 IT Hiring Trends Confounding Private, Public-Sector CIOs
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

As a Baltimore Orioles fan, it pains me to say that Brian Shield, vice president of IT for the Boston Red Sox, has a point when he says the IT HR model is flawed.

Taking the stage for Thursday's Interop keynote, Shield says the "on-demand" model of hiring creates an unsustainable burden on HR, especially when it comes to a key aspect of building an effective organization -- team building.

Shield walked through how a sports championship team is built and compared that to the way a winning IT Team is built.

Baseball teams rely on scouting, developing skills, and putting together the right range of skills and experience. A baseball team has a farm club -- young minor leaguers hoping to develop into stars -- fringe players that are either new or declining veterans, specialists (pinch runners, defensive specialists), starters, and All-Stars.

Your IT team is the same way, with interns and junior tech folks serving as your farm club, and more senior tech folks and consultants working as your starters and All-Stars. With that vision in mind, you can begin to rethink the way you add players and the way HR should look at bringing them on board.

(Image: Keith Allison via Flickr)

(Image: Keith Allison via Flickr)

The real difference between a baseball team and an IT team is that for the most part, IT teams don't "scout" players until they have a hole to fill. Baseball teams are constantly scouting players from high school on. By the time a player gets even close to professional ball, baseball scouts know an immense amount about them. That scouting continues through the life of a player's career, including times when the player is on another team.

Contrast this to IT organizations.

Players already on the "team" are scouted once a year at annual evaluations. Strengths and weaknesses are often discovered on-the-fly at critical moments. HR doesn't "scout" the talent at other companies. Shield says 83% of players scouted never make the majors. How many people do you get to know that don't end up on your team?

[ Other leaders are talking about the flawed evaluation process, too. Read Betterworks CEO: Treat Feedback Like a Fitbit. ]

"When I talk to my direct reports, I'm shocked at how little they know their peers in other groups, Shield said, "One of the things that bugs me is when I ask my team who they know who is good at [a certain skill], and they say, 'I don't know.' And then I say, 'Well, what companies are really good at that?' and they don't know."

The Red Sox would never do that with the Yankees. Why are you doing it with your team?

Shield added, "We often talk about succession planning for CEOs, but it is really for everyone. It is about evaluating your competition."

Shield says this problem is especially bad when you remember that 50 million baby boomers are retiring by 2020. "We're going to have to put HR on steroids."

Shield suggests the key is to have a multiyear view of talent.

If you wait until you need to fill a position, you are going to focus so much on getting someone in to do the work, that you are only getting lucky if he or she also happens to be the right person for the job.

"Never stop recruiting. If you are trying to find the right person at the exact time you need them, your logic is flawed," Shield said. This is especially true if you are looking for diversity in your IT team. "Successful diversity programs I've been a part of have come from opening positions before we need them," Shield added.

By putting together a plan to acquire talent, rather than filling positions, you are able to concentrate on building a team with the right set of skills and mix of talents. That's how championship teams are built in sports. Do you want to be a Hall of Famer? Rethink the way you acquire talent.

Attend Interop Las Vegas, the leading independent technology conference and expo series, designed to inspire, inform, and connect the world's IT community. In 2015, look for all-new programs, networking opportunities, and classes that will help you set your organization's IT action plan. It happens April 27 to May 1. Register with Discount Code MPOIWK for $200 off Total Access & Conference Passes.

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
5/23/2015 | 7:05:37 PM
Re: Boston Red Sox VP Of IT: Invest In Your Farm
very well said -- 

>>  when you already strip away 90% of candidates with an analytics system that simply searches for keywords, and then you weed out half of the rest with just cursory glances at their resumes, how many of those remaining are young, white males with just a handful of degrees? 70%? 80%? You've already skewed the odds.

Does anyone want to go into HR/Talent Acquisition these days as a profession? Or do they wind up there by accident? It's a tough job to do, and changing all the time. Can we hear from some HR folks?
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
5/22/2015 | 10:14:45 PM
Re: except...
I'm not an Orioles fan, but that team has had some amazing players.  Ripken.  Palmer.  Even the Babe himself.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
5/22/2015 | 10:13:19 PM
Re: except...
The only significant problem with scouting is that it represents the opposite extreme of the automated bureaucratic wastelands that HR departments have become -- it is completely subjective, with little in the way of truly objective data.

Moneyball (the book, upon which the movie is based) demonstrates well why this is problematic.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
5/3/2015 | 6:39:47 PM
Re: Boston Red Sox VP Of IT: Invest In Your Farm
I love this. Obviously, at a certain point the comparison between professional sports and corporate IT reaches a limit (for one, that there's a lot more money involved "per job" in baseball has a lot to do with the differences), but this speaks volumes about problems in modern corporate culture and hiring practices nonetheless.  We hear it a million different ways: 'people are our most important asset'. 'I'm more concered with hiring someone who's flexible than with a certain skill' (that one seems particularly common for IT). Then why not act like it? It seems almost like an area where 'agile' practices could cut in and make a difference. It seems like there are too many cumbersome, entrenched processes, too much hands-off activity, and too much red tape that prevent HR from hiring how HR managers say they want to hire - not that I'm freeing bad culture and bad decisions from responsibility. 

Joe is absolutely right;  relying on automated systems to screen candidates strips out the human element. It's cliche but true. We hear about the "difficulty" meeting those diversity goals, but think about this; when you already strip away 90% of candidates with an analytics system that simply searches for keywords, and then you weed out half of the rest with just cursory glances at their resumes, how many of those remaining are young, white males with just a handful of degrees? 70%? 80%? You've already skewed the odds. No wonder we have problems with diversity. I never appreciated how much the 'wait till there's a hole' hiring style magnifies these problems, and how short time frames force this way of doing things. I think that's the  single most valuable takeaway here.
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
5/2/2015 | 1:49:16 PM
Re: except...
I agree. There's a lot of lip service for "talent acquisition" and apps to let people be "found", but usually HR finds it too much work and what would management do with extra staff with more or better skills? 

 

And why would anyone be an Oriols fan? :-)
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
5/2/2015 | 1:14:19 AM
Re: except...
Sports scouting is so different than how IT recruits talent. But it really shouldn't be. I think one of the reasons why companies don't constantly recruit is because it is resource intensive.

And add in the fact that most organizations are only concerned about the here an now. It shouldn't be like that.

Scouting in sports has become something that is rigorous and process intensive. It doesn't always work – but it seems to be effective in putting talent on the field, doesn't it?
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
4/30/2015 | 11:36:32 PM
except...
Unfortunately, that would require actual work, and most major organizations' HR departments seem to be set up to reduce actual human workload or review of candidates.  Plug 'em into analytics/keyword-scanning software, and then let the machine do the work.

Scouting of good candidates in the corporate world?  An admirable idea.  But to even have a chance of realizing that reality, there needs to be a significant culture shift first.
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