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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

TONY LA RUSSA'S "PERSONALIZATION" PHILOSOPHY

My good friend Bill Martin is known primarily in the LSU circles as a an outstanding SID for LSU women's basketball and LSU football.  But deep down inside he's a baseball man -- loves the game -- and he loves his St. Louis Cardinals.  When he told me I need to jump on  "One Last Strike" by Tony La Russa I didn't hesitate.  I opened it last night and had a hard time putting it down.  Here is just a sample of something I picked up in the first 10 pages of the book.  It's La Russa talking about his philsophy of personalization within his organization and how it helps the improve the chemistry as well as be better received when they are teaching:

For years, what we’d always done as a coaching staff – equipment men to video guys, the strength and fitness coach, public relations people, the director of travel, everybody – was to personalize our relationships with the players. Whoever you were, my coaching and I wanted to establish a relationship with you. Not every player is the same, and not every position they play is the same. Our goal was to create an environment where the ballplayer looked forward to coming to work and knew that a bunch of people were trying to put him and his teammates in the best position to succeed.

You demonstrate that effort in a lot of ways – the strength of the drills, the quality of the facilities, the care and attention paid to every part of the workday – all of it adds up to a big positive.

Whether a guy is on a hot streak or going through a slump, we want him to anticipate coming to the park knowing that he has our full support.

Toward the end of my White Sox years and early in with the A’s, I began to really understand personalization and why it met so well the leadership challenges of professional sports. Every team and every season has its own set of problems. By personalizing, I was creating a pattern of feedback that would address those problems – both big and small – that we faced as a team and as individuals. Together with the coaches, we would find the points that needed attention and craft messages to specific players, groups of players, of the whole team. In the process of personalizing these messages, we’d develop a number of “edges” that would help us compete individually and collectively. These edges ranked from the macro – team chemistry, handling adversity, making players’ families feel welcome at the clubhouse – to more individual issues like physical and mental toughness, feeling comfortable in pressure situations, emphasizing process over results and dealing with distractions. Depending on what needed to be emphasized in a given year, we would hone our relationships with the players to promote these edges as much as possible.

Over the years I kept refining this personalization philosophy and formalizing how I’d apply it to my leadership responsibilities. Before I could ask the players to take personal responsibility, I had to personalize my own efforts. The theory is only powerful if it works in both directions.

At the same time, personalizing with players never meant that everything they did was okay. We didn’t sign any blank checks. You’re kidding yourself if you think you’ll win players’ trust that way. You win them over with your honesty. In fact, one of the ways we’d shot this throughout the season was in how we reacted when they made mistakes. Whatever the problem was, we’d tell them what they’d done – whether it was throwing to the wrong base, making a bad turn, or laying back on a ball – and we’d deal with it as a fact not a judgment. We create an environment that recognized that mistakes would happen and would be corrected.

From "One Last Strike" by Tony La Russa