Lessons From the Red Sox Championship

In case you didn’t know it already, I’m a (huge) Red Sox fan. I was very lucky to be at Fenway Park when the team won the World Series. As I’ve written in the past, live events can be powerful. This was no exception—it was an amazing experience! Here’s my picture of the team gathering on the field right after they won.

1310_RedSoxOnFieldI decided to examine some of the lessons from the 2013 Red Sox team. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Artifacts (e.g., beards) enhance culture. During the season, many of the players grew long beards. When something good happened, they pulled on each other’s beards. The hairy faces were more than just a prank; they were a common artifact. These types of shared items can provide a focal point for building a strong culture (they don’t need to be beards).
  • Winners don’t let failure get in the way. Shane Victorino did not have any hits in the World Series when he hit the ball off the Green Monster to drive in the first three runs (as it turned out, the winning runs) in the final game. In the 4th game, Jonny Gomes hit a three-run home run after not having a single hit in any of his previous World Series at bats. Winners don’t get bogged down in what they haven’t been able to do in the past; they believe that they can always succeed.
  • Hyper-focus on key current moments. Following up on the last lesson, winners intensely focus on the task at hand. Each at-bat, each play in the field gets their 100% attention. While you may see the Red Sox goofing around in the dugout, that’s merely a relief valve so that they are completely focused at the important moments. Here’s an excerpt of my faux speech for graduates:
    • “Every moment is a new opportunity, a new chance to make a great decision. What you become and the effect that you have on this world is the outcome of these moments. So don’t worry about what you might have or have not done in the past or what you might or might not be able to accomplish in the future, focus on what you do right now.”
  • Leaders create an environment for success. You can’t blame last year’s manager Bobby Valentine for all of the problems the team had in 2012, but he certainly made it worse. His confrontational stye demotivated the players. This year’s team, on the other hand, felt empowered by John Farrell’s leadership as he engaged their hearts and minds. It reminds me of this quote from Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines:
    • If you create an environment where the people truly participate, you don’t need control. They know what needs to be done and they do it. And the more that people will devote themselves to your cause on a voluntary basis, a willing basis, the fewer hierarchies and control mechanisms you need.”
  • Design for consistency. For the previous few years, the Red Sox have started out as favorites thanks to a superstar roster. But over the course of the season, they often ended up playing with a much weaker team as their best players got injured. This year was different. Instead of paying a lot of money for a handful of superstars, the team acquired a broader group of solid players. This approach allowed the team to stay strong even as it faced the inevitable storm of injuries. When you design an experience for your customers, don’t assume everything will be perfect. Make sure you can deliver it consistently. That’s why Jetblue includes flight attendants on its teams that create new in-plane experiences to keep the good, but undeliverable ideas out of its planes.
  • Build a strong farm system. The Red Sox would not have won the championship without contributions from young players such as Xander Bogaerts, Brandon Workman, Félix Doubront, and Craig Breslow. Over the last few years, the Red Sox have rebuilt a strong farm system so that they can continue to augment the experienced big leaguers with talented newcomers. All organizations need to invest in the development of their young employees, creating a rich pool of potential future leaders.
  • There’s no place like Fenway Park. I remember going into Fenway Park with my dad when I was eight years old. The sight of the field and the Green Monster behind it was awesome and overwhelming. I still feel like that little kid every time I walk into the park.

The bottom line: Congratulations to the 2013 Red Sox!

Written by 

I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

5 thoughts on “Lessons From the Red Sox Championship”

  1. Great post, Bruce. I suggest one more lesson that John Farrell expressed as the key to turning the Red Sox around: As a team, play for the name on the FRONT of the jersey; not the name on the back.

  2. My wife, Deb, is an equally long-standing fan of Liverpool FC as you are of Boston. She is hoping your success augers well for Liverpool this season and gives Mr Henry something else to be happy about. We are visiting Boston as part of our 30th wedding anniversary tour of NE US so are looking forward to seeing Fenway Park and the Green Monster. Does Boston crowd yet sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”? If not, it should! And I love the quote from Herb Kelleher!

  3. David: I hope your wife gets to have the same experience that we’ve had in Red Sox Nation this year. It’s been a pretty special year. But I can tell you that last year was about the worst year I can remember being a fan of the Red Sox, so maybe we earned it 🙂 Enjoy your trip to Boston. The Fenway Park tour is great! Happy 30th anniversary to you and Deb!

    Gordon, I think Farrell created the environment that helped create the team-first (front of shirt) approach.

  4. Bruce, Enjoyed your vision on how the Red Sox managed to go from ‘worst to first.’ Good to be reminded about the attitude of winners…..they may not always hit a home run, but their ‘can-do’ attitude drives success and is infectious. What a wonderful experience and lesson for those players, young and old. And fans, too!

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