A Baseball Lesson in Building Culture and Managing Talent

In our era of "Moneyball," quant jocks, and $100 million-plus payrolls, the story of how one baseball team found a more enduring competitive advantage offers a valuable playbook for Little League coaches, corporate chief executive officers, and leaders of all organizations.

Derrick Hall, president and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks, is not just charting his team's path to victory; he's writing a new playbook for building a winning culture. It's a playbook that has put him on the shortlist for baseball commissioner, with Bud Selig's upcoming retirement.

As a CEO employing 350 full-time and 2,000 part-time worldwide staffers at an organization with annual revenues exceeding $165 million, Hall is inspiring his players and employees by trusting them to make decisions without constant management oversight. When Hall joined the D-backs in 2005 as senior vice president for communications, he noted that the team didn't have a mission statement, or even core values. So he created its "Circle for Success" to guide employees.

Under Hall's leadership, the upstart team -- it was granted a franchise only in 1998 -- has become a perennial contender. It has won two National League West championships (2007, 2011) and it finished No. 2 in the division this year. In the wake of those on-field successes, the Diamondbacks' mission statement might have suffered the same fate as so many others that were set aside after the ink dried -- forgotten as profits (or victories) rose, with frames gathering dust in corporate hallways. Yet the D-backs' Circle of Success has actually made the team a disciplined organization, guiding it to become an integral part of the community.

Since the D-backs' payroll can't offer Yankees-like greenbacks for player salaries, Hall has honed an approach by which team performance is not achieved through the motivation of carrots and sticks but is animated from within -- through inspiration.

"With our company," Hall says, "the customer doesn't come first. The employee comes first, and when we treat our employees well, they in turn treat the customers well. We recognize our employees; we respect our employees; we promote our employees."

One way Hall maintains focus on employees is by giving season ticket holders "Wow Cards." Fans then award these cards to any employee who made their experience special. Rather than the team policing its game day employees, Hall has created a "virtuous circle," giving fans an active role in recognizing employees for their "Wow" experiences. Employees so recognized earn one of the rotating seats on Hall's 18-person President's Council, alongside executive management. Hall's Council convenes monthly to "generate new ideas regarding the organization's culture and talent management practices." In this way, Hall amplifies leadership principles throughout the organization--and hears concerns related to culture from all over the company.

That perspective is a lesson for us all. Whether we're coaching a daughter's softball team, launching a start-up, or steering a multinational, we can learn from Derrick Hall's Circle of Success and authentic commitment to fans, players, staff, and the wider world. Don't just focus on amassing wins; concentrate on how you win.