The Chicago Cubs and Cultural Fit

The Chicago Cubs and Cultural Fit

Major League Baseball regular season games start this weekend. As a lifelong and passionate Cardinals fan, the idea of writing a post about the Chicago Cubs and their approach to Talent Management doesn’t top my list of favorite things to do. They are, however, the reigning best team in baseball, and a few things hit the presses this week that made me want to write about them.

First, Fortune last week released their annual non-scientific and click baiting Greatest Leaders edition. I bit, clicked and I saw that, once again, I had been overlooked. B.S. Instead, they listed Theo Epstein, the GM of the Cubs, as the #1 top leader in the world. Epstein’s reaction was the epitome of the humble leader and made me almost like him a little (sorry, rivalry still strong). He texted an ESPN writer after the news broke:

“Um, I can’t even get my dog to stop peeing in my house,” Epstein wrote…”This is ridiculous. The whole thing is patently ridiculous…It’s baseball — a pastime involving a lot of chance…And I’m not even the best leader in our organization; our players are.”

Solid response. Humble, self-effacing, giving credit to the people on the team. I like it.

The Fortune article quoted some stuff from an upcoming biography on the Cubs, comparing Epstein and his time in Chicago with the data-driven, data-only approach he used in Boston when he worked there:

The Cubs, Epstein insisted, would acquire only players with outstanding makeup…This time there was no proprietary formula, no algorithm, for acquiring self-motivated, high-character players and creating an environment to allow them to flourish. They never stopped searching to find edges, but they made a fundamental decision early after coming to Chicago that the one edge they could exploit was found in a very old-school resource: people. Said Epstein, “ If we can’t find the next technological breakthrough, well, maybe we can be better than anyone else with how we treat our players and how we connect with players and the relationships we develop and how we put them in positions to succeed. Maybe our environment will be the best in the game, maybe our vibe will be the best in the game, maybe our players will be the loosest, and maybe they’ll have the most fun, and maybe they’ll care the most.” 

Interesting take, of course, because “cultural fit” is a term that means different things. Sometimes, cultural fit is a term used to justify all sorts of overt or unconscious discrimination. Sometimes, it’s just bad interviewing. A partner of mine sent me the great Lars Schmidt’s article, The End of Cultural Fit, which talks about “values fit.” I like that concept.

“Focusing on ‘values fit’ ensures we hire people who share our sense of purpose and guiding principles, while actively looking for those with diverse viewpoints, backgrounds, and skill sets. We’re trying to build a healthy and balanced culture, not a cult.” — Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion

I think fit matters. Values matter. It’s an important issue. It’s not enough to just hire someone who has done the job and can do the job—we want to hire the person who can do the job the best in the environment and be a good teammate.  Cubs open the season vs. the Cards Sunday night.  I appreciate their approach to talent management, but hope they lose by seven runs.

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