On the War for Supply Chain Talent (A Lesson from the Red Sox)

The Red Sox are in the World Series.

This was almost unimaginable a year ago, when the team shipped $250 million worth of talent to the Dodgers and finished the season in last place with 93 losses, the most for the team in 40 years.

The Red Sox are in the World Series –- that was supposed to happen in 2011, when the team loaded up on high-priced talent like Adrian Gonzalez (not me, the other one) and Carl Crawford. Instead, the team went on a losing streak that put them out of the playoffs that year, a losing streak that continued all through 2012 too.

Simply put, the Red Sox joined the war for talent in baseball a few years ago, against the Yankees and other big-market teams, and they lost.

Why? And what’s the lesson for manufacturers, retailers, and 3PLs that are currently in a war for supply chain and logistics talent?

Seth Godin provides the answer, I believe, in a recent blog posting titled, The truth about the war for talent. Here’s an excerpt:

More relevant and urgent, though, is that it’s not really a search for talent. It’s a search for attitude.

There are a few jobs where straight up skills are all we ask for. Perhaps in the first violinist in a string quartet. But in fact, even there, what actually separates winners from losers isn’t talent, it’s attitude [emphasis mine].

And yes, we ought to be having a war for attitude.

Interestingly, attitude was also referenced in an MLB.com article about the Red Sox a few weeks ago:

From the very beginning of this magical season, these Red Sox… have prided themselves on their hustle and grit and all that other good stuff. When general manager Ben Cherington remade the club last offseason, he went for both talent and attitude [emphasis mine].

In other words, talent — those skills you list in a job requisition and accomplishments you look for in a resume — is not enough for success. The people you hire, as well as those you already have on your team, including your executive leaders, must also have the right attitude — defined by Merriam-Webster as “a feeling or way of thinking that affects a person’s behavior” — if you want to make it to the World Series of your industry.

How do you evaluate attitude, and how do you cultivate it? It’s not as straightforward as testing for specific skills, like solving a math problem or taking swings in a batting cage, but you know it when you see it, especially when a person is faced with a new challenge or failure. And as is often the case, a person or team can have the right attitude coming in, but have it sour over time due to poor executive leadership and actions.

On ESPN last night, a couple of baseball pundits were comparing the Red Sox and the Cardinals, giving one team or the other the edge in the World Series based on various stats, like which pitching staff has a better ERA or which team has a better batting average with runners in scoring position. The discussion was all about talent, but those of us in Red Sox Nation know better. You see, those bushy beards on the players’ faces, the ones they’ve been growing for months and months, that’s attitude – the right kind — that will lead the Red Sox to victory in six games.