Over the Fourth of July holiday, I took my family to California for a mix of Disney and baseball. Being a diehard Cardinals fan, it was a chance to see the first meeting between St. Louis and its one-time franchise superstar, Albert Pujols, now with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. While the kids indulged in Candy Crush as we flew across the country, I took to reading Tony La Russa’s firsthand account of the 2011 season. La Russa, the future Hall of Fame manager, won three MLB titles over his 30-plus-year coaching career, the last of which was an improbable run in 2011 with the Cardinals from 10.5 games out to the World Series.
The book shares anecdotes from the season as well as insights La Russa accumulated over his time in baseball that shaped his view of the sport, and his job as manager and day-to-day leader of a franchise worth hundreds of millions in an industry worth billions. One section that stuck with me was his discussion of performing in key spots under pressure. A lot is made about “being clutch.” Those individuals who seemingly come up big when things are most critical and outcomes hang in the balance.
La Russa contends that the way you succeed in these situations is not by focusing on the outcome, but rather falling back on your process. It’s process, he contends, that enables players to follow a proven path, even in an unpredictable situation with an undefined outcome hanging in the balance.
One of the inherent challenges in working in digital, especially with emerging companies and disciplines, is that the process is a seemingly constant work-in-progress. Process is a necessity rarely afforded the commitment required to achieve success. My wife, an educator with a specialization in behaviors, constantly teaches me about learned behaviors and the necessity for consistent repetition in order to achieve the desired change.
For a process in this business to work, it needs to achieve three levels of commitment.
Level 1: Having a Process
There may be no more famous last words than, “We’ll figure it out.” There is no shortage of very, very bright individuals who fell victim to the hubris that comes with sorting things on the fly. As much as I like the “seat of your pants” approach, it simply does not scale, nor is it repeatable. Tweaks and modifications based on learnings are always essential, but if everything is custom, your ability to grow and deliver better each time is severely limited.
Level 2: Repeating the Process
Every time you do something there’s an opportunity to learn. That doesn’t mean every time you do something and learn from it you should change. One of the constant challenges researchers have is the curse of small sample size. At some point, the data simply cannot support the weight of the work because there’s just too little foundation to base findings upon. The same is true with process. For a process to be solid you have to be able to repeat it, over and over again. Even testing and learning have to be built into the process, so when modifications are implemented they can be measured just like their predecessors.
Level 3: Scaling the Process
Having a process that works is one thing. Having a process that works regardless of who’s applying it is an entirely different thing. For companies to succeed, they have to develop a system that can be repeated by anyone trained on the process. If your process has not evolved to the point where some formal training can be administered against it, then your process is not ready. Of the three levels this is the hardest. Everyone has their preferred way to do things but the hard truth of a process is that there is only one way. It was built to be maximized by following a singular approach, anything else and it starts to break down.
In the end, if you have a repeatable process that scales then you have something valuable for your organization. Whether a startup or established company, if you cannot fall back on the process, repeat it over and over, and deliver that consistency at scale, then you have the equivalent of a house built on shifting sands. A repeatable process at scale is what gets you into the big leagues and keeps you vying for the kinds of accolades La Russa chronicles throughout his book.
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