The Washington Nationals and Talent Management Success

There’s a lot of excitement here this fall in Washington, DC, home of Acendre’s U.S. headquarters. This time of year, it’s usually football
that has everyone around here talking, but this year, baseball and the
Washington Nationals are all the buzz, as the playoffs begin and the
Nationals strive to reach the World Series.

What’s that have to do with talent management?

A big part of the Nationals’ success has been stellar talent management.

I’m going to count the ways – six – to match the often cited “talent management pillars.”

1.  Workforce Planning

Organizations need to understand what their workforce will look like
not only tomorrow, but in 1 year, 3 years and 5 years. It needs to
understand the expected level of turnover to ensure the organization is
prepared to minimize any impact on the organization’s ability to perform
and that it has the skills and abilities to deliver on its goals.

This is true for a business, government agency….or a major league baseball team.

The Nationals have been focused on these issues from the team’s
beginning. This has involved developing young players, scouring the free
agent market and diligently understanding the abilities and
shortcomings of the talent on the field and in the “pipeline” – the farm
system or minor league teams that feed into the Nationals’ major league

2.  Talent Acquisition and Onboarding

A business can’t turn a profit without talented employees, nor can a government agency fulfill its mission without talent.

And a major league team can’t win and have a shot at the World Series
without talent at all positions — stars, second-tier players, good
hitters, good pitching, etc. The Nationals have excelled at acquiring
the necessary talent at all position. And not just stars, but “role
players” that can help when necessary in a lesser role. They have paid
top dollar in some instances, but also not spent unnecessarily.
Understanding that an employee needs to buy into the organization, they
have done all the background work to ensure players want to come to
Washington and play for the organization – they’ve made it appealing
beyond the monetary rewards. And once players come here, they have made
them feel welcome so they want to stay.

3.  Performance Management

The Nationals have a strong organizational structure that continually
evaluates player performance. The managerial style is such that there
is continual engagement between management and players, so everyone
knows where they stand. There is also an understanding of what roles
players have, and an acknowledgement of each player’s goals and
aspirations, and how that ties into the team’s goals.

For example, some players will have an understanding that they will
not be a starter, or “everyday” player, and accept that. Others in the
same role may not have been happy, and that would have very likely
impeded the team’s success. The Nationals and manager Matt Williams have
handled that balance very well. In the “real world” (i.e. not sports),
organizations need to regularly engage their employees and understand
their skills and aspirations in order to create an environment for

4.  Compensation Management

Organizations need to fairly compensate their employees and
understand the competitive market. Employees want to be paid as much as
possible, sure, but there is also a lot more to a job than a paycheck.
Still,  compensation is important, and it needs to be managed
effectively as a part of expenses and an overall budget.

The Nationals have some star players, and have paid top dollar for
some. Some have been groomed from the start of their careers (e.g. Bryce
Harper, Stephen Strasburg), while some have been acquired on the free
agent market (e.g. Jayson Werth).

But the understanding and mix has been there to pay what is needed,
but not unnecessarily, to succeed — all in line with the organizational

5.  Succession Management

Successful organizations need to have a solid understanding of its
employees’ capabilities and skills, and also understand all the skills
that are needed throughout the organization. If someone is at risk of
leaving, leadership needs to be aware of that so the proper people are
identified as likely replacements. Furthermore, even if an employee
would not seem to be at risk to leave, succession plans should still be
in place, because you never know.

Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals third baseman (or at times, first baseman),
has been referred to as the face of the franchise. Well, he
unexpectedly (but not surprisingly, it happens in sports) was injured
this season, missed 55 games, and is just now coming back into the
lineup. But the Nationals had a replacement ready to go and didn’t miss a
beat in Zimmerman’s absence. In fact, their lead in the standings
increased while he was out.

6.  Learning and Development

Organizations can’t be complacent and think what works today will
work tomorrow. There needs to be ongoing learning and development so
everyone is getting better. The Nationals have a strong farm system
where young players are groomed to move up one day. And a slew of
specialized coaches work with all the team’s players, including the
biggest stars.

Talent management is increasingly recognized as a critical ingredient
for an organization to succeed, whether that is a Fortune 500 company
or a large government agency – or a baseball team.

Go Nats.

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