Prior to last night’s game between the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners, new Mariners Executive V.P. and GM Jerry Dipoto spent about 30 minutes talking to a standing room only crowd of season ticket holders at Safeco Field. His opening remarks closely resembled what he’s been saying publicly since his introduction to fans and media on September 29. During a question and answer session, Seattle’s new GM was very candid when answering questions from fans; even the pointed ones.
As I reflected on what I heard from the 47-year-old yesterday and over the past week, I found myself easily relating to Dipoto’s philosophy on transforming a struggling organization into a championship caliber franchise. That’s because I’ve spent the majority of my adult life in leadership and management roles – including at the executive level. Based on that experience, here’s what I took away from yesterday’s meeting.
Setting the bar
The first order of business for any new leader is to clearly articulate expectations for their organization to their boss and subordinates and their customers. Since arriving, Dipoto has made it clear that there will be a renewed focus on player development. Sure, all new baseball execs preach player development on day one, but the manner in which he emphasized what the team had NOT been doing on the player development front was most impressive to me.
Dipoto referred to the accelerated rises of players who weren’t quite ready for the rigors of being a major league baseball player, which has been a recurring theme in Seattle in recent years. This reveals an executive who’s done his homework and understands his role in effecting change. Rightfully so, Dipoto sees the implementation of this philosophy as one of the most vital and immediate functions that he’ll need to accomplish.
The new GM acknowledged that altering the team’s organizational landscape will include personnel changes on and off the field. As he’s put it, change can be “disruptive” and will make some “uncomfortable.” However, he intends to retain incumbents who fit into his plans. This is a significant development because retaining the right people and strategically infusing new blood is the best approach to use with an organization that wants to contend next year.
“Throwing away the baby with the bathwater” would be a foolish and shortsighted business practice and would only cause more turmoil. Remember, the Mariners have a strong contingent of young players at the lower levels of the minor leagues who didn’t get there by accident – talented people played a role in finding them. Dipoto knows this and attempting to fix what’s not broken would be foolish.
Dipoto and his staff will use metrics to measure the organization’s progress in achieving its goals; he even provided an example. The former major league pitcher noted that Seattle’s minor league hitters ranked last in strikeouts and that his former team – the Los Angeles Angels – were in the same position when he took over as GM in 2011. When he left the Angels earlier this year, they ranked fourth.
Having easily understood and quantifiable performance metrics – like strikeouts – can help chart the evolution of players and determine if the organization is achieving its strategic goals. Also, it provides management with a means to hold players and coaches accountable. It’s important to note that the Dipoto cautioned the audience that it would take several years to change the strikeout culture of the Mariners.
Plenty of sports executives enthusiastically beam at their introductory press conference and make statements designed to lay out their agenda and inject hope into their team’s fan base. Some of those executives deliver on their promises of winning and championships, while others are now earning a paycheck as a network talking head because they couldn’t transform their optimism into a winning reality.
It’s impossible to know which category awaits Dipoto, although I don’t believe that he’ll fail due to poor leadership or management techniques. He’s saying all of the right things and that’s why I think that he’s the team’s best hope to return to relevance in over a decade. All he has to do now is to deliver results that support his words.