I have not written too much about the City of Houston hometown heroes, those intrepid Houston Astros, this season. One reason is that the bumbling owner has finally learned to stop making some of the inane pronouncements he did in the early days of his tenure. The team has also dropped its intentional efforts to lose to stock up on draft picks so one cannot pick on them as losers for compliance lessons. Of course, they were hacked by a former St. Louis Cardinals executive so a painful lesson for all involved is to change your password when you go to a new organization. But that is more in data security than anti-corruption compliance.
This year, however, the Astros are hovering around having the best record in the American League (AL) or even Major League Baseball (MLB) itself. As of this writing the Astros have the second-best record in the AL so things are looking brighter these days. There was one article which caught my attention recently in the Houston Chronicle, entitled “Known as Astros’ science guy, Sig Mejdal to experiment with role as minor league coach”, where Jake Kaplan wrote about the Astros assigning their top data scientist, Sig Mejdal, to their short-season Class A affiliate this year as a development coach. In the staid world of MLB, this was viewed as only slightly less revolutionary than discovering the Earth rotated around the Sun, not vice-versa. As Kaplan noted, while “fulfilling his special assistant to the GM duties, Mejdal will be embedded with the upstate New York-based Tri-City ValleyCats, riding the buses, eating the clubhouse meals and even hitting pregame fungoes.”
One might think that after Moneyball, the Boston Red Sox ending nearly a century of futility and the Chicago Cubs ending over a 100 years of futility (hey, anybody can have a bad century) the use of data analytics in baseball would seem useful if not even logical. Yet Kaplan was required to a call this appointment “offbeat” because it “could irk some around the industry.” Why? Data analytics and job security. It turns out that a great many baseball men (and yes, they are all men) are still afraid of data. The job security issue turns on those “who have grinded for years for opportunities on a professional staff.”
Yet, as inane as these objections seem, I was equally flabbergasted by how the Astros viewed all of this. The Astros General Manager (GM) Jeff Luhnow, quoted in the piece, said “I think he’s going to learn a lot from doing that. As a leader of the organization, the one thing that you don’t have an opportunity to do is really understand what’s happening at the front lines a lot. Even though it’s not me doing it, this is a way for me to understand it.” Moreover “Luhnow said he expects Mejdal to “come back with a lot of interesting thoughts and ideas about how we might do things better, whether it’s have better spreads for the players or better travel – things that make their life easier that maybe we’re not thinking about that we could help them with.”
So, there you have it, revolutionary thinking by the Astros, get out in the field and see what it is like. Then incorporate those lessons from the front lines into your process, training and development. Remember, the Astros are the team the St. Louis Cardinals executive hacked into because the Astros were so far advanced in their analytics program. Yet there was even another reason for adding Mejdal to the staff. As Luhnow noted, “The demands of the video (study) and the technology and the extra work and all of the medical, all of the stuff that we’re doing, it’s just hard to ask our hitting coach or our pitching coach or our manager, ‘Hey, take on all of these extra responsibilities and write these reports and all of that.’ So, we’ve added another resource to the full-season levels, and Sig’s going to do it for Tri-City.”
What is the compliance lesson in all of this revolutionary baseball think? Start with the basics of getting out of the Ivory Tower and into the field. There are a multitude of challenges a compliance program will face outside the US and realistic input from geographies, cultures, business units and corporate functions within your organization can assist in overcoming these challenges. A procedure which may work in Texas may not work in Indonesia. You may find out that it is better to train in local languages, which may mean you need to translate your compliance documents and even your presentation into more than one language. You might even consider the example of training in Spain, where a regional difference in Spanish and Catalonian might require two languages in one country.
By seconding a compliance practitioner to the field you might also learn about the challenges of doing business in a place like China. It would also put more eyes and ears into the field so you would have greater information flow back up to the corporate office. Consider the example of Wells Fargo were the former head of the Community Banking unit was able to tell the corporate disciplines assigned to her business unit, such as internal audit, human resources and legal “not to talk to corporate.”
By sending a compliance practitioner out into the field, they also might learn about the business. In the case of the Astros, Mejdal is even trying to learn how to hit fungo and is working with the team’s hitting instructor to learn that fine art. If you are in baseball and cannot hit fungo, about all I can say is you never played the game. The point is that you have to learn the game. For any organization, to properly serve the organization you have to learn about it. While the thinking and actions of the Astros in having a data scientist actually learn about the game of baseball are apparently revolutionary, they should be a regular part of your compliance department program.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2017