Watching a Red Sox game on TV the other night, it occurred to me that there are some relevant parallels between baseball and business – and I’m not talking about the fat contracts being inked these days by the all-star players and the sky-high bonuses handed out to Wall Street dealmakers.
Years ago, a sportswriter whose name escapes me characterized baseball as a game of “suddenness: suddenly, anything can happen.” But what a plethora of possibilities the game presents. While it’s a game of subtleties, if you know baseball well and know what to watch for, you generally have a pretty good idea of what might happen next. Even then, however, the variables are virtually without number. At least you know in general what to expect.
It’s all there right in front of you and it’s only a matter of being familiar enough with the nuances of the game and the two particular teams on the field to be able to assess the situation and make a fair prediction about what might or should happen next. The unpredictability arises when you take into account the unknowns that can suddenly change the game, like errors, bad hops, an outfielder’s late jump on a deep hit, wild pitches, and lousy calls by “blind” umpires.
The same holds true with business. There are an infinite number of possibilities for each given situation. But unlike the game of baseball played on a finite field that’s completely in view, you can’t always readily perceive all the inconsistencies that might and often do come into play.
For instance, in an uncertain economy, should the company invest in new plants, equipment and people, or hoard its cash in a protective crouch? It depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is the company’s position in its industry versus competitors; the strength of its new product development pipeline; the relative strength or weakness of the markets and customers to whom it sells; and cash flow and cash reserve, to name just a handful of variables.
That’s why it’s imperative for all people, no matter their position or level of responsibility within the organization, to stay fully apprised and cognizant of everything that impacts the business. That includes the dynamics both inside and, especially, outside the company. Think of the business arena as a ball field, with a lot of different players, each with a different role and capabilities.
It’s a free-for-all
But this is where my analogy falls apart. Business is not as simple as a baseball game with just two competitors on the field. In fact, it’s more like a free-for-all paintball tournament. It’s you against everyone else. While you take aim at one player in your line of sight, you’ve failed to notice another opponent hiding behind an adjacent tree about to fire a pellet at your backside and take you out of the game.
That’s why effective organizational communications are so important in helping a business achieve success, repeatedly and well into the future. A smoothly operating communications function is a company’s best means pumping oxygen into the system, assuring that its people stay well informed about the evolving paradigm in which the company operates, such as new competitive threats, evolving governmental regulations and increased corporate taxes. Or a hurricane that’s threatening a manufacturing plant on the Gulf Coast.
At the same time, communications must provide the means by which those same people can communicate up, down and across the organization to share insights and ideas in their pursuit of answers to the organization’s unique challenges, and responses to its opportunities.
In short, the communications function and the people who manage it must operate as though they were the play-by-play announcer sitting in the broadcast booth high above home plate. He brings to bear his wisdom from years of playing and watching the game, combined with his eye for the action and the added advantage of having the best seat in the house
Even still, that’s an imperfect parallel because it’s more than that. As the company’s communications professional, it’s as though while you’re calling the game, you’re also advising the team manager. And, you’re keeping score. Plus, you’re facilitating the means by which fans can ask questions about a particular play.
In short, communications is a tough, multi-faceted assignment. But, executed consistently and effectively, it’s also one of the most important roles in the organization, helping its component parts and people sustain utmost awareness of and appreciation for the multitude of dangers that threaten it and opportunities that can help shape its future.