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Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Case for Pete Mackanin

It's hard to hire a top-level employee.

You can hire a nationally known recruiter for a retained search.  You can have that recruiter gather references, check with influential people in the industry -- what's the person like as a leader, how does he/she communicate up, down and sideways, do people enjoy coming to work for this person and want to honor her/his leadership?  You can look at track records, you can have the person take all sorts of permissible "is this person a fit" tests, and you can have fourteen people interview him/her.  You can ask all sorts of questions, the most popular of which today are called "competency-based questions."  You can probe about all sorts of things, ask for examples of speaking truth to power, of turning a situation around, about finding a gem inside someone whose prospects others had dismissed.

And all of that might work.  Then again, there's the saying, "the person you interview on a Friday is not the same person who shows up on a Monday."  Translated, the person puts on his/her makeup and best face for the interview, is rehearsed, says all the right things.  His/her references say all sorts of good things, and chances are you didn't miss anything, but chances are retrospectively if you play back those references in your head after  a failed hire you'll probably focus on the things that you didn't hear but retrospectively you needed to.  It could be that the new position goes to the person's head, that the person is not a continuous improver and learner and sheds the modicum of humility you had thought was necessary for a leadership position.  It could be that despite your best intentions, it just plain out did not work.

But there's the question of the old-fashioned tryout.  Perhaps you are fortunate enough to hire someone for a junior position that's one level down, with a view toward promoting that person into the higher profile position within a few years.  During that time you can give that person all sorts of problems to solve, and watch his/her progress.  And if you like what you see, well, jackpot.  You can promote the person.  Chances are the whole organization will be pleased and support this person.  There is a chance that the person will fail because, well, the hot spot differs from the more junior spot -- more pressure, more responsibility and a different dynamic, as the person moves from a senior staff position say to "the" person.  But at least you have gotten to know the person and seen him/her develop a track record inside your organization.

Sure, there are great arguments for the Phillies not to remove the "interim" tag from Pete Mackanin.  Among them are he is 64 years old (which is, the last time I checked, a cause for action by Mackanin under Federal law) and the fact that he has been an interim manager three times without any team's having made him their permanent manager.  In other words, time might have passed Mackanin by, and it just could be that his becoming the manager of a Major League club is not meant to be.  After all, there are only 30 such positions, and it's not a shame not to have gotten one by even your 47th years in organized baseball.

What the Phillies seemingly need right now is a good organizational manager, one who has the ego that he can do a good job but one who doesn't have to profile himself before the media or become bigger than the team.  The team is not going to contend for years, so they need a mentor who can be patient with younger talent, communicate well with them, nurture them and help foster their growth while fully engaged.  He cannot be aloof like Ryan Sandberg or a drill sergeant like Larry Bowa.   He needs to be someone more like, well, Pete Mackanin.

Right now, the Phillies are 16-17 in games Mackanin has managed, and this among significant transition that had seen speculation regarding significant player movement and then the movement itself, as the team lost its most reliable outfielder, a stellar closer, and one of the best starting pitchers in the team's history.  Under his predecessor, the team was winning only a third of its games.  If anything, the Philllies' Major League roster has gotten worse, but the team has played with a vigor and energy that was lacking before Ryne Sandberg realized that there was more to managing a Major League team than just having had a Hall of Fame career and wanting to.  It's admirable that Sandberg rode buses in the minors to pay his dues and become a Major League manager; it's just disappointing that he failed to adapt to a dynamic where the players at the top level have much more leverage over the manager than they do collectively in the minors.  Managing in the Majors requires a much different skill set, it would appear, from managing in the minors.  The minors can suffer a dictator, even an authoritarian one who feels no need to communicate; the Majors demand someone who establishes his authority by using it sparingly and getting the players to want to do things for you and not disappoint you.

And that describes Pete Mackanin, a baseball lifer who has done his apprenticeship in organized baseball in many ways and even at 64 is ready for this job.  My guess is that he can ace the batter of tests and in-person interviews that the team will put candidates through.  But no candidate can do what Mackanin is doing right now, because none will have a similar opportunity -- to ace the the tryout.

Pete Mackanin is acing the tryout.  He merits the full-time job in Philadelphia.

There's a good rule in human resources that people should keep in mind.  You might not love the incumbent, but if the incumbent overall is a plus and is predictable there are far worse alternatives out there.  Right now, Pete Mackanin is a big plus and a known quantity.  Oh, the big club can bandy about a bunch of names and the fans can get excited, but there is no point to that right now.  The Phillies have a top candidate right inside their clubhouse.  They are getting good press for hiring Mackanin, for what he has done, and for their trades.  They should continue the streak, remove the uncertainty, and honor Mackanin and the team now.

Pete Mackanin should be an interim no more.

He's earned the full-time job.


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