Culture-The Cubs Way

Right now, it is 11:45am on Saturday October 22, 2016. Our family has just arrived for a three-day holiday, that is what my four-year old Maddie calls every get-away we take as a family, (she got that from Peppa Pig!) at the Wilderness Resort in the Wisconsin Dells. What does this have to do with this blog? everything! I am not with them, instead I have been sitting in my home office for the last three hours researching and taking notes. Oh, and did I mention I am going to Game Six of the NLCS. Truth be told I was a bit torn on whether I should go to the game and join the family a day late or make the trip with them this morning. Then my incredibly insightful wife said, ‚ if you don’t go I will go, it is a once in a life time experience. Plus, the kids will be fine, once they get to the waterpark they won’t even realize Daddy isn’t with them.

My intention was to have the blog, Culture-The Cubs Way, completely written before I left and then to post it tomorrow morning once I could attach a great picture. Then as I started reading it dawned on me how amazing this journey has been since the Ricketts family made the purchase, specifically since they hired Theo Epstein. The original plan was to write about how Joe Maddon completely changed the culture of the Cubs, but it truly started with the hiring of Theo Epstein.

The Cubs Way

When Theo Epstein took over as President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs in October of 2011 everything changed. Everything. Epstein inherited a Cubs organization in complete disarray. The team was awful and a me-first attitude permeated the clubhouse. Scouting and player development were extremely inconsistent due to a lack of commitment from ownership to a consistent plan. The facilities were crumbling and the small front-office staff worked in trailers and processed group ticket sales with carbon paper. Performance reviews were said to be paid lip service.

Enter Epstein and The Cubs Way manual which detailed every facet of the organization from code of conduct to which foot to plant on the bag while making your turn around the base. Epstein declared The Cubs Way is a living, breathing thing that will evolve. In early 2012 he described it this way; The Cubs Way really boils down to people. The players, obviously, but then all the scouts, all the people in the minor leagues, here in the big leagues. It more than words on a page. It comes down to how deep we dig to get connected to players, to teach the game the right way, how much we care, ow committed we are, how we treat each other in the front office, the coaches the players, how hard we work. There is a lot that goes into this and building an organization.

In short, Theo Epstein went to work immediately on changing the culture of the Chicago Cubs in every office and every locker room in the organization at every level.

Six Keys to a W in Organizational Culture

The Six Keys to a W are:

  1. Vision: Every powerful culture begins with the end in mind and provides an authentic vision that is congruent with the organization’s values. Epstein immediately raised expectations when he began preaching The Cubs Way. The Cubs set three goals: 1. Be a good neighbor; 2. Preserve historic Wrigley Field; 3. Win the World Series.
  2. Values: The organization’s core values are the very heart of its culture. Just as the vision defines the organization’s purpose, values establish what the organization stands for and thus adds a set of guidelines on the behaviors and mindsets needed to achieve that vision. For Epstein, this was on display in his quote on The Cubs Way when he talked about digging deep to connect to players, teaching the game the right way, how much they care, how committed they are and the work ethic of the organization. These values have helped develop a selfless, team-oriented culture.
  3. Practices: An organization with a strong culture will walk their talk on a consistent basis while holding true to their vision and values. If you look at the Cubs and what they have done since October of 2011 you will clearly see the incredible journey they have taken to get to the 2016 World Series. From the improvements to the facilities, the commitment to signing big name players away from other teams, to drafting and developing young talent, to patiently executing a plan with a sense of urgency and to encouraging skill mastery in all areas of their organization while providing a sense of purpose.
  4. People: In his book What it Takes: Seven Secrets of Success from the World’s Greatest Professional Firms, Charles Ellis points out that the best firms are fanatical about recruiting new employees who are not just the most talented but also the best suited to a particular corporate culture. The Cubs did this in the front office and the draft as well as by going out and signing big time game-changers from other teams. And they did this by hiring Joe Maddon, a perfect fit to lead a group of men to work together toward a common goal and to do so in a professional manner while playing a boy’s game. Maddon has the unique ability to balance fun and business, looseness and precision as well as spontaneity and discipline.
  5. Narrative: Every organization has a unique history- its own story. They say that the ability to unearth that history and craft it into a narrative is a core element of culture creation. For the Cubs, it is an extremely powerful story as it has been identified and retold every year after year after year. The lovable losers, the goat, the black cat, that poor die hard Cubs fan that supposedly interfered with a foul ball that was a sure out, the ivy, the Cubs faithful, the bleachers, wait until next year, great players who never got a sniff of the World Series and the list could go on.
  6. Place (Appropriate Facilities): The work environment which is created by the place- whether it be geography, architecture or aesthetic design-impacts the values and behaviors of people in the workplace. The Cubs organization has undergone a massive $575 million Wrigley Field renovation which included increased seating in the bleachers, new scoreboards including two jumbotrons, a new state of the art locker room as well as an ultra-modern professional office building which is almost complete and other amenities. Also, the Cubs completed new training facilities of their Spring Training home in Mesa, AZ as well as a player development center in the Dominican Republic.

Yes, there are other factors that influence and strengthen culture, but these six serve as an incredible foundation whether you are a new organization looking to shape your culture or an existing organization looking to reshape or revitalize the existing culture. Since 2011 the Cubs have built their culture and organization in such a way that this trip to the World Series is not the end of the journey, but rather the beginning of an amazing run.

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