What makes a company a great one to work for?
It’s the people.
Sure, the free lunches and the Friday beer parties are nice. And who wouldn’t want unlimited vacation time and fully paid health insurance for the whole family?
Still, if you don’t have the right people, you’re toast.
Take the Seattle Mariners. Please.
For the past decade-plus, the Mariners have been shakier than the Jell-O salad at a Midwest potluck. Since their storybook 2001 season, which ended agonizingly short of a World Series appearance, they’ve made the postseason exactly no times. To put that into startlingly brutal perspective, every other team in Major League Baseball, with the exception of the Toronto Blue Jays, has been to the postseason at least once since 2001. That’s 28 other teams. It’s as if the Mariners (and the Blue Jays) are playing by different rules. Or with inferior equipment.
Or maybe the wrong people.
The Mariners came close last year — so close that the talk this spring was that they were a virtual lock to make the playoffs with the addition of one more big bat in the lineup.
But as this goes to press — at the one-third mark of the 2015 season — the Mariners are worse off this year than they were last year at this time, even with that big bat. They’re not out of it, certainly, but they’ll have to do even better than their .574 winning percentage during the final two months of last season, which left them one victory short of a playoff berth.
So how do they get there?
Good question. If the Mariners were a widget manufacturer, one would be hard pressed to see them becoming the widget king anytime soon. Their “big bat,” Nelson Cruz, is like the highly paid marketing genius who’s been brought in to sell a product that’s not quite ready for prime time. Imagine Cruz, the new guy, sitting down with the CEO to look over the company roster.
“What’s this guy Ackley like?” Cruz asks.
“Dustin Ackley,” says the CEO. “Nice kid. We hired him right out of college about four years ago. Reassigned him from accounting to marketing to production. Transferred him to the Tacoma division for a while. Can’t seem to find his comfort zone.”
“I see. And Zunino?” Cruz asks.
“Mike Zunino,” says the CEO. “Nice kid. Great attitude. Works well with others, but he whiffs on finishing team projects about half the time.”
“Interesting. What about Miller?”
“Brad Miller. Nice kid. Hustles a lot, but not much to show for it. We’ve toyed with moving him around to other departments, too.”
“And this guy Canó?”
“Robinson Canó,” says the CEO. “Quality guy. Productive. But I’m concerned that he’s been slacking off a bit ever since you arrived.”
“Really? What about Hernández?”
“Félix Hernández,” says the CEO. “Great guy. We call him King Félix. He’s our best pitchman. Heart of a lion. Wish I had four more just like him.”
“The other pitchmen aren’t good?”
“Some are on disability. The others are kind of hit or miss.”
“Well, it sounds like they’re all nice, quality, great people,” says Cruz. “But as a group, they’re not getting the job done. Your widgets are mediocre.”
“But with you on board now,” says the CEO, “we can expect to sell more product, right?
“You need more than a marketing genius,” Cruz replies. “You need people who can make better widgets.”
John Levesque is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine.