Take me out to the ball game

By Steve Lloyd

American sportscaster Ernie Harwell once said, “Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life.”

Considering baseball is my favorite sport and we are having a company outing at a Grizzlies baseball game in early July, I found the timing of being asked to write this column to be a nice coincidence. Having played baseball most of my life and having coached the game in some facet over the past 15 years, I often find myself thinking about the similarities between baseball and business, and how the lessons found on a baseball field apply to the work we are doing here at JD Food, Certified Meat Products, and Gillum Family Farms.

“Learning the Game”

I was lucky enough to learn baseball from my dad, watching the Atlanta Braves play on TV, and playing baseball video games. At first glance, the game of baseball seems like a simple concept, and to some degree, it is. Throw ball – hit ball – catch ball – throw ball – seems simple, right? But what’s simple on the surface often has many complexities the deeper you dig, and such is the case with the game of baseball. As with most sports, there is a lot of strategy and many underlying actions that take place which might not be readily noticeable by most observers.  

In the same way I learned the game of baseball, similar learning takes place at JD/CMP/GFF. You might learn a particular job function from a mentor or supervisor, watch Alchemy training videos to learn about how to safely navigate equipment or potentially dangerous situations, and get a feel for our company culture through observing how your co-workers go about their day. Like baseball at a glance, a quick look at JD operations might seem fairly simple – bring in product, sell product, pick product, deliver product. And on the CMP side, you could walk through the plant and feel like it’s pretty simple too – unpack meat, cut/process meat, pack/box meat, ship meat.

However, the reality is there are a lot of complexities between both companies that go into making the process look simple on the outside. In the same way that fans appreciate the skills of a professional athlete and the way they can make something difficult look routine, I appreciate the way our employees handle complex and difficult tasks and make it look easy. My encouragement as you continue to “learn the game” is to focus on developing your skills and challenging yourself to find ways to make our team better.

“During the Game”

During a baseball game, you typically have 9 players actively playing the game, a few coaches helping make decisions, and the rest of the team watching/waiting for their turn to play. In terms of applying the baseball analogy to JD/CMP/GFF, I would consider your time on the clock as your time playing the game. Because we have many different shifts, there are times when you are not on the clock or at work, but operations continue as others play the game. In professional baseball, a typical team might have 25 active players, so there are plenty of times when some players are in and others are out, but the impact of what happens during the game affects all members of the organization, and not just the ones on the field. As a team and as a company, almost everything you do is going to a) be impacted by what someone else does and b) have an impact on what someone is going to do next.

Prior to a baseball game, you’ll see the grounds crew prepping the field and making it look pristine. I like to think in this analogy at CMP our sanitation crew is preparing our production rooms for the game that is about to be played. Once the field is ready, you’ll see coaches exchange lineup cards with the umpire and the other team. I’d say this would be our sales team taking an order from the customer and working with our purchasing department to make sure we have the right product on hand. With the lineups exchanged and orders taken, the game can begin and the work can be done. The cutting or grind department will process the order and hand it over to the packaging department. You can probably find members of the materials team bringing in product for production and preparing finished product for shipping, while QC diligently works throughout the process to make sure the highest standards are being followed. Towards the end of the game, you’ll see transportation getting ready to deliver the product to our customer. In baseball, you’ll usually have a closer come in to try and finish the game – at CMP it would be preparing that invoice for the customer and our accounting department making sure we get paid.

“After the Game”

After the game is over, teams generally celebrate a win with a handshake line, or accept defeat by packing up their gear and heading to the locker room. Win or lose, the good teams constantly review their performance and look for ways to keep improving. Former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda once said, “No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are, you’re going to win one-third of your games. It’s the other third that makes the difference.” Over the course of the baseball season, teams accept there will be wins and losses, but many of the games will be close and could go either way. In those games, the small decisions or plays will dictate whether the result is a win or a loss. The good teams will find a way to win those close games, while the poor teams will struggle to get the job done under pressure.   Realistically, we are going to have some wins and losses at JD/CMP/GFF, but in the “close games that could go either way” decision-making, performance, and determination are going to go a long way to making it a “successful season” for us. Regardless of how long you’ve been here, I encourage you to continue “learning the game” and recognize that your contribution “during the game” is noticed. Looking forward to celebrating some victories with you at the Grizzlies game, and if not, I will see you on the field at work (or be cheering for you if I don’t see you)!