After over 105 years without winning the world series, the Cubs were due for a culture change. Years of sub-par performances, compounded by the fact that the Cubs were always among the most profitable teams in baseball, left the management and fans feeling like the losers the rest of the country viewed them as. A deep playoff run in 2003, in which the Cubs were up 3-0 in the National League Championship, had fans giddy for what looked to be a lock for the cubs first World Series game in over 70 years. Fate however had other plans as the Cubs went on to lose 4 straight games following a fan interfering with what could have been a series clinching out in game three.
Culture is something that is at times both difficult to describe and impossible to ignore. Why does the sign at the rental car office saying “Customer service is our top priority!” make you uneasy, while the smiling 20-something in a blue Apple t-shirt make you feel appreciated and taken care of? The answer is culture, and every business, team and family has it’s own.
Joe Maddon was born in 1954 in Hazelton, PA and grew up in a small apartment above his father's plumbing shop. He played baseball and football on scholarship at nearby Lafayette College before spending 4 unsuccessful years in the California Angels minor league system, never getting above single A. Joe would spend the next 31 years in the Angles organization doing everything from minor league scouting to managing the major league team. Knowing this about Joe and his early life might lead one to believe he’s a no-nonsense guy with a indefatigable work ethic and a permanent chip on his shoulder, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
When Joe took over the Cubs in 2015, you could feel the energy around the team before he arrived. With a reputation for getting the most out of less-than-stellar talent, Cubs fans were salivating when then President Theo Epstein made the hire a few years after noticeably ramping up spending on the organization. Ballpark construction, a bevy of young talented stars and a new manager had the stage set for a serious and focused season, but being serious was the last thing on Mr. Maddon’s mind.
Baseball has always had a reputation for being fond of tradition. People often joke that baseball has more unwritten rules than written ones, and as such, being unique and ‘out-there’ can often be seen as selfish or disrespectful. No one has been able to toe the line better than Joe, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find another MLB manager who doesn’t respect him. The culture that Joe Maddon brought to the cubs has had an immediate and profound effect on the team, starting with a deep and unexpected playoff run the season he was hired.
Joe likes to keep things fun and loose. Whether it’s inviting a magician to the clubhouse, or encouraging players to wear footie-pajamas on the team flight, it can almost seem like baseball is an afterthought to Mr. Maddon, that is, until you look at the results. The team is winning at a rate Chicagoans haven’t seen in decades, and even botched construction projects surrounding the stadium haven’t damped the energy and positivity around the team and it’s fans. As Joe famously quipped during his first press conference, “Don't ever permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure.”
It’s important to spend time thinking about and working on the culture of whatever organization you happen to be in. There are few things that are more important in determining the long term success of your group than establishing a set culture and sticking to it, and it starts with the leaders. While culture can sometimes be hard to define, it’s something that outsiders to your organization, be that clients, employees or friends, will instantly recognize. Do you treat your employees well? Is your business clean and orderly? Do people look like they want to be there? All these items are part of your culture, and if you don’t take the time to think about and consciously steer where you are going, you could end up cursed for 100 years.