Something curious has happened in baseball.
The Washington Nationals fired manager Dusty Baker; the New York Yankees followed suit with manager Joe Girardi.
Big deal. In professional sports, celebrity marriages last longer than a manager's tenure.
But what's curious this time is the performance level of those fired. Baker had just finished back to back 95- and 97-win seasons before getting the pink slip. For perspective, 100 wins is considered a career achievement for any team/manager--and my beloved Cincinnati Reds won a trifling 68 games this year.
Joe Girardi never had less than an 84-win season over his decade of managing the Yankees, despite having questionable rosters at times. He won three division titles and got to the 2009 World Series. He'd just finished an unexpectedly great season leading a young team to within one game of the World Series.
Hardly underperformers, and solid community members to boot.
Yet they got the boot.
I'm going on record as saying their firing makes no sense on many levels and poses many questions, but lest this article swerve into a Sports Illustrated piece, let's shift to a related question.
When is the right time to move on from a manager who's winning, but not winning enough?
Here are seven signs it's time to make a warranted change:
1. A darker pattern has developed that overrides bright points in time.
We can all become enamored with a manager during key meetings when they say the right thing, impress a two-up boss, or seem to shine at just the most visible moments. But underneath it all, has a pattern settled in where the manager is simply not living up to the standards/goals of the business?
Has year after year of results been decent but not dazzling? Is the lack of dazzling frequently explained away by circumstance?
Sometimes if it walks like a duck, you have to ask, "Is this a duck"? Bottom line, are you never going to get the business to the next level over the long run, despite the shiny moments along the way?
It's never easy, but it may be time to make a change.
2. The manager understands the difference between good and great but is still stuck in the former.
As I detail in my new book, employees often don't really understand the difference between good and great. Have you literally spelled it out for them by agreeing to definitions on paper for what a good outcome looks like versus a great outcome across key metrics? If you feel they're irrefutably clear on the definition of great but don't deliver it, it may be time to bring in someone who can close the gap.
Is good enough, not?
3. Your personal investment is producing less than market returns.
Have you done your part in providing regular, constructive feedback, given clear goals, given them every opportunity to win, and yet you aren't seeing enough development? Change may be in the winds, then--especially if you benchmark the personal development of managers in like jobs elsewhere that are progressing faster.
You may need to see greater returns by betting on higher-yield bonds (not penny stocks).
4. They've "lost the clubhouse."
Returning to baseball for a moment, at least in the case of Girardi, speculation is that he didn't connect with his younger players. Has the manager been leading without full support of his team?
It may be time for a changing of the guardian.
5. They're not delivering come playoff time.
Critics would argue that Dusty Baker consistently under-delivered in big moments (the playoffs). Does the manager in question post decent results but flail in big moments, big meetings, big town halls with the troops?
Might be time to find someone who can deliver "Yes, and."
6. They've stopped firing SCUD missiles.
Spark. Curiosity. Urgency. Drive. SCUD.
If results are okay but you rarely see them sparking to an opportunity or firing up others, if they've stopped asking questions/being inquisitive, or if they no longer demonstrate urgency or just don't have the drive required--well, you know what.
7. If he/she resigned today, you wouldn't fight to keep them.
A Harvard Business Review article offers a final litmus test: When all is said and done, emotions aside, if the manager resigned tomorrow, how would you feel?
Would you feel like a big window of opportunity just opened for the business, organization, and even you to accelerate?
If you wouldn't fight to keep them, then stop fighting yourself on the difficult decision.
In baseball or in business, firing someone is a tough call. But it just may be time to play ball with a new manager if some of the above criteria are in play.