The Billy Goat Curse Finally Broken By Cubs - An HR View

So the Chicago Cubs finally broke the curse of the Billy Goat and after 108 years have finally been crowned the best team in Baseball once again.

There is no obvious link to HR in that story itself but I found the history of the curse of the Billy Goat an interesting one and how this became a legitimate barrier to the team being successful once again. For those not aware the curse was placed on the team in 1945 when the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern was told he couldn't take his billy goat mascot to the games anymore due to his odour upsetting other fans. The owner allegedly announced 'Those Cubs ain't gonna win any more' and the curse was born. The curse became an anchor round the clubs neck and it looked possible it may never be broken.

So the link to HR? Well normally we look at ways that a business can grow and be successful/efficient and these are things like product development and research, implementing new technology and improving efficiency in staff. This barrier however appeared to be a wholly mental one and not one that a change in structure or approach would resolve. Most sports teams look to build a successful side through player development and recruitment and despite the Cubs employing talented players over the years they were never able to beat the curse.

What sort of approach does an organisation take to overcome something that is not physically measurable?

Does staff wellbeing and mental health approach affect this?

Without knowledge of what goes on inside the organisation we can only speculate that there has been an approach to minimise the mental impact that the curse and its perceived influence in public had on the players and management.  The success of this type of approach is clear in the victory in the World Series (after being 3-1 down in a first to 4 race no less) after 108 years without a real sniff.

What the victory shows to me is that it is important not only to have the right staff in the right roles but to also give them the mental support to not let things out of their control (such as the curse) impact on their ability to perform to the highest ability.

The same approach and thought process can be used in other industries and markets that suffer from public perceptions like a ‘curse’. Financial institutions that are viewed as nothing more than money grabbers, interested in their own wealth and success. Governments who are seen as only looking out for their own people and ignoring the needs of the masses. Big business who are viewed as putting profits above everything else.  

Whilst they may not suffer from a curse, the staff who work in these areas may still be affected by the public perception even if in most cases it is false. Staff just want to come to work and give their best everyday but see that even with all their efforts, the business is still viewed negatively in a way that is almost impossible to alter.

The takeaway from the Cubs victory with a HR hat on is that whilst it is important having the best employees and the best facilities to succeed. We must also look to make sure that we have covered the mental wellbeing side for every employee ensuring that they are able to address any hurdles that can hinder performance and output (even those hurdles that are mythical curses)

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  • Really interesting post Stephen, like this a lot.

    Whilst it wasn't a curse as such there was a lot made of the English football sides inability to put the demons of previous tournament failures to rest. When the latest generation of footballers emerged it was an opportunity to put those failures behind them and play they they had no baggage. Not sure they have although how much of this is media induced I'm not sure. The same can be said of anyone who has made a mistake in business - that's probably most of us if not all of us at some point. Mentally we either carry this mistake or the consequences of whatever mistake it was and let it effect our work or we deal with it, learn from it and become stronger as a result. When you look at this at an organisational level - or within a sports team (a different type of organisation) the role of HR is to make sure our people can do their best work each and everyday....regardless of history and what has gone before.

    It's interesting the amount of sports psychologists that are turning their skills towards the business world and becoming very successful - mindset and mental well-being is as important to success as any skills or experience. 

    • Thanks Mike, appreciate that!

      I have a real interest in psychology and sports psychology in particular so I find these sort of problems for organisations really interesting in how they approach them.

      • Hi Stephen, I avidly follow US sports and like Mike's comments, I really enjoyed reading your post.

        Theo Epstein, Head of Baseball Operations for the Cubs is interesting as well from a leadership perspective and implementing the talent and organisational philosophies at the Cubs that he helped shape as General Manager at the Boston Red Sox who themselves had their 86 year curse before they won the world series in 2004. I would advocate that Epstein's work can also be traced to the 'moneyball' phenomenon of the Oakland A's and their approach to talent management in a market dominated by the so called bigger clubs. As you note, there is benefit to what is a  'psycho-analytic' approach for organisations to adopt in their development that can be illustrated in leadership practices and employee performance.

        Good stuff.

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