Who’s on First?

In The Phaedrus, Plato relates that Socrates used the maxim “know thyself” as his explanation for why he had no time for the likes of mythology or other esoteric topics. “I have no leisure for them at all,” he says, “and the reason, my friend, is this: I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things.”
This is why you don’t read comic books at work. Your job—your livelihood, in fact—depends on your company knowing itself: getting and deploying accurate, relevant information. Not shadows on the cave wall, but rather vital, dependable, actionable intelligence. The data might involve time to fill, retention, employee engagement, return on recognition, productivity, absenteeism, presenteeism, or dozens of other bits.
Sometimes, the best information comes from domain experts. Sometimes, it comes from crowd sourcing. Our “Baker’s Dozen Customer Satisfaction Rankings” offer the best of both worlds. In the various worlds of provider services, from recruiting to learning, our methodology yields a quality of insight that makes it the industry standard for practitioners deciding whether to build or buy—and how. Sourcing both providers’ self-identified clients and those culled from our proprietary database, we are able to produce the definitive rankings on size, breadth, quality, and overall service.
This month’s survey covers the intricate dynamic of managed service programs (MSP), which increasingly governs the total workforce (full-time, part-time, contingent, contractors, etc.) with a unified oversight structure. A quickly evolving practice, it has also seen the fastest growth of any such rankings we have ever conducted. This is our third yeard and it has swelled to include several hundred respondents, eclipsing the early growth spurts of its now-robust sister lists and already occupying a position of indispensable importance for practitioners considering how to lead their complexifying workforces.
That’s why our lists constitute much more than an exercise in vanity. They provide real-world value for folks making tough, expensive decisions.
If Socrates’ injunction to “know thyself” feels too, well, philosophical, consider Moneyball instead. For those of you who are not either baseball fanatics (me) or Brad Pitt groupies (I think he’s a fine actor, but my idolatry stops there), the central premise of the book (and the Oscar-nominated move last year) is that experts can get things wrong more often than we think. The father of the idea, Bill James, is a statistics maven who pulled apart data from the game’s first century and proved that the collected wisdom of baseball insiders—players, managers, coaches, scouts, and the front office—was clearly subjective and often flawed. Historically, statistics such as stolen bases, runs batted in, and batting average were used to rate players. In Moneyball, the Oakland A’s’ front office of the early 2000’s follows James’ dictum to employ more analytical gauges, such as on-base percentage (basically adding walks and hits together) and slugging percentage (ratio of big hits to hits) to build its team.
Because they were first adopters of this approach, the A’s succeeded in plucking talent more cheaply on the open market, the team eventually going deep into the playoffs with a $41 million payroll at a time when large market teams (think pinstripes and arrogance) were shelling out well north of $100 million. The tome was a bit boosterish, ignoring a stellar pitching staff that had not been assembled using the James’ techniques. It was also a bit blind; the word steroid does not appear within its pages. But it identified a phenomenon that has since become standard operating procedure for every major league team.
The irony is that such metric mania now offers little to no competitive advantage, because everyone is doing it. General managers these days count on the masters of logarithm as much as they do on the grizzled, pot-bellied, tobacco-spitting scout. You wouldn’t discard the latter altogether, of course. Intuition and experience have their place. But failing to conduct statistical due diligence would constitute malpractice by the front office.
The same goes true, of course, for labor force leadership. Which is why our Baker’s Dozen rankings are so popular. Whether your touchstone is Greek philosophy or picking a baseball team, the lessons are the same. Knowledge is power. Ignorance is no excuse.
-Dirk Olin

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