Moneyball: It’s One for the Ages

Moneyball — A term describing baseball operations in which a team endeavors to analyze the market talent and buy what is undervalued and sell what is overvalued. It is not about any single talent factor, but whatever is undervalued at that time. It derives its name from a Michael Lewis book and spawned a movie of the same name.

That’s the sports definition of Moneyball. Some of you have read the book or seen the movie.

The most important application of the Moneyball concept is that in any talent economy — the one your company competes in for example — there’s always undervalued assets to be recruited and acquired on the cheap.

The point of Moneyball is this: If you can recruit (with scale) the undervalued asset at 60 percent of the cost but get 80 percent of the production the higher priced asset gives you, you’re going to win as a company.

Which begs an important question. What’s the most undervalued asset in today’s U.S. talent economy? 

Is it young college grads or millennials with a bit of experience? Probably not; there’s not enough experience and they’re probably valued correctly, even at their low salaries, for their skills and experience.

Is it Generation X who are now in their late 30s and early 40s? They’re in their peak earning years.  You may love the experience and energy combo, but this segment is not undervalued.

Here’s another thought. If you’re going to follow the Moneyball approach and invest in the undervalued asset that no one wants, let’s face it: It’s old people in the workforce.

But you have to dig deeper, because all older workers aren’t undervalued assets. Some of them are fairly valued and even overvalued.

A quick Google search with the keywords “age discrimination” returns 64 million results. Everyone understands that older workers and candidates don’t always get a fair chance.

While we understand that reality, we spend little time moving away from the common stereotype of the older worker (low drive, low energy, low motivation) to truly understand the factors that might make specific older candidates “undervalued.”

For most older candidates, the knowledge, skills and abilities are going to be there; they’ve done the work or you wouldn’t even be considering them as a candidate.

But people in your organization get hamstrung by stereotypes as they consider older candidates. The stereotypical buzzwords start flying, and soon the older candidate is dropped from the search process.

All older candidates get lumped together by the negative stereotypes in play. But that clustering is what makes a specific subset of older workers — the ones who are dynamic and capable of delivering great work — undervalued.

The Moneyball approach would focus on defining the talent factors that separate great older candidates from average ones. For my money, the best factors available are behavioral in nature and serve to dispel the low-energy/sleepy myth that harms the candidacy of older candidates.

Examples of the best behavioral factors that can help battle the older worker stereotype include general reasoning/cognitive skills, assertiveness level and rules orientation.

A solid general reasoning/cognitive skill assessment shows how quickly someone can take in lots of information and make quick, accurate decisions. That’s linked to ability to learn.

Ever heard the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” Turns out that you can.

Showing older candidates as highly assertive destroys the notion that they’re sleepy and content to mail it in until retirement. Assessment scores showing older candidates have a low rules orientation means they are comfortable in chaotic environments, which has never been the conventional wisdom. 

The HR/talent pro following the Moneyball approach wouldn’t say all older workers are undervalued. She or he would look to segment that group and find the truly undervalued portion of older workers and build the case internally to hire them.

Our natural instinct is to do what others do. Reach for the energy of the young person. Be skeptical whether the professional in his 50s has what it takes to climb the mountain again.

You might have reasons to really believe that. But, if you also believe in the Moneyball approach — that assets ultimately get undervalued as the pack chases what’s hot — it’s clear what the undervalued asset is.

The undervalued asset is old people with the right stuff. Or should I say — throat-clearing sound here — deeply experienced workers. The only thing stopping you from finding the undervalued asset is defining what the right stuff is, measuring it and then selling it in your organization.

This article originally appeared in Diversity Executive's sister publication, Workforce.