Wanna trade?

Before I plunge into my chosen topic for this post, I need to make a disclaimer for anyone reading this who works at the school where I currently serve or is affiliated with it in any way: The ideas I am about to wrestle with are purely theoretical; I have no one in mind, and no thoughts of trying to “trade” anyone!

Whew… Okay, here we go.

If you are a baseball fan you have surely heard about the blockbuster mega-trade made earlier this week between the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays. Though the trade has not yet been made official (it is still being reviewed by the Commissioner’s office) it appears likely to go through. When it does, the Blue Jays will receive five players from the Marlins with combined salary obligations of more than $150 million. The Marlins, on the other hand, will receive six players from Toronto, but only three of them have any Major League experience. Actually, the prospects are more highly touted than the veterans. The combined salary obligations of those six players is minimal…probably in the neighborhood of 10% of the commitments being taken on by Toronto. On the other hand, the Marlins will obtain a combined 32 years of team control over the six players they will receive, whereas Toronto gets only 12 years of team control. Needless to say, the reaction among baseball fans and pundits has been “fast and furious.”

This trade got me thinking, though. Trades are common in professional sports, but they rarely if ever happen in any other industry. And I am not necessarily suggesting the they should happen in other industries. What I do wonder, though, is whether the principle behind trades in professional sports does, or should, apply in other fields. A sports team, of course, hopes to improve their team whenever they make a trade–either in the short term or the long term. In the trade mentioned above, for example, the Blue Jays are obviously hoping for a short-term benefit that will make them competitive in the AL East. The Marlins, on the other hand, are looking to the future, hoping to be competitive several years from now and not spend millions of dollars in the meantime on a team that finished in last place in their division last season, winning only 43% of their games. Should that motive–improving the team–apply to businesses? What about ministries?

Like I said, I am not talking about actual trades; I am not going to send you one experienced teacher in exchange for a novice teacher and a custodian (or any other combination). However, if I–or anyone in a leadership position with the responsibilities of hiring and firing–feels that someone else might do a better job in a position than someone currently on my staff, should I decide not to renew the contract of my staff member and replace him or her with someone else? After all, this would be a “trade” by another name. Or what if the budget is tight (isn’t it always?) and I think I could find a relatively new teacher that would be just as effective as one I have that has a few decades of experience? The financial savings could be considerable if there were fifteen or twenty steps on the salary scale difference between the two….

Part of this discussion has to be about loyalty, I suppose. If someone is doing a competent job–not incredible, but certainly better than mediocre–is the “right thing to do” to retain him or her out of loyalty, or should loyalty not even be a consideration when evaluating effectiveness? Does family situation come into the picture? After all, not renewing the contract of a married teacher with children has many more ramifications than does not renewing the contract of a single individual with no children, right? Sports teams don’t take any of that into consideration, in my estimation; I doubt they give any thought to whether the player being traded (or cut) has a wife or children.

Maybe when the salary in question is millions of dollars the challenges of moving are minimized. The other difference, of course, if that when a team trades a player, the player still has a job–albeit in a different state, usually. When a school or business chooses not to renew a contract, the individual in question becomes unemployed. While there is the hope that he or she would find other employment sooner than later, there is absolutely no guarantee that would be the case.

I will be honest; there have been times when I have wrestled with this question. It was five or six years ago now, but there was an individual who worked with me that was performing satisfactorily, but that was about all I could say. There was nothing exceptional, no “above and beyond.” I wondered whether satisfactory was good enough, or if I would be better serving the organization by “trading” for someone who seemed likely to do more than that. I chose, in that instance, not to make the “trade,” but not necessarily because I came to a firm conviction on the question. In fact, I’m still not sure of the right answer. Your thoughts are welcome….

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