By:  Holly Horning

Whenever I work with someone on their professional goals, one of the first things I ask about is the company’s corporate culture. How it is defined, or not, is crucial to the company’s – and individual’s – success.

So what does the term “corporate culture” really mean? According to Inc.’s Encyclopedia of Business Terminology:

Corporate culture refers to the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature. Corporate culture is rooted in an organization’s goals, strategies, structure, and approaches to labor, customers, investors, and the greater community. As such, it is an essential component in any business’s ultimate success or failure.

So what is the Tigers’ corporate culture? Not even reporters can speak to it and I doubt the tight-lipped Front Office will give us a hint, but the philosophies and outlook of management trickle down to all employees. And yes, that includes the guys who share a clubhouse, dugout and playing field.

At first glance, there is much to admire about the organization. The Tigers are consistently one of the few teams who do not stir the baseball pot of rumors and make moves that can only be seen as highly professional. They keep a lid on everything and you’d be hard-pressed to hear any of them denigrate an individual. That’s why Dave Dombrowski’s comment about Scott Boras last year was unusually surprising, creating a ripple in the local newspapers.

And in a world where baseball people tend to be nomads, the team has been a harbor of job stability which tends to indicate that employees enjoy the work environment. There is also a keen sense of loyalty from Mr. I and on down. All admired in the business world, but taken too far, can also create problems.

And maybe that is now what the hierarchy needs to address. When your team has been trying to win the World Series for 10 years despite a radical change in players, as well as managers and coaches, you need to start looking at the constants in the equation – not just the personnel. And the corporate culture, only one of a number of issues, should be one of those examined.

Mr. I has been very loyal to his GM of 14 years. And in turn, Dave maintained confidence in his manager, Jim Leyland for 8 years. To this day, there are still a number of executives, consultants and coaches who have been with the team significantly longer than the average for the other MLB teams.

Only three other GMs have a longer tenure than Dave. And all three have won at least one World Series title. Yes, loyalty has played a part but how much is also attributable to “Midwest Nice”? (

Is loyalty getting in the way of management being able to see the long-view of performance? Is it responsible for management being unwilling, hesitant or slow to make some changes or hard choices?

Another factor to consider is attitude. The Tigers have never been known as a typically aggressive team so could this be missing from their corporate culture? Players who don’t battle pitchers and pitchers who try to nibble on the corners, instead of challenging batters. And this week, social media threads focused on Ausmus’ actions and quotes which appear to indicate a strategy of “playing not to lose” instead of “playing to win.”

All businesses need to define their “winning mentality” culture – a way of expressing and working towards the desired goals. At least in the clubhouse, this has not been communicated. When you hear managers, coaches and players saying “it’s just one game”, “that’s baseball” and putting the blame on something other than their performances to excuse a loss, then Houston, we’ve got a problem. When Andrew Romine said this week, “It’s just a loss, it’s not that big of a deal,” alarm bells should have been going off in the Front Office.

Contrast this to other teams with managers who speak to the media with energy, attitude and assertiveness. They are precise in their message. They are passionate. And they clearly articulate their expectations of players. The best at getting their message across are Bruce Bochy, Clint Hurdle, Joe Maddon, Buck Showalter, Mike Matheny, Paul Molitor and Matt Williams. Is it merely a coincidence that their teams are performing well?

Couple an undefined attitude principle and a weak “winning mentality”, as seen in manager and players alike, and you end up with no accountability. You end up with underperforming players telling the media that they did well (when maybe they didn’t) but something else got in the way.  In his 6 starts with no wins, Justin Verlander still refuses to admit that his pitching is a concern.  Contrast this with other teams who actually fine their players for making excuses because it goes against the team’s philosophy.

And this is why many fans complain about the Tigers often having no passion or spark. A winning mentality includes clear performance expectations for everyone – whether it is statistical or attitude-based. Other than VMart, which players appear to be giving it their all and grinding out every single moment on a daily basis? Could the inconsistent play and complacency that has characterized this team for years now be a result of an uncommunicated and unenforced “winning mentality” attitude?

But in this new global workplace, every organization must also recognize that they have employees who are not American-born or raised. How people grow up, how they interpret events and the basis for their belief system are crucial to developing a true team-think. No longer can we assume that foreign-born players should automatically know what “teamwork” means in this country.  This concept has different qualities in different countries. Cultural divides need to be recognized and a universal system for expectations needs to be part of any organization.

The Tigers currently have 12 of their 25-man roster as foreign-born. Six different countries are represented and a number of the players speak little to no English. Could an absence of an international set of expectations and goals be a factor in the public critiques about the players often having a hard time getting on the same page as a group during a game?

But a final factor to consider, and one of the most important, is that the majority of Tigers came from other teams.  They came from other organizations with different corporate cultures, different management styles and different expectations. Detroit is at a disadvantage when compared to teams such as the Cardinals and Royals, where players were assembled early in their careers and the corporate culture was precisely defined. Have the Tigers compensated for this factor?

With the team rumored to make some changes in the near future, one of the most important changes they should make is to fully define and communicate their corporate culture. It is a system that trickles from the top on down and within departments, or a clubhouse. And it is very contagious. Look no further than the former players and current GMs who say that over the course of even a year, the players eventually take on the characteristics and attitude of their manager.

Maybe this means that personnel changes, and bringing in effective messengers, is a crucial step the team needs to take.  It is one of the easiest, and least expensive strategies any organization can implement in creating a consistent, winning environment.


  1. As a recently retired VP of 2 different organizations, I couldn’t agree with you more Holly. The title of your article says it all but your arguments pose questions that every executive within the Tiger’s organization need to think long and hard about (can someone find a way to get this blog in Chris Ilich’s hands?). For 2 years I have said that the Tiger’s organization needs to have you working for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Insightful article, Holly. Very well done. I’ve been reading this blog very day since its inception and I’m very impressed with it. You both speak to the everyday fan and I’ve learned quite a bit, especially in the area of how the team and its issues are represented in the local media. Keep up the great work!


  3. The problem for fans is that we don’t see the performance objectives for Dombrowski, Avila, and others in the front office. By the measures of attendance, license revenue, broadcast revenue, etc., the front office might be having a good enough season to retain their jobs. All we see are the results of head-to-head team comparisons.


    • If DD were to leave he’d instantly become the #1 choice for every MLB team looking for a GM and/or president. No other GM comes close to his win pct when it comes to trades. The one big thing that’s separated DD from every other GM is he’s been able to exploit how much the rest of MLB ‘overvalues’ unproven minor league players.


  4. Disection, revising and discarding non productive, excess loyal employees is a arduous task. Ask Mary Barra at GM. And it’s now patently clear the Tigers need to overhaul the ignition system. “All – In” is All Done for this year. Start tomorrow – no false misguided dreams skewed with a wild card fantasy.


    • Thank you, Holly! I have long bemoaned not having a core group of players trained throughout the minors in the “Tigers Way” to play the game. Unfortunately, there is no set “Tigers Way” to play the game taught in the minors. How sad is it that the “Tigers Way” may just have been summed up by: “It’s just a loss, it’s not that big of a deal.”


  5. Sorry but this is unfair to say. The Tigers have won the most games of any team in MLB the last 4 seasons, just 1 losing year the past 9 and the 6th franchise to EVER win 4 straight divisional titles. The biggest difference right now between ALL the other .500 teams and the Tigers is the others are excited right now.


    • Hi, Oscar – I understand how you feel but think you’ve missed my point. It really is primarily about this year, fueled in part by the habits of past years coming home to roost now that cracks in performance and problems between players and management are being seen. We’ve loved the yearly results but we have to consider that those massive payrolls have masked the problems and still created poor post-season performance. All the teams with the 5 highest payrolls have won at least one World Series, except for the Tigers. We need to ask what factors have prevented the Tigers from winning that ring despite the clear advantages they’ve had in talent, division and payroll. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! – Holly


  6. Best article ever on what ails the Tigers. You cannot build a strong team without building a strong organization. Why would any young talented player look forward to getting drafted by the Tigers when their MO is to trade them for rent-a-while players from other organizations. That’s how you get a group of misfits, and not a team.


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