So, Your "Team" Just Went 42-120, 42-120, 42-120? Now What?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

At the outset of this piece, let me just apologize for doing what I thought I'd never do: pull a George Allen. No, I haven't suddenly decided to deny climate science, shill for fossil fuels, advocate ultra-simplistic "answers" to complex world problems, pander to extremists, worship at the altar of crony capitalism, or live in a bizarre, mythological past something like the "Father Knows Best" 1950s meets the late-19th century/early-20th-century Robber Baron Era. However, I have decided to borrow one of George Allen's favorite ways of explaining the world, through sports metaphors. In George Allen's case, football is the sport of choice for this exercise. For me, it's baseball, which even great intellects like George Will (ok, maybe not) have compared (favorably) to life itself. Heh.My baseball metaphor is a simple one, actually, not metaphysical or "Field of Dreams"/George Will mystical in the least. Instead, it's a simple, basic way of understanding how things go badly wrong in an organization, and what to do about the situation when they do. In this case, the analogy is between your favorite baseball team and the Democratic Party of Virginia. Specifically, imagine if your favorite team had just suffered its third 120-loss (out of 162 games) season in a row, sort of like the 1962 New York Mets (40-120) repeated in 1963 and 1964. Essentially, that's just what happened to Virginia Democrats, with 2009 (Deeds disaster, major losses in the House of Delegates); 2010 (Tea Party wipeout, goodbye Perriello/Nye/Boucher); 2011 (major losses again in the House of Delegates, loss of the State Senate majority, wipeout losses in Prince William and Loudoun Counties). If that's not the political equivalent of three straight seasons of '62 New York Mets'-style 42-120 records, I don't know what else would be.
So, if DPVA were a baseball team, what would now happen, assuming its owner had a clue (and some backbone)?
1. The first thing to do would be a thorough "After Action Report" -- a rigorous, top-to-bottom analysis of what went right (not much in a 42-120 season, or in this case with the Virginia Democrats) and what went wrong. Clearly, this analysis MUST be performed by external, unbiased, independent auditors/analysts who would examine the organization from top to bottom and make recommendations, preferably binding. The organization also might conduct whatever internal reviews it wanted to conduct, but unless that analysis were vetted and critiqued by outsiders, then it would be untrustworthy and essentially worthless.
lowkell :: So, Your "Team" Just Went 42-120, 42-120, 42-120? Now What?
2. There would be numerous possible outcomes from the after-action report. One would be a finding that the team's (or, in this case, the Virginia Democratic Party's) management needed a major shakeup. Typically, you'll see a baseball team, after a horrendous season or two (or three), firing its manager, replacing its general manager, hiring new coaches, etc. Of course, this will only help matters if management truly was a major, root cause of the problem (e.g., the management was incompetent, had the wrong ideas to be successful given current baseball - or political, in this case - realities, etc.) Also, changing management probably won't help much if the real problem is at the very top, with flawed/incompetent/cheapskate ownership; or if it's due to other, broader problems like a decline in the team's city/region economically, demographically, etc. Still, moving to shake up management after three straight 120-loss seasons is not exactly rocket science or anything that requires hours of head scratching.In fact, the opposite would be the real head scratcher: that after three straight 120-loss seasons, that the general manager, manager, and coaches would all stay gainfully employed, with no threat whatsoever to their job security. That would be bizarre, almost inexplicable. Sort of like what's (not) happening, right here, right now, with the Virginia Democrats' "management."
2a. Note: There are those who would excuse Brian Moran by saying he's only been on the job a year, that we should give him more time to turn things around, etc. That would be profoundly mistaken, as both a bad signal to the "organization" and the "fans," as well as a counterproductive move in and of itself. The fact is, Brian Moran hasn't been successful for many years, including his disappointing pickup of only 4 House of Delegates seats in 2007 (when Tim Kaine was predicting as many as 15 seats, and when the proverbial wind was howling at our proverbial backs!); his utterly disastrous (in every way - messaging, management, final results) 2009 gubernatorial campaign; his failure this year to fulfill a promise to recruit candidates in every House district (he didn't even come close!); his abandonment of his own pledge to make redistricting reform a top priority (in the spring of 2008, at a now-infamous blogger dinner, Brian Moran told the 20+ people there that without bipartisan or nonpartisan redistricting, all else would fail, so this had to be the top priority); his conflict of interest as head of the for-profit "education" industry; his failure to be an effective communicator or motivator for the Virginia grassroots; etc. Clearly, no matter what else happens, Brian Moran must be replaced as DPVA chair, that's the no-brainer of all no-brainers. If not, why even bother with the rest?
3. The after-action report clearly would look at the players on the field, and would recommend which ones to trade, which ones to let go, etc. Most likely, a team that just finished three straight 120-loss seasons would have major problems with pitching, hitting, defense, you name it. In addition, it might have an aging roster of players well past their prime, prone to making errors and striking out, resting on their laurels, no long caring about winning, etc. Basically, it would be a team made up of players that have lost their burning desire to win, as well as their ability to win. That would almost clearly call for a plan to replace the current cast of characters with a brand new, younger, hungrier one in the shortest possible time.
4. How to do that? One option, if money were no object, would be to dive into the free agent market, snatching up high-priced talent in an attempt to turn things around as quickly as possible. Of course, in real life, money always IS an object. Also, this would be an expensive, risky strategy that would not address underlying, structural problems with the organization, and in my view would be highly unlikely to succeed, certainly not in the long run. In the end, you can't buy your way out of problems like this one, nor can you hope for a white knight to come riding to the rescue.
5. Another option, which to my mind would be BY FAR the smarter one, would be to bite the bullet, realize that the problems run deep, and start addressing them methodically, forcefully, tenaciously, even ruthlessly. I'd start with phasing out (as rapidly as possible) the high-priced veterans and launching a major investment in developing a "youth movement." That means investing in a farm system, in scouting for talent at the high school and college level, and in developing an overall system to develop that talent to its potential. That system would teach the organization's way of doing business -- attention to fundamentals (e.g., strong defense, mastering crucially important skills like hitting the cut-off man, executing the hit and run properly, bunting, etc.), attitude, professionalism, best practices in general. The key would be developing a structure designed for long-term success, one that is sustainable and robust, with a clear organizational ethos (e.g., vision and mission) that meshed well with the specific economic and other realities facing that team in the short-, medium-, and long-runs. With a solid structure set in place, all else would flow out of it, including an increased chance of success - namely, winning, fan enthusiasm, flush coffers, and did I mention WINNING?!?
6. In the end, what you'd want to end up with is an organization fundamentally solid from top to bottom (or perhaps better stated as "bottom to top," as the resources should never be concentrated at the top of the organization), with a strong scouting department to identify and recruit talent; a "farm system" (from Rookie League to AAA ball) to develop and nurture that talent; a powerful and coherent organizational ethic committed to professionalism, best practices, a clear vision, getting the fundamentals right; a management structure fully bought into the organization's overall mission/vision, ruthlessly effective in carrying it out, and focused like a laser beam on what's best for the organization; and finally, a public relations/communications department to solicit feedback from the fans, as well as to keep them informed/engaged regarding what's going right, what still needs work, where the effort to resurrect the organization is at overall, and what  (realistically, honestly) to expect moving forward (as well as a real sense that there will be rewards for success and accountability for failure).
7. No, I didn't forget "winning" in all this. The idea is that success in terms of wins/losses would flow naturally out of everything else outlined above (and the opposite is true as well - failure to do take the measured listed above would perpetuate failure, lead to fans abandoning the team, revenues collapsing, a vicious cycle accelerating...), the solid fundamentals/recruiting/management/development/communications outlined above.
Sadly, right now, we have essentially none of those things in the Virginia Democratic party, broadly speaking. Instead, we have an aging roster, an almost non-existent farm system, a lack of cohesive mission/vision, a management structure that's byzantine at best, too many individuals focused on their own personal successes than on the overall success of the organization/team as a whole, an almost complete disconnect between team ownership/management and the fan base, little if any accountability (rewards for success, consequences for failure), etc. The result: we've now suffered through three straight disastrous seasons for Virginia Democrats, with no particular prospect in sight of turning that situation around (barring a deus ex machina, which is what too many people seem to be counting on, just as they blame uncontrollable, external forces far too much for our problems now). Unless, that is, you believe that repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a sound strategy, not just another definition of "insanity."