The best-managed organizations find a balance between stability and fluidity, which enables them to deal with emergencies. Reinvention in midstream is especially critical in the collision sport of the NFL, in which injuries mean teams are ever in flux. The best teams excel at what you might call planned change: They’re fluid in their ability to cope with crises yet stable in their values and method of assessing talent.
It’s hard to think of a team worse suited to deal with the loss of two quarterbacks to broken legs in the space of two weeks than the Washington Redskins. They have never been well managed. It’s not as if this plot is a dangler.
You know who the Redskins are and how they will react to the deterioration of their season, and if you don’t, just check the math: They are 6-6 and hurtling fast toward 8-8 or worse. They’re the team that will ignore Colin Kaepernick out of political spite yet expediently sign Reuben Foster, a man accused of domestic abuse who has been arrested three times in a year, a decision commentator Jason Witten called “horrendous judgment” and former director of player personnel Louis Riddick labeled simply “asinine.”
Redskins Coach Jay Gruden and his players deserve sympathy for freakish bad luck, and they have fought with a real nobility through their injuries, even in Monday’s 28-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. But the Redskins have a much more crippling institutional problem than a couple of broken legs. As usual, the wrong people will be under job pressure as a result of the current crisis, while team President Bruce Allen suavely evades all accountability for the organization’s larger failures, which now amount to a 58-81-1 record during his nine full seasons.
An entire category of books and sheaves of analysis have failed to arrive at a consensus on what a great management model should look like. Everyone has a different philosophy. But lousy management is easy to identify, and this is it. A hallmark is constant internal upheaval, which has a lousy effect on performance, no matter what business you’re in.
Neil Paine, an analyst for the forecasting website FiveThirtyEight.com, devised an interesting way to measure the cyclical failure of the NFL’s chronic losers. He calls it a CHAOS score, short for “Cumulative High-Activity Organizational Strife.” In layman’s term, it’s “an overall turmoil tally,” in which teams are given point penalties for change in ownership (two points), general manager (three points), head coach (seven points) and primary quarterback (10 points). If you’re guessing the Redskins score highly in CHAOS points, you’re right. Over the past 10 years covering Allen’s span with the team, they rank in the worst third of the league.
Small wonder their win-loss record has been so uninspiring.
In 2009, a public policy analyst named Gregory Hill produced an interesting paper titled, “The Effect of Frequent Managerial Turnover on Organizational Performance: A Study of Professional Baseball Managers.” He found that managerial turmoil had a measurable negative statistical effect: Not only did teams win fewer games, they produced fewer runs.
“Too much change leads to a drop in performance, and even the savviest of managers cannot overcome this dilemma,” he wrote.
With no core competency and accountability at the very top of an organization, it creates a cascade. You think the Redskins players trust in the ducking Allen, who has yet to explain publicly why Foster was signed? That bleeds into everything: hiring and orienting employees, retaining and promoting good people, handling grievances, allocating budgets, maintaining payroll integrity, structuring work responsibilities, motivating staff and diagnosing problems in the organization’s performance.
All of these core competencies — which culminate in the critical task of scouting and combing through free agent talent to identify compatible players who will form your talent pool and contingency talent pool — are compromised. All the wrong people get tenure, and there’s always something a little flimsy underneath, while good people and players are painfully thrown away.
In Paine’s analysis, what the chronically bad CHAOS teams have in common is “a penchant for all-or-nothing, quick-fix gamble.” They are incapable of implementing a plan and seeing it to a coherent end, much less of back-to-back winning seasons. Meanwhile, guess who the five best teams are in Paine’s scoring system since 2000? The Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints. All have won Super Bowls.
It’s an interesting fact that the Eagles entered Monday’s game with just as many players injured as the Redskins, 14. They have been playing without most of their starting secondary, their best two running backs and other key contributors. Still, they are a resurgent team in the NFC East — one that won a Super Bowl after losing its starting quarterback last season. Can you imagine the Redskins being capable of such bounce-back? No, you can’t.
As Bill Parcells once said so succinctly, “You are your record.” This is who the Redskins are, and it’s who they were even before Alex Smith and Colt McCoy busted their fibulas. They’re a team in constant crisis that perpetually seems to be tearing down rather than building up, a team on which players have to fight for all they’re worth against the undertow of poor management to finish 8-8 so the cycle can start again.