Have you seen the new movie Moneyball with Brad Pitt, or read the book of the same title by Michael Lewis? It strikes me that there is an uncanny similarity from what the Oakland A’s faced in Major League Baseball to what local municipalities are facing in today’s challenging economic times.
The central premise of Moneyball is that the collective wisdom of baseball insiders (including players, managers, coaches, scouts and the front office) over the past century is subjective and often flawed. Common baseball statistics such as “stolen bases,” “runs batted in” and “batting average” have historically been used as the gospel to gauge a player’s performance and are relics of a past way of thinking. The book/movie argues that the Oakland A’s front office took advantage of more empirical measures of player performance to field a team that could compete successfully against richer teams in Major League Baseball.
Rigorous statistical analysis had demonstrated that new measures like “on-base percentage” and “slugging percentage” are better indicators of offensive success, and Oakland became convinced that these qualities were cheaper to obtain on the open market than more historically valued qualities such as speed and contact. These observations often flew in the face of conventional baseball wisdom and the beliefs of many baseball scouts and executives.
By evaluating and executing the strategies that produced wins on the field, the 2002 Oakland A’s (with player salaries of approximately $41 million) competed successfully against larger market teams such as the New York Yankees (who spent over $125 million in payroll that same season). Because of the team’s smaller revenues, Oakland was forced to find players undervalued by the market. This system produced an amazing winning streak for Oakland in 2002 and later used by the Boston Red Sox to win the World Series in 2004, erasing the curse of Babe Ruth.
There is a scene early in the movie where the Oakland scouting team is assembled in a large meeting discussing which players to recruit. One by one, the scouts each give an account of the merits of their player of choice: “he’s got a great swing”, “he was the fastest in camp”, “strong arm”. It hit me like a ton of bricks, how strikingly similar this subjective way of thinking occurs in municipal meetings every day. Is your management team justifying its decisions with statements like, “it’s the way we’ve always done it”, “we don’t have time to do it any other way”, “Bob says that’s the best way”, “that’s how I was trained”? Subjective, outdated and unsubstantiated thinking is impacting the way services are being delivered across the country.
Before the economy tanked in 2008, you probably had enough revenues to recover from this way of thinking. However, with employee attrition, cutbacks and sagging revenues, your budget probably looks as small as the Oakland A’s. How are you going to compete in 2012 and beyond? Is it finally time to manage differently like Oakland and Boston and get competitive? Would you like find more efficient ways to deliver services? Are you tired of hearing the same old excuses from your direct reports?
By looking at the “data” of your operating performance, you can manage different and get efficient. It’s time to challenge the old excuses and start talking about data or measures that are meaningful to your operations. DPW workers often track how many potholes were filled, but more importantly, how many are unfilled? Can you really engage in a discussion about the right number of department employees if you don’t have a handle on workloads or service outcomes?
Revelstone’s Compass performance management system can help you measure what’s really important, with over 300 pre-defined key metrics to choose from. You can also benchmark and compare your performance to self-selected peer towns and learn how to improve. Wouldn’t you like your town to be the Oakland A’s of municipalities? It’s time to get efficient and Moneyball your Municipality.