Fire Everyone! - The Mission

This is the sixth installment in a 12-part series.

It is oh-so-easy to mock a mission statement.  Fussy and officious, self-seriously ridiculous, loaded with obfuscatory corporate-speak, often filled with baldfaced lies about an organization's "core values," and usually out of touch with the reality on the ground.  Like many organizations, the Indians have a mission statement, and oh! what fodder it has been for the beatsies and the clevesters.

"The Indians have a mission statement, and it's posted in all the elevators!  What a bunch of poindexters!"

"Their mission says they're building a champion, but I guess they forgot about that!"

"The mission statement says we're developing players for a championship team — the Red Sox!  Ha!  I am so clever and my name is Bill Livingston!"

And so forth.  Well, I am not here to do that.  I like mission statements — good ones, that is. A good mission statement isn't all of those awful things.  A good mission statement is aspirational — it conveys the best things that an organization embodies and is trying to embody.  A good mission statement is honest; it conveys what an organization stands for, not just in word but in deed, and those within the organization must find it believable.  A good mission statement lets everyone know what the ultimate goal is — what everyone is working for if you're already there, and what you'll be working for should you choose to join up.  How you'll be judged individually, and how management will judge the organization collectively.

This is the current one the Indians are using.

Cleveland Indians Mission Statement

There's no sense sitting here dwelling on what happened in the past.
We've got to have a warrior mentality. We have no future, and we have no past.
We've got to just show up and get the job done.

Haha, of course that is not really the Indians' mission statement. That's just something Casey Blake said at his locker after the Indians dropped Game Six of the 2007 ALCS to the Red Sox.  I mean, we wish, right?  That would be pretty cool.

No, instead, the Indians use this next one, and while I think it's honest, it's also atrocious.

Cleveland Indians Mission Statement

To sustain a championship caliber team that competes — passionately, relentlessly and professionally —
and in the process make a positive statement about its collective vision and core values.

Breaking it down phrase by phrase, here's a complete list of things that this mission statement says:

  1. We're going to sustain our team ...
    a. ... which is championship-caliber ...
    b. ... and which competes ...
    c. ... and that competing will be done passionately, etc.

  2. We're going to make a statement ...
    a. ... which will be about our collective vision and core values.

Right off the bat, here are some really obvious problems with it:

  1. The Indians do not have a championship-caliber team.
    a. Even when they do, it's not always realistic to try to sustain it.
    b. It just "competes?"  For what?  With whom?
    c. "Championship caliber" badly needs a hyphen; it's two nouns comprising a compound adjective.

  2. If your whole mission boils down to doing only two things, one of them should not be "making a statement."
    a. We don't even know what the collective vision and core values are.

  3. Notably not mentioned:
    a. The fans.
    b. Winning.

You gotta figure that the Indians are already be doing some soul-searching on that first part of their mission.  If they can't sustain a championship-caliber ballclub, realistically, then what can they do?  How can they give the organization an objective to focus on that is actually attainable?  Larry Dolan spent several days last month on a media tour, trying to reset the fans' future expectations for the club.  I can't say that I liked what he came up with:

Every four or five years, if we can have a shot at the World Series like we did in '07 and compete for the playoffs like we did in '05, that's as good as it gets, and that reflects well on our personnel.

I beg to differ with Dolan on this.  We are no more disadvantaged than the Twins or A's, and unlike the Rays or Jays, we cannot be shut out of the playoffs by the Yankees and Red Sox alone.  There are only five clubs in our division, and while two are relatively big spenders, they are not among the game's high-revenue titans, and titles are not purchased cheaply or easily.

The late '90s were aberrant in several ways, and for one example, we fielded exactly six competitive teams and went to the playoffs exactly six times.  In a more typical group of seasons, we would expect to be competitive more often than we actually make the playoffs, as we have seen this decade.  In that sense, Dolan is right.

Here's where he's wrong.  Under current management, we made the playoffs only one time over the past seven seasons and contended for a spot only twice.  That is, at best, an average result for an AL Central club.  Why in the world would the Indians accept being an average team in their own undistinguished division?  How can Dolan possibly believe that that's "as good as it gets" for this organization?

The five teams in our division have secured seven playoff spots over the past six seasons, and we only got one of those seven spots.  This, despite the fact that the Twins are no better off than the Indians.  This, despite the Tigers and White Sox squandering their financial edges with massive, ill-conceived contracts.  This, despite the Royals not being under competent management as of yet.  We should have had two or three of those seven spots, and we should have competed for four or five of them — that is a reasonable goal for this club.  The fact that we didn't is an organizational failure, plain and simple.

This "Fire Everyone!" series started with Andrew firing Dolan for something like bringing a knife to a gun-fight (or maybe it was the other way around).  This is far worse than that.  Dolan cannot really believe that one playoff berth in seven seasons "reflects well on our personnel."  The bar simply must be higher than that.

Had we garnered two of those seven spots, and competed for three of them, even that would only be getting our fair share.  It is shocking that the Indians would even consider that to be a worthwhile objective, getting merely our fair share in the AL Central.  This is purportedly an outstanding organization, or at least one with outstanding aspirations.  We have a right to expect to get more than our fair share, and they damned well ought to be making it their mission.

Now the second part:  "and in the process make a positive statement about its collective vision and core values."

What exactly is this collective vision, and what are these core values?  Is there really a collective vision behind the Indians, or is this really Mark Shapiro's vision, ratified by the Dolans?  No matter how open and inclusive the Indians corporate culture may be, the concept of a "collective vision" for a privately held corporation simply doesn't ring true.  The Cleveland Indians is not a values-driven commune, it's a family-owned business.  Its vision is dictated by ownership, and while certain staff members may have a strong influence on organizational values, you can be assured that no vote is taken.  This non-specific "collective vision" is exactly the kind of corporate, fairy-tale language that invites mockery.

What are these core values?  Since we are offered no examples, the reader has no choice but to fill in the blanks.  From observing the club and listening to its public statements alone, the core values seem to be (1) grinding it out, (2) not giving more than a three-year contract to any pitcher, (3) giving up as many runs in the 8th inning as possible, (4) Jamey Carroll is a really cool guy, and (5) never leak trade rumors.  I list these not as criticisms — I agree with several of them — but because that's just about all they've given us to work with.

Or maybe the statement is saying that the core values are embedded in the statement itself.  In that case, we're going to make a statement about our core values of (a) sustaining a non-existent champsionship team and (b) making a statement.  I sincerely hope this is not what anyone had in mind.  Regardless, that's not the truly awful part.

No, the truly awful part is the fact that "making a statement" is one of only two goals that the team has in its mission.  How could that possibly be one of the two big, important things everyone is supposed to be thinking about, all the time?  Why would anyone want their whole organization full of people walking around, focused on making a statement about their non-specified vision and values?  And if that isn't one of the two big, important things, then what is it doing here?

The problem here isn't that it makes them look pompous.  The problem is that it makes them pompous.

A short digression:  As you may have surmised, I've had my hand in a few mission statements myself.  I even wrote a vision statement once — and since it was a volunteer organization, it was in fact a "collective vision."  Even so, I wrote it myself, and a board of directors approved it; in the real world, the buck always stops somewhere.  There is in fact a de facto mission statement on the left column of the LGT home page:  "Constantly updated Indians news, lots of in-depth analysis, live in-game discussions — and more fanatical and thoughtful Indians fans than every other web site combined."

Those immodest words represent the best that LGT modestly aspires to be every day, hopefully reminding the four authors what we're here to accomplish.  Some of that is achieved by our own direct efforts, but we rely on hundreds of contributors for the other parts.  For those other parts, the statement reminds us of our obligation to support the efforts of the whole group, to maintain a site where those contributors can and will make LGT the best embodiment of itself.  It is not our intention to make a statement about what an Indians blog and online community should be.  Rather, it's our intention for LGT simply to be that.

With that in mind, here is the fix the Indians organization needs — at least, the verbal fix it needs — an entirely immodest proposal to replace the sagging, myopic words currently in use.

Cleveland Indians Mission Statement

The Cleveland Indians will spare no effort, each and every year, to field a championship ballclub.
We will strive to outperform our competitors in every aspect of building a winning team.
We will conduct ourselves with integrity and professionalism,
fielding a team that Cleveland fans can be proud to root for in every way.
We will expect passion and demand excellence, and we will win.

To wit:

  • The mission of a major league ballclub starts and ends with winning.  This is a no-brainer.
  • Realistically, the Indians cannot field a championship ballclub every year, and it would be dishonest to say otherwise.  What they can do is to spare no effort every year.
  • They had better damned well be trying to outperform their competitors in every possible way, and they shouldn't hesitate to say so.  What's implied here is beating our divisional rivals specifically, and that is what should be implied.
  • Go ahead and espouse some nobler values, too, if that's what you're into, but the goal should be to act on those values, not to make a statement about them.  Don't go out there to show everyone what a great guy you are; just actually be a great guy, and let the chips fall where they may.
  • Would it kill you to mention the fans just once in this thing?
  • Nobody should forget for one moment that the goal is to win.

Not every mission can be accomplished, but it helps to have a worthwhile mission.  I hope Larry Dolan in particular will take note:  Nobody ever got to the top while aiming for the middle.  And it probably isn't any good for ticket sales, either.

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