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Thursday, February 21, 2008

management and the Democratic primary

It's been frequently observed that there are few policy differences between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but here's something that is a major difference between the two: management.

Ironically, it's Clinton who was originally heralded as a manager extraordinaire, to the point that she was derided for being too focused on mundane details of managing the federal government. In the most basic shorthand, Obama was being painted as a leader, and Clinton as a manager. But we've had a peek behind the myth in the last month, and the picture emerging is one of serious management failure from Clinton. Consider:

* Reportedly prizing loyalty above results, Clinton allowed a campaign manager long acknowledged by other top campaign officials as unqualified for the job to remain until a near-mutiny finally forced her hand. (Patti Solis Doyle, Clinton's scheduler-turned-campaign-manager, was apparently notorious for ineptness, including not informing Clinton until after Iowa of the campaign's dire financial situation. Interestingly, in turn, Clinton didn't bother to inform Solis Doyle that she was making a $5 million loan to her own campaign. In a well-run organization, you don't have the #1 and #2 keeping major information from each other.)

* Despite every delegate being painfully precious, her campaign somehow neglected to file a full slate of convention delegate candidates for Pennsylvania's primary, falling 10 short of the full 103 expected. "For a national campaign stressing competence, experience, 'ready day one,' one might expect a full slate in what could be a key state," a Philadelphia Daily News column noted.

* After deciding to bank almost everything on Texas, the campaign running on competence didn't bother to research the delegate apportionment rules there and discovered just a few days ago that the state's convoluted rules mean that even an overwhelming win could give her just a small edge (if any) in delegates. This is the kind of thing that's good to know when designing a strategy.

* As we all know now, the campaign apparently had no plan for after Super Tuesday - and is just now opening field offices in Texas and Ohio, upon discovering ground organization would be needed. This is crazy: While thinking the fight would be wrapped up by Super Tuesday might have made sense last fall, the campaign has had months to adjust its strategy after it became clear that Obama was catching on in a big way and just ... didn't.

Now, there's no question that Clinton is up against an extraordinarily adept candidate in Obama. But the inability to make sound decisions about where to put resources and where not to, to ensure a staff is functioning smoothly and effectively, to adjust to new conditions and information, to budget, to know the rules and strategize accordingly -- that's mismanagement and incompetence that strikes at the heart of the Clinton brand, and I find it scary to think of it at work in the White House.

Conversely, Obama -- who was never billed as the manager candidate -- has built and presided over a remarkably effective organization, with rigorously disciplined ground operations churning in every state, an astounding and historic fundraising machine, and a methodical advance on the candidate whose win was supposed to be a foregone conclusion.

If you're the hiring manager deciding between these two candidates (and we all are), the choice seems pretty clear.


Anonymous said...

Insightful analysis -- and not one I am hearing in the blare of TV coverage.

Thanks for parsing this so thoughtfully.

Wally Bock said...

Great post. I almost didn't read it because I thought it might be a political post, but then I figured you wouldn't do that to us. Good analysis, highlighting many of the lessons for those of us who will never, ever run a political campaign.