Taking the Long View: Warwickshire and the hidden consequences of success

As observers of sport, we can fall into the trap of viewing events through lenses of transience and immediacy. Results – whether positive or negative – are often taken in isolation within a single season or temporary run of form, deemed to be the product of a short-term chain of events. The reality, however, is often very different.

After a pair of innings defeats to begin their County Championship season, Warwickshire might look like a team experiencing a short-term loss of form, but in truth the Edgbaston club is beginning to reap the unwanted consequences of a lack of long-term strategic planning.

Following Warwickshire’s crushing defeat at the hands of Yorkshire yesterday, Ashley Giles, the county’s newly-appointed director of sport, commented that the team is suffering from a broken development system.

“There’s no quick fix,” Giles told ESPN Cricinfo. “We have a group of players aged 32-plus and a group of players aged under-19 and a huge void in between. Our development system hasn’t really been working – that’s not a new thing, it’s been that way forever and a day – and we can’t just go out and recruit in the middle of a season. It’s going to take time to put things right. There’s no magic bullet.”

Carrying an ageing squad with no immediate replacements emerging from the academy, Warwickshire are stranded well beyond the performance apex of their team without a readily available remedy. The club may have won the County Championship, One Day Cup and T20 Blast all within the last five years, but success has a nasty habit of masking underlying deficiencies.

Academies can be interesting barometers of the health of clubs’ development processes and long-term planning. Warwickshire’s academy has produced just three England players – Ian Bell, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes – since 1999 and no regular first-team members since the emergence of Sam Hain in 2014. The paucity of this return is underlined by the success of Durham – a county with far less financial muscle – who have produced eight England internationals in as many years.

In professional sport, where the difference between winning and losing can be the financial future of an entire organisation, it is essential that teams cultivate a collective idea of their overarching strategies and put appropriate succession plans in place. Through the effective management of playing assets and the constant monitoring of key internal processes, the most resourceful organisations are able to insulate themselves against the short-term caprice of results.

21st Club, a business that helps elite football clubs implement succession plans and other strategic initiatives, defines succession planning as “the structuring of an organisation to enable success to be sustained over time. The implementation of such initiatives helps clubs to save costs, create an identifiable culture and, eventually, build a legacy.” It is the achievement of those three strategic objectives that will be Giles’ remit at Edgbaston.

As Giles assesses the work he needs to do and identifies the club’s most pressing needs, he is willing to admit that Warwickshire will have to endure more short-term pain as the organisation starts to implement a sustainable structure for the future.

“We’ve not made this transition smoother over a period of years,” said Giles. “So now we’re going to the wall with this group of players and there’s nothing behind them. We’ve had a lot of success with this team from 2010, but now we’re going to suffer some pain, that is for sure, and a bit of that is self-inflicted.”

The early signs are that the 2017 County Championship season will be a miserable one for Warwickshire, but the very public identification of organisational weaknesses by senior figures within the club should be seen as a positive development. The club’s failures on the field have highlighted more deep-rooted issues off it and, by admitting the need for a transitional year, Warwickshire have bought time to take action with an eye on the long-term.

Any process of this kind requires a great deal of patience, but having experienced the negative effects of poor succession planning, Warwickshire now have an opportunity to rebuild by creating a robust structure that can serve as a platform for future success.

Image: Wikimedia

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