(April 12, 2011) I left on vacation over a week ago with a certain sense of satisfaction – an election process I had worked to develop over ten years had recently been concluded and the announcement of its results had been very well received. U.S. Soccer, on March 29th, announced that National Soccer Hall of Fame Class of 2011. Three players, a veteran player, and a builder were elected and the results indicated that several others received vote totals that indicated good engagement on the part of the voters. Several candidates in the Veteran Player and Builder elections, where only one candidate can be elected in a year, received votes close to or above the election criteria. In the Player election the results showed strong support for the players elected.
The press reporting of the announcement was positive, with virtually universal praise for the Class of 2011. That is a testament, first, to the high quality of the individuals who will be honored at Induction 2011, but also, I believe to the election process.
I was part of a team of several Hall of Fame affiliated individuals who, over the course of several years, analyzed election data and results and continued to ask a few basic simple questions:
- In our heart of hearts, do we believe the result was the best possible?
- What have we learned this year?
- How can we make this a better election process?
Those of us who conduct these elections have, I believe, a need to have a real feel for the history of the area for which the elections are being held, whether it’s a sport, a geographic area, or an organization. We need to have a feel for who ought to be recognized. If we come away from an election result with the feeling that those most deserving have not been elected, and I totally understand this is a subjective criteria, then I think we are obligated to question our election methodology.
An election almost always has some unanticipated element. It might not occur at the top of results tabulation, but somewhere in the details of the election are unexpected findings. One of the most surprising examples for me in the National Soccer Hall of Fame Player elections was the realization, over the course of several elections, that the Hall of Famers were more willing to elect than other voting pools. How did we know this? The average media ballot, for instance, selected fewer players that the average Hall of Famer ballot. One would have thought once they were “in the club,” so to speak, they would choose to keep it smaller, but that turned out not to be the case. Many years down the road now, I still don’t know whether that is good or bad, right or wrong, just that it is an interesting curiosity!
I believe we fail our duty if we do not ask the third question. “Better” is a subjective that covers many nuances to the voting. It includes a multitude of questions about who votes, how the votes are counted, the transparency of the process, etc. Even when elections have really great results, we must not allow ourselves to be lulled into complacency. One never knows what gems of understanding or potential downfall may be hidden in the data.
The core of my pride in the National Soccer Hall of Fame Election 2011 result was that a team of people who cared about making the process one that would have universal credibility and validity worked together to continually question our assumptions and biases. We discussed, argued, and wrote to each other to meet the goal of producing the best election process for our organization. We saw it as a moving target rather than a fixed point.
It’s not that you should mirror the specific election process developed at the National Soccer Hall of Fame; rather I believe each organization that conducts a Hall of Fame election has an obligation to analyze and discuss every year’s voting results in search of a better process for the following year. We should appreciate the business management concept of Six Sigma and apply it to the election process endlessly in search of that perfect election.