I reflected on situational leadership and management as I showered and shaved this morning after posting earlier.
Some might say that companies and governments are employing situational management to cope with the current economic crisis. That's true. Economies are down. Tax revenues are down. Some austerity and cost saving measures are required. True, true, true.
Of course, there's the danger. Recognizing when the situation has changed or when the leadership and management that worked so well is no longer the proper course.
The problem with situational leadership and management is that it works well for so long before it fails. It ends up failing because its success lulls people into believing nothing has changed. We hear a lot of folksisms apply to these situations. "Don't fix it if it's not broken." "Why change something that works?" "Why fix a good thing?" For examples of why you need to fight against being lulled and complacent, we turn to the NFL.
The NFL is rich with situational planning and thinking. Plays are refined not just for third and short, third and goal, but also for third and short and third and goal depending upon the score and whether the game is in the first, second, third or fourth quarter, the weather, and how many minutes are left.
Taking it to a more discreet level, we have Gregg Williams.
Gregg Williams was the New Orleans Saints' defensive coordinator last year. He's now under an indefinite ban from the NFL for institutionalizing a bounty system. His system called for monetary rewards off the table for when his defensive players took a player out of a game. An audio tape was made of him during the San Francisco 49er/Saints championship game last year when he was heard saying not only which players to go after but which body parts should be attacked.
Here is what's interesting about Williams' situation. He'd been doing it for years; he'd been warned by the NFL earlier that year that bounties would not be tolerate; the team was being investigated for bounties; and the moment was being recorded.
Think of all those things and you'll see, this is when situational thinking becomes a danger. He was in the same situation as previous years so far as the game goes but the situation had changed. Yet he hadn't changed his approach. He'd been lulled into complacency.
Even more interesting....Scott Ostler pointed out another example of how situational thinking can lull you and how it bit Gregg Williams in the ass during the 49er - Saints game. here are Scott's words on how exploiting situational thinking allowed the winning play:
The deciding play of the game? Smith's touchdown pass to Davis.
How did that play come about? The 49ers' quarterback coach, Geep Chryst, who coached against Williams and the Saints for three seasons (2008-10) when Chryst was at Carolina, knew that Williams' red-zone strategy is always to blitz and single-cover.
On that play, Davis was the only logical pass target; he had to be triple-teamed. But that's not the way Gregg Williams rolls.
The week of the game, Chryst designed a play for that situation, and he radioed the play to head coach Jim Harbaugh. "Now's the time for Vernon Post."
Williams' situational thinking in red-zone situations is always to blitz and single-cover. Very clever or Chryst to recognize that, then plan a play for the situation, and know when to deploy it. That's perfect situational thinking.
Farmers and ranchers have known about situational thinking for centuries. Rotate crops and grazing animals. Each crop takes a different toll on the soil. Each animals' grazing habit is different, and their feces deliver different nutrients to the soil. Sweet.
We've been coping with it at work. Bean counters decreed that we had to cut our spare parts stock because it was sitting there, 'not being used'. Okay, but you understand, spare parts are there because sometimes parts fail and customers need them?
They were willing to risk that.
Then, as our stock dwindled and we tried to order more, finance said, "No. Not unless there's an actual customer need."
Really? You do know that the ordering/fullfillment pipeline is 90 days long.
"You have them all over the world. Just take them from other regions. "
Anyone with half a mind and a sketchy understanding of manufacturing recognizes that manufacturing, despite all the efforts to be otherwise, isn't an exact science. Two products are rarely exactly the same, even though they went through the same process, at the same time. But lots, created during batch processes, share large swaths of similiarites.
A great example of this that many people have learned is denim jean production. In mass production, they're often cut in stacks. Those near the top are closest to the planned specification. Those at the bottom are farthest from spec. That's why jeans with the same waist and inseam do not fit the same, and why many women will try on 16 pairs of jeans before finding the right one.
Back to my business....
Since parts are built in lots, they tend to fail in lots. So there you are, going along with an odd failure here or there when a lot begins failing. That causes a spike in failures and a spike in need for spare parts.
Now here's the funny part. Since our spare part inventory was depleted to save money, we can't fulfill the customers' needs. And since we couldn't predict the failures -- which is why we had safety stock on hand in the first place -- manufacturing wasn't prepared to answer our needs because they have a just in time ordering and manufacturing process. They need to order more supplies to fill our orders, and guess what? The suppliers need to make more parts to fill our orders. The orders pile up, along with customer complaints and dissatisfaction.
What started as an effort to save a million ends up costing more as executives and sales people are brought in to deal with angry customers and their complaints. Meanwhile, we can't get the failed parts back to do root cause analysis because the customers can't return them until they have a replacement in hand.
A year later, sales are down, renewals have declined, the install base is collapsing, and the demand for spare parts is rising. That million dollar savings has cost us tens of millions.
And the guy who made that decision?
He's gone, impacted by situational thinking.
The same thing happens in writing. Writers fall into formulaic patterns. They create different variations of the same characters, put them into different variations of the same situation, have the same complications and outcomes. It's worked in the past....
It's all a matter of bubbles, my favorite thinking (part of my own situational thinking). We get trapped in our bubbles and we use the same thinking to try to escape them. What's that expression about insanity and trying the same thing and expecting a different result?
The bubbles are effective traps. You can't see them or feel them. To get out of them, you have to become aware. Often that requires voices and situations outside of your regular routines and comfort zones. That's why so many writers do much better when their writing is critiqued. The other voices and insights help them break out of the bubbles the writers did not know existed. That's why, too, reading your work aloud or backwards helps break your bubbles.
There it is, my insights in a bubble.
Have a good Saturday.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com