Lessons from 55 years ago……

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

Alexander Graham Bell – inventor of the telephone

Egyptian Airforce destroyed on the ground

As a very young boy at Primary School, I vividly remember the Middle-East Six-Day War in 1967. Our school Principal announced at Assembly that he was deeply concerned about it leading to another World War and we should all pray. As a farm boy, I caught the local school bus, which in those days also delivered the mail, newspapers and bread to local farms. I distinctly remember glancing at the newspaper headlines and viewing the photos over that week of the newspapers that lay stacked at the front of the bus near the driver. Within a week the news vanished. Israel had defeated the Arab armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

Next month it is 55 years since the Six-Day War.

Are there some lessons for managers from this significant historical event?

The war between Israel, Egypt, Jordon and Syria was fought between June 5 and June 10 1967 and resulted in an overwhelming victory to Israel and included the capture of the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the West Bank and the Arab section of Jerusalem from Jordan. In summary, the war was a pre-emptive strike by Israel within an environment of mounting tensions with its Arab neighbours, where war unfortunately seemed inevitable. Israel was geographically challenged, lacked strategic depth, was politically and economically isolated and was numerically inferior in population and the size of its military.

So how did Israel succeed so spectacularly against such overwhelming odds?

Israel had been planning for war for many years, and central to this was the use of their air force. This involved a pre-emptive strike to destroy the Arab air forces on the ground. The plan had been worked out and practiced for several years with Israeli pilots flying repeated practice missions against mock Egyptian airfields in the Negev Desert.

At 7:14 a.m. the entire Israeli Air Force (IAF) of nearly 183 planes, with the exception of just 12 fighters assigned to defend Israeli air space, took off, flying under the radar with the goal of bombing 11 Egyptian airfields while the Egyptian pilots were eating breakfast.  Israel needed to destroy the Arab air force on the ground as their bombers could devastate Israeli cities. Amazingly, Israel had no bombers to use in the attack and the raid was carried out entirely by fighter planes. Most of Egypt’s planes never left the ground. By 11:05 a.m., 293 Egyptian planes were destroyed. Israeli fighters then attacked the Syrian and Jordanian air forces. By the end of the first day, most of the Egyptian, half the Syrian and all of the Jordanian air forces had been destroyed on the ground. By the end of the Six-Day War, the Arabs had lost 450 aircraft, compared to 46 for Israel.

So how was success achieved?

Logistics, superior training, planning and better intelligence.

The Israeli ground crews had practiced the rearming and refueling of returning aircraft. They achieved this in less than eight minutes, thereby enabling the strike aircraft of the first wave to fly in the second wave and meant an aircraft could fly five missions per day. By comparison, NATO aircraft could only fly three missions per day.

The IAF pilots were highly skilled and had been training for years. They practiced low level flying which required exceptional skills over the Mediterranean at under 30 metres so as to avoid radar detection. Furthermore, every pilot had photographs of their targets and had been practicing on mock targets in the Negrev Desert.

The IAF, using the “concrete dibber” anti-runway bombs which created huge craters made it impossible for the Egyptian aircraft to take off. This made the aircraft ‘sitting ducks’ and they were later destroyed on the ground.

Dawn was always considered the best time for an air attack from the east as the sun was in the defenders’ eyes. This was when the Egyptian air force was on high alert. However, Israeli intelligence found that 7.45 a.m. was when all the Egyptian air force was on the ground and the pilots were having their breakfast. This is when the IAF first attacked.    

Within six hours after the first IAF aircraft had soared into the morning sky, Israel had laid the foundation to winning the Six-Day War. Although the pre-emptive strike was a gamble, it paid off.

Careful preparation and some luck had been rewarded

What other lessons are there for managers here?

1. Planning – never underestimate how important planning is and doing your homework. The IAF did their homework on their enemies, knowing when they were most vulnerable and where the planes were located. Sound intelligence laid the groundwork for success.

2. Logistics – efficient use of available resources. The IAF was able to increase the utilisation of their aircraft well above what was considered ‘the norm’. Furthermore, as the IAF lacked bombers a new strategy of using bombs to effectively ground the rival air forces made them vulnerable to attack from the air by fighter jets.

3. Practice – leaving very little to chance the IAF practiced and practiced minimising the risk of failure. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. There is no substitution for practicing to improve performance and increase the chances for success.

What other lessons do you think there are for managers?

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What if………..

“what if, but what is”

Gary West coach of Anna Meares – Australian Olympic Gold Medal Cyclist

In mid-2012, I was in England attending a management training program which coincided with the London Olympics. Sadly, I did not attend any events.  However, one night over a cold beer in my hotel room I watched two women cyclists, the 2008 gold medal winner Victoria Pembleton and the 2008 silver medallist Anna Meares, slog it out in the women’s sprint. It was an intense battle of stamina and wills and in the mesmerising trussell Anna Meares eventually triumphed.

So, who is Anna Meares?

Anna was Australia’s first female cycling gold medallist. She was an 11 times world cycling champion and the only Australian athlete to win medals at four consecutive Olympics.

Meares, was a daughter of a coalminer and grew up in Blackwater central Queensland hundreds of kilometres from the nearest bike track.  When her elder sister Kerrie showed promise as a cyclist the family moved to the coastal city of Rockhampton as it had a bike track.

  • Athens 2004 – gold medal in women’s 500-metre time trial, bronze medal in 200m sprint
  • Beijing 2008 – silver medal in women’s sprint
  • London 2012 – gold medal in the women’s in and bronze medal in the women’s team sprint
  • Rio de Janeiro 2016 – bronze medal in the keirin

These results are remarkable but there is something that is exceptional about her Olympic record.  In January 2008 seven months out from the Beijing Olympics, Meares broke her neck after crashing in the World Cup competition, fracturing her C2 vertebra, dislocating her right shoulder and tearing her ligaments and tendons. She went within 2 mm of becoming a paraplegic or worse death. Within 10 days she was back on her bike. With intensive rehabilitation she was able to fight her way back and qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Not only did she manage to qualify, but she also won a silver medal. From a broken neck to a silver medal in seven months – a truly remarkable performance.

Whilst her dedication and intense training to get fit enough to qualify and win a medal is testament to her intense focus and a clear goal (link here) there is something that is more compelling. It was her attitude. She did not focus on ‘what if’ but ‘what is’. Meares do not dwell on what might have happened if she’d been more seriously injured. Her coach made her appreciate her current situation. She was thankful and became more determined and focussed.

As managers, Anna Meares provides us with a great lesson.

Focus on what you can achieve – what’s in front of you. Don’t dwell on what you can’t control.

Four years later in London, Meares went on to win a gold and a bronze medal in Rio.

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Eat that frog…

Eat that frog…

‘If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.

Mark Twain – American writer and humourist

When I was growing up in rural Australia, frogs were part of life. Normally they were green tree frogs and could often be found resting inside the overflow of the rainwater tank or in the toilet cistern. As children, we sometimes kept them as pets in a glass tank and fed them insects. However, I was never tempted to eat a green tree frog – although I must admit I have tried frog’s legs in a French restaurant.

How does the metaphor ‘eating a frog’ relate to productivity?

As managers and business owners, we are confronted each day with tasks and the challenge is to prioritise them. We can create a ‘to do list’ and then assign importance to each task:

  • A – most important,
  • B – next most important,
  • C – not important.

Determining what is important is a challenge.

Managerial tasks can be:

  1. Urgent and important – crises, deadline-driven activities, customer issues
  2. Not important and urgent – interruptions such as phone calls and emails, some meetings
  3. Important and not urgent – strategy and planning, building relationships, major projects
  4. Not important and not urgent – activities not beneficial to goals, personal emails, internet browsing.

One of the major problems for me, personally, and when speaking to other business owners, is that we do tasks we like doing rather than the tasks we should be doing. We procrastinate and often avoid the really difficult chores such as dealing with an employee’s performance or visiting a disgruntled customer.

Time is the great equaliser, as you cannot create any more time. Everybody has only 1,440 minutes in a day. The challenge is to manage time to get the best outcomes. The decision-making matrix for time management is a good model to use when determining where your priorities lie and where you should direct your energies to get the best results.

Brian Tracy, in Eat that Frog!, outlines some great ways to stop procrastinating and become more productive. Tracy recommends you tackle the most important task first. Likewise, Kevin Kruse, a best-selling New York Times author, recommends that you identify your most important task (MIT) and tackle it first thing in your working day in 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management. Kevin Kruse says the most productive hours of the day are first two to three hours where your energy and cognitive ability is at its highest. Your mind is clear and uncluttered by the day’s happenings. This tends to be the best time to tackle the task that appears to be the most difficult and insurmountable

By way of comparisons, like Mark Twain, I recommend tackling the hardest task first rather than the most important. That is my frog. While eating your frog may not be the most enjoyable outstanding task, it will energise you to then concentrate on other more important tasks to be completed during the day. These can be prioritised using the 80/20 rule or Pareto Principle.  Having a clear set of goals and a business plan is a good place to start.

For example, I needed to advise a sportswear customer that we would be increasing their rates as they no longer reflected the costs of their new order profile, their contract conditions no longer applied and, because of this, we were losing money. I kept putting off seeing the owner, who was a difficult personality, as I wished to avoid a confrontation – despite this costing the business money. When I finally met the owner, the meeting was less difficult than anticipated and we parted on good terms. Often, when the most difficult task is completed, the rest of the day gets easier and, more importantly, it is not as difficult as first thought. This was certainly the case with the sportswear customer.

How do you manage your time?

Do you have ‘to do’ lists but don’t prioritise your most difficult or important tasks?

What is the best use of your time to achieve your goals and the business’s plans – remembering you only have 1,440 minutes in a day?

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Do you have a “Beppo” Schmid in your organisation?

Do you have “Beppo” Schmid in your organisation?

“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake”

Napoleon Bonaparte

So, who was Joseph “Beppo” Schmid?

In World War II, Schmid was German Luftwaffe Field Marshall Herman Goering’s Intelligence chief and personal friend.  The provision of useful intelligence, particularly during the Battle of Britain in 1940 was of less importance to Schmid than his career. He was shrewd, calculating and ambitious. He removed any staff that could be considered a threat to his ambitions and replaced them with those who would not challenge him. Schmid was intent on ingratiating himself with Goering by only telling him what he wanted to hear.

One of the consequences was poor intelligence. This was a major contributing factor to the defeat of the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, leading to the deaths of thousands of German airmen and the virtual destruction of the Luftwaffe.  In early 1940 Schmid’s team produced the ‘Study Blue’ report. It was based on a book about British industry ordered directly from a London bookshop, as well as British newspaper cuttings, and was supplemented by reconnaissance photographs. The study was used for planning the Luftwaffe’s campaign against Britain. It summary, the report underestimated the capabilities of the RAF in aircraft, pilots, aircraft production and technology, and overestimated the technical capabilities of the German aircraft, probably tempered by arrogance following the success of Blitzkrieg in the invasion of France.  

Throughout the Battle of Britain, Schmid’s intelligence was suspect. In August 1940 another report predicted that Britain would run out of fighter aircraft and that Germany was shooting them down at three times the actual attrition rate. Furthermore, they underestimated the number of RAF fighters by a factor of three. With unsustainable aircraft losses, the German objective to either compel Britain to negotiate a peace settlement or be invaded, failed. By early September 1940 Hitler’s Operation Sealion, the invasion of Britain, was postponed.

As managers, what lessons as managers can we learn from “Beppo” Schmid?

 Here are 3 management lessons…

1. Beware of egos and unbridled ambition

Sadly, throughout my career I witnessed too many examples of egos and blinding ambition endangering a business and, in the process, adversely affected employees’ lives. One of my former business partners refused to acknowledge that a customer he had secured was costing our business thousands of dollars a week because he didn’t want to admit that he had under quoted and didn’t want to face the customer. His ego would not allow him to admit the mistake.    

2. There is no substitute from doing your homework

The results of bombing were consistently exaggerated, probably through inaccurate claims and over-enthusiastic reports. Following the unexpectedly quick fall of France there developed an atmosphere of perceived victory. The Luftwaffe leadership and in particular Goering, became increasingly disconnected from reality. Doing his homework properly, rather than telling Goering what he needed to hear, Schmid could have prevented the massive loss of lives and material which weakened the Luftwaffe. They never fully recovered before Germany’s defeat in 1945.

3. Incompetent leadership severely impacts an organisation

A fish rots from the head first. Goering was an incompetent leader who surrounded himself with people who were afraid to say “no” – afraid to give him bad news and probably feared for their lives. Leadership whether poor or good has a massive impact on an organisation’s success and the lives of its employees. Leadership comes with responsibility and more importantly, accountability. Compare this with the leadership displayed by the RAF.    

What do you think are the lessons are?

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As a manager will the ‘cobra effect’ come back to bite you?

“The best way to increase wolves in America, rabbits in Australia, and snakes in India, is to pay a bounty on their scalps. Then every patriot goes to raising them”
— Mark Twain – American author and humourist

As a manager will the Cobra effect come back and bite you?

So, what is the cobra effect?

During the times of British Colonial India in the city of Dehli, government officials were terrified by the large number of venomous cobra snakes in the city and sought to solve the problem.

The solution?

The government offered a bounty for every dead cobra. Initially the strategy was successful as large numbers of snakes were killed. However, some of the enterprising citizens of the city began breeding cobras as a source of income. After a while, the government officials began to realise that there were too many cobra skins being handed in, so the scheme was terminated.

What was the outcome?

The ‘enterprising’ cobra breeders on seeing that their snakes were worthless, set them free. This increased the number of snakes, wriggling, loose, wild and free in the city making the initial problem worse.

In French Colonial Indochina a similar situation occurred in Hanoi. The colonial officials deemed there were too many rats, so a bounty scheme was introduced. Not for dead rats, but for their tails. Before long, the officials noticed the city was full of tail-less rats. The ‘enterprising’ bounty hunters didn’t kill the rats, they just cut off their tails and released them back into the sewers. There they continued to breed which further increased the rat catchers’ income.

In more recent times we have seen another example of the ‘cobra effect’. In the 1980s, the USA provided money, military equipment and support to the Mujahideen insurgents fighting to overthrow the Russian army and the Marxist government in Afghanistan. One of the insurgent leaders was al-Qaeda’s Osama Bin Laden. With the fall of the government, Bin Laden was provided a base from where to plan the 9/11 attacks in 2001. This in turn lead to the US invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent misery and death that continues to this day.

In conclusion what is the ‘cobra effect’?

It’s an anecdote where a problem’s attempted solution only makes it worse through unintended consequences.

As managers how can we take into account the ‘cobra effect’ in our jobs?

It’s important to remember that there is a section of any group of people who have a tendency to take advantage of a solution that tries to effect how people behave, like breeding cobras or cutting off the tail of rats. This may not be intentional, although it often is. They take short-term advantage of the system, even though it may lead to unintended consequences and more complex problems.

In our logistics business we had a major Australian retailer as a customer. They used our services to manage the opening and stocking of their new flagship store. One of the KPIs for retail store managers was sales per square metre. The ‘whiz kids’ at head office deemed that in-store replenishment storage of stock should be negligible as this reduced the sales per square metre. As a result, insufficient space in the new flagship store was allocated to in-store storage. The result was stock could not be replenished in time by store staff, overall sales decreased, and additional staff were employed to manage stock flows into the store. The new store had to be redesigned and modified. We continued to manage an offsite replenishment warehouse of the retailer until the store was reconfigured. Good for our business, but not for the retailer’s shareholders.

How can you prevent the ‘cobra effect’ on your organisation?

It’s easy to have a bright new idea on paper. First order effects are easy to identify, second and further effects require much deeper consideration and are much harder to identify.

When you have a ‘brilliant idea’, I would recommend you get your best and brighest people together and ask them about the possible ‘cobra effects’ before implementing. An idea can be fine-tuned by spending the time as suggested and hopefully any negative impacts will be minimised.

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Who’s managing the meeting?

Meetings

Who’s managing the meeting?

‘Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything’

John Kenneth Galbraith – Canadian writer and economist

Each December we send out the monthly management blog early, and not on 21st of the month as is the standard. Here is the December blog:

The quotation by Galbraith sums up what many of us experience with meetings. Are meetings of value and do they contribute to improving the operation of a business?

Value is often an intangible concept. The best place to start when deciding whether to hold a meeting is to calculate the cost of holding a meeting. Using a ‘back of an envelope’ style calculation, add up the costs of salaries and their on-costs in time spent at the meeting, preparing for the meeting and following up post-meeting – as well as travel to and from the meeting and other costs, including meals and accommodation. The cost can be frightening.

Once calculated, determine the outcome of the meeting. For example, if the meeting cost $2,000, did the outcome to the business exceed this amount and warrant holding the meeting? This can give you a benchmark on whether the meeting is worth holding. Never hold a meeting which does not have an agenda that will lead to a clear outcome. The purpose of the meeting must be clear.

I was consulting to a business which held a weekly meeting by telephone, attended by state managers and operations supervisors. The agenda never changed. Literally dozens of key performance indicators (KPIs) were tabled by branch, the managers were often late calling in and took calls on their phones, the meeting chair rarely kept to the agenda, and the length of the meeting varied from 30 to 60 minutes. Action points were rarely completed on time. Furthermore, the business was in financial trouble. Clearly, these meetings were symptoms of what was wrong with the business.

What are the lessons to be learnt from this example?

  1. Tailor the meeting agenda to achieve the desired outcome.
  2. Clearly communicate the aim of the meeting.
  3. Set strict starting times and allocate minimal meeting time for the agenda.
  4. Only invite the right people to the meeting.
  5. Turn mobile phones off.

Meetings can take up to 40% of a manager’s working time – and much of this time is lost in idle banter, people being late, and people using meetings to delay decisions and offload their responsibilities. Meetings are a necessary evil in an organisation, however the number of meetings held and the way they are conducted must be managed with discipline. Otherwise, money is wasted, staff become demotivated, people are not held accountable and little is achieved to meet the organisation’s overall goals. For example, one of my partners in our former business – who was responsible for an operation that was performing poorly – would claim in the management meeting that he would implement a plan of action to rectify performance by a set date. Each month we were given the same story and, unsurprisingly, the performance never improved. This not only affected our profitability but also demotivated others and sent a poor message about accountability.

Most people are motivated when they see things being achieved. Meetings can do this, providing there are strict disciplines imposed on behaviour, procedures and actions while also holding people to account. Performance and outcomes must be measured. Some of the most effective meetings are short stand up 15-minute meetings, where information is disseminated, issues discussed, and time-bounded action points with assigned responsibilities are included.

There are three golden rules for conducting a successive and constructive meeting:

  1. The chair should conduct the meeting in a disciplined and professional manner, keep on track and have a clear aim or desired outcome.
  2. All participants must be prepared, be on time, have a positive attitude and be respectful.
  3. At the end of the meeting, the outcome should be confirmed, action points with deadlines agreed and assigned.

Are meetings in your business meeting these criteria?

How can you minimise the time spent in meetings and the number of meetings, while achieving the desired outcomes for the business?

In conclusion, meetings are good indicators of the health of an organisation. The responsibility of managing and conducting meetings is up to you. They can be vehicles for desired and positive outcomes or, conversely, an opportunity to avoid responsibility and waste everybody’s time and money.

On behalf of the 5-Dimensionz team, we wish you and your families the blessings of Christmas and for a prosperous and wonderful 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year 2020 has been very difficult for many people throughout the world.

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So who were Burke and Wills?

So who were Burke and Wills?

“No expedition has ever started under such favourable circumstances at this”.

Robert O’Hara Burke – leader of Burke & Wills Expedition

Yesterday over 160 years ago, watched by 15,000 cheering people, 19 men, 26 camels, 23 horses and six wagons loaded with 20 tonnes of supplies, including 80 pairs of boots, a cedar-topped oak desk with matching chairs, a bath, rockets, a Chinese gong and six tonnes of firewood, left Royal Park in Melbourne heading north. It was the first expedition in Australia to use camels for transport. This was the start of the famous Burke and Wills expedition. Sponsored by the Royal Society of Victoria the expedition was attempting to be the first to cross Australia, from south to north and return. By the second day at Essendon, only eight kilometres from Melbourne, three of the six wagons had broken down.

It was the best equipped expedition in Australia’s history, sponsored by a Victorian Government, flush with the wealth from the Gold Rush, and the Royal Society of Victoria. It was led by an Irish-born police officer, Robert O’Hara Burke.  Initially the second in command was George Landells, but he left the expedition less than two months later following disputes with Burke, so, William John Wills replaced him. The first night, Burke rode back to Melbourne to see Julia Matthews perform at the Princess Theatre as he was infatuated with her. It is alleged that Burke’s main motivation for leading the expedition was to win Julia’s heart and her mother’s approval. It took the expedition two months to reach Menindee in western New South Wales, even though it took a mail coach just over a week to make the same journey.

Burke, following a questionable army career where alleged gambling debts meant he had to resign his commission, joined the Irish Constabulary. When dissatisfied there, he boarded a ship for Australia. With the Gold Rush in full swing and the resulting chaos, and a shortage of police he managed to secure a position as a Police Inspector. He gained a reputation as an eccentric, a gambler, a risk-taker, and a strict disciplinarian with a “talent” for getting himself lost. Through connections and lobbying Burke somehow got himself appointed as the leader of the expedition. Burke had no knowledge or experience in managing an expedition and had never travelled in the Australian Outback. Wills in contrast, was a surveyor and scientist and was considered by his friends as dependable, rational and intelligent.

By June 1861 over eight months later, nine of the original 19 men had died, including Burke and Wills. When it became apparent that the expedition was in trouble, four separate expeditions went into the Australian interior and not one person lost their life.

So, what went wrong?

It was obviously a well-equipped expedition, backed by a government and a Royal Society.

By the time the expedition reached Cooper’s Creek in central Australia, the outer limit explored by Europeans it was early summer. The sensible action would have been to wait until after summer when the severe desert heat had subsided. However, Burke decided to make for northern Australia with three other men to beat a rival expedition from South Australia, led by John McDouall Stuart. Burke instructed a party to wait behind for three months. In the searing summer heat, the expedition walked up to 30 kilometres a day until they reached the north coast of Australia. By then, the animals and men were exhausted. Instead of spending time recuperating they headed back, not before letting some of the camels go which could have been used as food.

On the return journey, the men became exhausted and began to run out of food. One of the men, Gray died, and they began to eat the remaining camels. By the time they reached the Cooper’s Creek depot over 4 months later, the depot party, who were starting to suffer from scurvy had already left, ironically in the early morning of the day they arrived.  Malnourished and exhausted they were too weak to catch the depot party heading south. The survivors’ meagre supplies soon ran out and despite trading their fishing gear for some fish, they failed to befriend or observe how the local the local aboriginals were able to hunt and gather food. Burke had little respect for the local people and in one incident fired over the heads of some aboriginals who tried to offer them food. Just over two months after arriving at the depot, both Burke and Wills died of starvation. Only King survived. He was taken in by the local Aboriginals.

What management lessons are there for managers in the failure of the Burke and Wills expedition?

Here are three lessons I think we can learn from Burke and Wills.

  1. Leadership – the lack of sound leadership often leads to failure. Clearly Burke was a brave man, clearly irrational and mentally unfit to lead such an expedition. Moreover, bravery is not an alternative to experience and leadership.
  2. Planning – there is no substitute for sound planning. Right from the start the expedition was poorly planned. It had too much equipment, much of it not needed. Travelling in the Australian Outback in summer with its extreme temperatures was ludicrous. Furthermore, Burke had no bush skills and left a trail of confused orders and wasted equipment. The 20 gallons of lime juice to prevent scurvy was dumped early in the expedition leading to the depot party suffering from scurvy. In contrast explorer John McDouall Stuart, Burke’s rival in crossing Australia was an experienced bushman. He carefully planned and after several exploratory expeditions in previous years, successfully crossed Australia in 1862
  3. Bureaucracy – Governments and bureaucracies do not lead to the most appropriate outcomes. Flush with government money and with issues of egos, arrogance and prestige, the Royal Society selected an expedition leader who was clearly unsuited for the job and who purchased inappropriate equipment. For example, why would you need six tonnes of firewood, a bath and cedar-topped desk?

If you are interested in learning more about the expedition, I recommend the following book:

“The Dig Tree”, by Sarah Murgatroyd 2002

Are you chasing field mice or antelopes?

Lion anetlope

Are you chasing field mice or antelopes?

“A lion is fully capable of capturing, killing, and eating a field mouse. But it turns out that the energy required to do so exceeds the caloric content of the mouse itself. So a lion that spent its day hunting and eating field mice would slowly starve to death. A lion can’t live on field mice. A lion needs antelope. Antelope are big animals. They take more speed and strength to capture and kill, and once killed, they provide a feast for the lion and her pride. … So ask yourself at the end of the day, ‘Did I spend today chasing mice or hunting antelope?’”

Newt Gingrich – speaker of US House of Representatives

What is Gingrich’s underlying message?

Certainly, the Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule is implied in this quotation . However, there is another message for managers and business owners here, that is to focus with discipline on the issues that provide the best return for your resources of time, money and expertise. The danger is business failure, as explained by Michael E Gerber in The e-Myth Revisited – Why most small businesses don’t work and what to do about it. This is where a business owner and manager who understands the technical nature of the business but does not understand the business is likely to fail. In summary, they do what they are comfortable in doing and what they know, not what they should be doing.

Jim Collins in his book Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap and others don’t, describes how a ‘culture of discipline’ is evident in successful companies. This begins with disciplined leaders who display empathy, personal humility and intense focus. They do not suffer from ‘I’ strain and rarely appear in the media seeking celebrity. Before purchasing our logistics business, I worked for a privately-owned transport company. In an industry that was known for its larger than life personalities who courted the media, the owner was virtually unknown. He ran a highly successful business which was far more profitable than many of the publicly listed companies in the industry. He was extremely disciplined in strictly adhering to his market niche which enabled higher profits and greater customer service.

In another example of discipline, I managed a large division of a transport business in a large regional centre where the managing director was passionate about truck safety. This involved vehicle journey’s being monitored by on-board computers to prevent speeding, exceeding mandated driving hours and excessive idling as it wastes fuel. If drivers exceeded the speed limit by 5% in a week they were disciplined and if this occurred three times within 12 months the driver was terminated. Like the lion it was targeting the areas that significantly affected the successful operation of the business. Each week the performance of the trucks and drivers was given to me to action. I decided against the advice of my peers to post the results on the drivers‘ notice board.

Did the drivers react negatively to being compared to others as I had been warned would occur?

No.

Instead each week many of the drivers would compare their performance of their vehicles and themselves. Some drivers would personally seek me out to ask if there were problems with their vehicle and why for example their vehicle had appeared to be idling excessively. They became self-disciplined team members who were more accountable and didn’t need to be micro-managed. Fuel economy improved and more importantly our accident record was the best in the business despite having drivers’ company-wide who travelled the most kilometres each week. Within the ‘safety framework’ a culture of freedom and responsibility had developed.

For a business to grow or change in a positive way, the discipline required must be where consistent behaviours align with achieving the organisation’s goals. Note the words – “discipline” and “consistent”. The aim is for consistent productive goal-oriented behaviours to become habits. Habits once formed become entrenched, however they must be right habits and they must align with the organisation’s vision and goals. In the drivers’ example, safety and performance became a habit. With the niche transport company, the discipline was only remaining in its narrow market niche. Both examples required disciplined people acting in a disciplined manner, demonstrating that discipline must start at the top.

Here is another example. I was engaged to undertake a business review by a niche logistics business which had suddenly begun losing money. Determining the prime reason was relatively easy; the business had lost a major customer who had contributed the majority of their previous profits. This was only a symptom of what was wrong. A walk through their numerous warehouses provided some answers. The warehouses were dirty, stock was not in the correct locations and staff were inadequately supervised. Management was focussed on managing day to day crises, were not enforcing operational disciplines, rates had not increased in several years and customer service was inconsistent. Classic chasing field mouse behaviour.

The business review formed the basis of a new business plan. New benchmarks for performance were established and a renewed commitment to improving customer service was implemented. This was underpinned by imposing operational disciplines in the warehouse following consultative meetings with staff. Several managers and supervisors exited the business and a new general manager and senior management team were appointed. In the first year the company made a modest profit. In the second year, profits exceeded expectations, revenue grew through targeted strategic sales in the business’ market niche, prices increased, unprofitable customers were forced from the businesses, a warehouse was closed and new leases with more favourable terms were negotiated. This was a good practical example of what Jim Collins describes in his book, Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap and others don’t; disciplined people – first who; then what, disciplined thought; confronting the brutal facts, and disciplined action; a culture of discipline.

Being a successful business owner, leader and manager requires discipline. Lack of discipline manifests itself physically in examples such as untidy and dirty warehouses, poor telephone manners and uninspiring first impressions.

What are the antelopes you should be hunting in your organisation?

Have you identified the field mice?

Is it clear to others in the business?

Do the antelopes align to your vision, values and goals?

Discipline in the areas of accountability, teamwork, and attention to detail are required. Disciplined leadership is defined by is defined by sound habits, rigour, consistency and routines. A disciplined environment assists in putting both management and employees on their best behaviour leading to improving productivity and profits.

The Charge……the lessons

The Charge……the lessons

“ With bayonets drawn, they charged the town, they were a fearsome sight

But they had fulfilled their orders, they took the town by night”

From the poem “The Wells of Beersheba” by Warren Eggleton

105 years ago during World War I, British, Australian, New Zealand, French and Empire troops stormed ashore at Gallipoli in western Turkey on 25th April. The plan was to seize control of the strategic Dardanelles Strait and open the way for their naval forces to attack Constantinople, the capital of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. The campaign failed. The Turks never succeeded in driving the Allied troops back into the sea, and the Allies never broke out of their beachhead. After eight months of bitter fighting the peninsula was evacuated in December 1915.

On 25th April, each year ANZAC Day (the acronym ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) is commemorated in Australia and New Zealand with marches and ceremonies, even though the Allies were defeated. This year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ANZAC Day will not be publicly celebrated, for the first time since 1916.

Ironically Australia’s first great World War I victory, the Charge of Beersheba that ended the Battle of Beersheba is barely remembered or celebrated. It is considered history’s last great cavalry charge and provides some great lessons for managers.

Beersheba (now Be’er Sheva, in modern-day Israel) is situated in desert terrain and was a strategically important town. Here the Allied advance into Palestine was blocked as it was protected by over 4,000 well-armed Ottoman Empire troops in trenches. Beersheba an important transport hub had water wells that were vital in the desert for both men and horses.

The battle for Beersheba began at dawn on 31st October 1917 when the British infantry began attacking with artillery and air support combined with infantry attacks. By mid-afternoon the British had failed to capture the town. The situation had become serious – horses and men needed water. In the late afternoon, looking at a potential defeat the order was given to the Australian Light Horse to charge the Turkish trenches protecting the town.  800 mounted Light Horsemen, armed with bayonets not cavalry sabres, charged over 6 kilometres of open ground towards Beersheba. Initially the Turks opened fire with shrapnel. This was ineffective against the widely spaced horsemen. They then used machine guns. which were quickly silenced by British artillery. The charge caught the Turkish defenders off guard. They failed to allow for the speed of the charge and had little time to recalibrate their weapons for close range fighting.  The Light Horsemen, whose horses could apparently smell the water, jumped over the trenches. Some men dismounted and attacked the enemy with rifle and bayonet from the rear. Others galloped ahead and captured the town and its vital water wells.

If the Allies had failed, over 60,000 troops would have been stranded in the desert without water. If they didn’t prevail, men and their horses who had already been without water for two days faced dying of thirst. It was also the first major victory for the British army over the Turks in World War I. More importantly, the Battle of Beersheba was a precursor to capturing the city of Gaza. The city barred the way north to the important cities of Jerusalem and Damascus. Within a week Gaza fell, and the Allies marched north routing the Turkish troops. The campaign to secure the Sinai Peninsula ensured the Suez Canal remained open to Britain and its allies and led to the collapse of the 400 year old Otterman Empire.

So, what are the lessons for managers from the Charge of Beersheba?

Here are three lessons, that as managers we can learn from the Charge of Beersheba.

  1. 1. A leader needs to be flexible. The Australian commander, General Chauvel had planned to make a dismounted attack on Beersheba but as evening approached, ran out of time. The alternative was to make a cavalry charge. The traditional strategy was to dismount and attack with rifles from a distance. In the open desert this would have made the Light Horsemen vulnerable to shrapnel and machinegun fire. Clearly a different approach was required so a new strategy was devised. The Light Horse attacked like a cavalry unit, with bayonets in their hands like sabres, thereby catching the Turks by surprise. Their speed and determination outweighed their limitations of protection and weapons.
  2. Planning. There is no substitute for sound planning. Fighting a war in a desert required careful planning as Beersheba was surrounded by desert. This posed obvious logistics challenges for moving troops and equipment, particularly mounted troops. British army engineers established forward supply dumps of water and reopened wells that had been blocked by the Turks. This secured sufficient water for the troops and horses as they moved across the desert. Although the town was protected by a system of trenches, there was no barbed wire on one side because the Turks believed they would not be attacked through the desert from the southeast. The British-led forces, by careful planning and doing their homework  proved this to be a false assumption. Logistics planning and doing your homework is critical whether in warfare or in business
  3. People. Success in any organisation depends hugely on the quality of the people. The importance of experience and training is critical. Many of the Light Horse men involved in the Charge of Beersheba were battle hardened from fighting on the beaches at Gallipoli, and most were tough Australian bushman who were experienced horsemen and used to tough living conditions having also trained extensively in Egypt for desert fighting before the Palestine campaign. The Turks led by German officers, were poorly trained as evidenced by them failing to set their rifle sights correctly and not being able to adjust to the changing circumstances.

What do you think the management lessons from the Charge of Beersheba are?

If you are in Australia or New Zealand on ANZAC Day please don’t forget to remember the sacrifices made by service men and women in your country’s defence.

Note: if you are interested in reading about this event in more detail, I would recommend reading the following books:

Paul Daley, Beersheba, Melbourne University Press, 2009

Roland Perry, The Australian Light Horse, Hachette Australia, 2009

Management lessons – why the Schlieffen Plan failed: the What vs the How

Management lessons – why the Schlieffen Plan failed: the What vs the How

“In western Europe the military machine, with its thousands of wheels, costing millions to maintain, cannot stand still for long. One cannot fight a war for one or two years, from position to position, in 12 day long battles until both combatants are completely exhausted and weakened and forced to sue for peace. We must attempt to defeat our enemies quickly and decisively.”

Count von Schlieffen, German strategist, 1905

What was the Schlieffen Plan?

Long before 1914, Germany was preparing for war. In 1905, Count von Schlieffen, the German Chief of Staff completed what became known as the Schlieffen Plan in which planning commenced in 1897, based on the theory that Germany would be at war with France and Russia at the same time.

The aim was not to fight the war on two fronts at the same time, in the West against France and in the East against Russia. The plan was to first defeat France within 6 weeks by invading through neutral Belgium and capturing Paris before Russia could mobilise its army. After the fall of France, German troops could then be diverted to the East and attack Russia.

The Schlieffen Plan failed spectacularly as World War I became a war of attrition, bogged down in trench warfare in eastern France and Belgium, well short of Paris. The Germans believed that neutral Belgium would not resist and that the British through their 1839 treaty with Belgium, allegedly described as a ‘scrap of paper’ by the German High Command would not come to the support of Belgium. Furthermore, the Germans believed that there was no need to fear the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) which the Kaiser called a ‘contemptible little army’.

What are three management lessons from the failure of the Schlieffen Plan?

Lesson 1: inflexible and arrogant leadership leads to failure

Apparently over 80% of the German soldiers were not professional soldiers. The schedules were prepared by a military hierarchy for fit regular soldiers under ideal conditions, not for non-regular soldiers who were not for physically or emotionally fit to march 30 km per day with heavy packs. The German High Command refused to modify the plan when the advance faltered. There was no Plan B

Lesson 2: under estimating and not understanding your opponents and their tactics

The BEF was not expected to support Belgium but they helped delay the plan. This led to atrocities being committed often by the inexperienced and untrained German troops. The bureaucratic minds of the German planners justified these actions as nothing should stop the plan’s operation. These atrocities in turn assisted in portraying the image of the ‘evil Hun’, which mobilised public and political opinion, first in Britain and later in America, indirectly allowing America into the war several years later.

Lesson 3: not understanding and taking into account logistics in your plan

The Schlieffen Plan was partially successful in the first month of the war, as it resulted rapid penetration into France. However, the speed of the initial advance created its own problems, placing a strain on the supply lines as well as placing great strain on the German troops, where the majority were travelling on foot and also having to fight on the way. They became fatigued, sunburnt and developed blisters reducing their fighting capacity. The daily needs of feeding the hundreds of thousands of horses and men, and providing ammunition was a logistical nightmare (logistics in your business). The army moved away from the railheads at 30 kms per day resulting in the supplies being brought to the front by horses. It is estimated that the German army needed 3,900 tonnes of food and fodder each day, clearly a difficult task when overwhelmingly horses were used for transport. Clearly logistics limited the operational success of the plan.

There were other reasons for the failure of the Schlieffen. However, as managers that we can learn from the three management lessons from the failure of the Schlieffen Plan.

In conclusion, the questions you need to ask yourself are:

Post note: The Russian Army mobilised quicker than the Germans had predicted which meant a war on two fronts.