Sunday, January 19, 2014

La Russa Agile Innovation #11 of 17:
Using Unintentional Intention in Your Own World  

In the previous entry, I used the example of a La Russa tactic description to describe a managerial orientation. In this one, I'll show you how you can use this very tactic, The Unintentional Intentional Walk, in your own shop IF you face rival managers or even executives up the chain from you who care more about getting their own way or advancing their own career than the health/survival of the organization.

That is, a statistically normal organization if you work in the corporate, elected officeholder or academic worlds.

In Baseball, many managers, especially in the National League, will defend by using the intentional walk in a situation where there are one or more runners in scoring position (that is, in a situation where they are threatened with a significant outcome change). La Russa, like all managers, uses that some. But he prefers something called the Unintentional Intentional Walk because that uses an opponent's aggression against her or him.

Again, here's his book on the replacement technique:

One of the strategies we employed a lot was the "unintentional" intentional walk, and it was particularly effective in the National League, where the pitcher hits. Often the eighth-place hitter comes up with two outs, a runner in scoring position and the pitcher on deck. If you walk the eighth-place hitter and the pitcher makes an out, then the leadoff man comes up to start the next inning (NOTE: and this is an incremental advantage to La Russa's opposition). We'd rather try to use an eighth-hitter's aggressiveness against him, hoping he'll swing at a borderlibne pitch and get himself out.

We had a sign for it. {SNIP} You're telling the pitcher he's going to pitch at the edge of the strike zone or off the edge. (NOTE: which are harder to hit well){SNIP} What you have going for you is that the hitter, since there's an RBI situation, wants to get that bat going. And he may be more apt to chase a pitch out of the strike zone. And sometimes you might get a call from the umpire on one of those "edge" pitches, which changes the count (NOTE: to a count more favorable to La Russa's team).

The italicized text in the extract is the key: Using the antagonist's aggression, a key way-of-being that leads to his understanding of his success, against him.

┬┐How do YOU use the Unintentional Intentional walk? I counsel managers I'm coaching to go to it only under duress (just as La Russa uses it in Baseball). Specifically, you apply the tactic in an organization that is facing the predictable advance of individuals with power who degrade accountability to feather their own career.

I've written lots before over the last ten years about the need to enforce accountability at every single juncture because of Angus' First Law of Organizations:

All human institutions tend to be self-amplifying.

Corporations where accountability-sluffers get into positions to affect hiring choices tend to not mind accountability-sluffers and, probabalistically, are scared by accountability-embracers. Over time, they will hire more -sluffers. Accountability-embracers are more likely to feel uncomfortable and leave, or be held accountable to sluffers' sluffing and be forced out. External job candidates who are sluffers will be incrementally more attracted and -embracers incrementally less likely to be. Over time an organization will shift, and as it shifts, -sluffers will be competing with other sluffers, meaning the tricks and tactics that worked on -embracers are decreasingly valid, the population of ambitious-without-loyalty increasingly competing with each other for a fixed number of power slots.

If you work inside one of the plurality of publically-traded corporations that behave that way, you already know the First Law. If you don't, a more transparent example of this effect is documented for the chronically-underperforming Pentagon, since the end of World War II, a classic Less With More management culture.

With the necessity of us, as managers, to defend accountability, even when it costs us, "politically", is a challenging situation. When people with the same level or more power start trying to grab authority while sluffing responsibility, we have three alternatives. We can take them head on, which is healthy but costly. We can issue the intentional walk, that is decline to engage them and let them get their way. Or, we can issue the Unintentional Intentional walk -- without taking them head on, aiming to use their aggression against them.

Here's one example:
A manager I was coaching works in a transportation company. Outside of SF Muni & the commercial airline sector, transportation organizations tend to be accountable because the outcomes they deliver are pretty obvious -- the shipments get there or not, on time or not. So accountability-sluffers tend to be rare and are always pretty noticeable.

He's one of those quietly-competent guys who is programmed to let his accomplishments mostly speak for themselves, but he and his family also play tennis with influential executives and their families and this has given him extra coverage. But the company had recently hired an aggressive young MBA who'd formerly worked for and been recommended by a big name outside consulting firm that was working on our company's high-level strategy. The new guy liked to mouth off about strategy, an area he was familiar with and understood well.

But New Guy's allies in the consulting firm were getting him invited to meetings that were covering operational details as an observer (not a bad idea) and New Guy was using these meetings as a platform to assert ideas he didn't have the authority to push, but tried anyway. He'd already succeeded in two other departments in getting them to take on all the work of his thought-initiative without having to take on any work beyond being an advisor. If either succeeded, he'd take the credit, but in case of failure, his hands appeared clean, a classic consultant approach. That's what he'd done in the consulting company to advance, according to a couple of my acquaintances who worked there.

My guy just "knew" this was going to happen to his department sooner or later. I coached my guy on the Unintentional Intentional Walk. In this case, instead of resisting, we actually pushed New Guy's idea (a decent one...that helped us choose this tactic) in the meeting, but insisted only the New Guy was "qualified" to lead the development team and didn't back off. My guy had enough leverage with his execs to both good-mouth New Guy while putting him in the crosshairs. New Guy would either succeed (good for the company) or fail (bad for New Guy and sluffers everywhere) but he was going to be measured by his own skills and not take selective credit for others'.

Better yet, my guy maximized the effort by making sure his acquaintances across the company worked the tactic, too. New Guy tried it again about a month later in a different group. Even though he hadn't done a shred of apparent work on the initiative he was leading, when the other team insisted he was the man for the job, he said he was overbooked. They set it up so when New Guy finished my guy's group's effort, he would start theirs, and now he was booked well into the future. A week later a third group did the same. New Guy was booked for almost a year of project leadership he didn't want and maybe didn't know how to execute on.

New Guy became Ex-Guy about ten months later, leaving on his own two feet by returning to the consulting company he'd come from and to an apparent promotion, but without delivering any of his initiatives. The company lost the opportunity to see what at least one good-looking idea might have delivered. In exchange though, they resisted advancing an accountability-sluffer into a nexus where he could have amplified his style to the detriment of the host company.

Further, they learned the Unintentional Intentional Walk, one of Baseball's cleverest ways of finessing a stressful decision environment.

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