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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.

THE TACTIC IN BASEBALL
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.

BEYOND BASEBALL
┬┐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.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

La Russa Agile Innovation #10 of 17: Once You've Found an Optimal Tactic,
 Treat it as Sub-Optimal  

Adhering to a process you've proven works effectively and efficiently in the context of a team is optimal. But you need to vary the use of Optimal methods gently and continually over time.

No line of work is more effective and illustrative Agile and Lean norm than Baseball. One great practitioner of the mix of art and science of knowing when to simply apply the Optimal move and when to riff off it is now Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, who desribed it in his recent. He documents it in a way any manager can "get" it in his recent book, One Last Strike (p. 231-233).

In the book, he discusses "intentional walk", a managerial technique he uses far less than the norm. Statistically, the walking a batter to get to the next batter gives the other team in the composite average an advantage. That is, that if you roll up all the cases in which a manager chooses to apply it, the choice nets out as negative over all cases. Baseball Prospectus last year published this info for the 2012 season rolling up every event for the 2012 major league season. It reports what difference on average events correlated to runs the batting team scored in the inning. For example, "HR", a home run, was worth, in the overall mean average case, +1.4 runs for the batting team in that inning.

Event

LWTS

HR

1.398

3B

1.008

2B

0.723

1B

0.443

HBP

0.314

IBB

0.174

NIBB

0.296

K

-0.261

Out

-0.246

As you can see, the IBB, the intentional walk, nets out negative for the team of the pitcher that issued it, on average about .17, or about one-sixth, of a run per instance. In general, any sensible manager would lean against this net-negative tactic. La Russa is a metrics-informed manager, and also leans against it.

But here's the Truth -- he doesn't automatically NOT use this sub-optimal choice. In the beginning and middle of his career, he was usually at or near the bottom of use in the IBB. In his final year of managing, 2011, he still used it 44 times, third lowest for the league.

NOTE: If you haven't thought through the consequences of the differences between the National and the American leagues, managers in the National use the intentional walk far more often than their American peers. This is because the pitcher is part of the batting line-up in the National but has a designated hitter in the American. Pitchers, as whole, bat worse than players not named Robert Andino who play any other position, so the intentional walk of the batter hitting in front of the pitcher to make the pitcher either bat or be dislodged with a pinch-hitter, is the most frequent application of the tactic.

And while La Russa's frequency of intentionl walks is very low for the National League, American League use is so much lower, his ranking would be more moderate.

There's the Lean/Agile exemplar: that almost any practical technique/tactic/process could be "Optimal" in any given context...of time plus team plus cost plus organization plus decision environment plus team-members-on-the-given-day. Optimal is not static and because it isn't static, push-button management using the discovered optimum, even though it fails less often that other choices will in composite, may underperform many other possibilities in the specific context.

La Russa's is a classic innovator. His ability to reject the intentional walk, while still being able to use in in contexts he finds beneficial for it is an elegant example of Agile/Lean management practice.

BUT WAIT. THERE'S MORE...
La Russa is an advocate for a variant of the IBB that he can use in lieu of it -- in certain contexts: The Unintentional Intentional Walk.

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 umprire on one of those "edge" pitches, which changes the count (NOTE: to a count more favorable to La Russa's team).

It's a classic innovation a la H.G. Barnett. Take a standard procedure and see what you can take into account from the context to see if there's a change that gives you a small edge either in the general case or for the specific context you're about to face.

There are side benefits, even when it doesn't work. The team gets used to applying it so when it comes up again, they will have more experience with the tactic. The opposition number-eight batter also knows you may use this subtle technique, and may use brain cycles thinking about it even when you're not. That divides her attention, and that's a benefit to you, too.

BEYOND BASEBALL
It's not without risk of failure (and to be realistic, almost nothing is, unless you're Goldman Sachs and you carry in your pocket or perhaps on your payroll both main political parties' choices for Treasury department- and S.E.C. leadership). The difference between being a good manager and a great one is picking your spots for innovation/riffing off of the Optimal choice.

The majority of managers gravitate towards what I call Binary Thinking (simple dualities such as "good v. bad"). Binary Thinking makes it hard to apply things the way one must to be truly good as a manager of the First Base skill set, that is, stochastically. The optimal model is stochastic, neither random (investing an equal amount in any eventuality no matter how likely or unlikely) or deterministic (invest in the likeliest n options only until there is no more to invest), because evolution is stochastic (not exactly hitting the bull's eye of potentiality every time but scattering arrows clustered variably around the bull's eye, getting sparser with distance from the bull's eye).

For you to have any chance being successful in a system that at least pays lip-service to Lean or Agile, one needs to be willing to riff off all but the most static systems' Optimal choices. Follow La Russa here. Never stop experimenting with stochastically distributed variants off the Optimal.


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