U.S. Secret Service Business Execution Failure

November 29, 2009

It was not too many years ago when we watched Jennifer Garner play the part of Sydney Bristow on the ABC television network thriller drama series Alias. Week after week, she would  insert herself into very high security, international events that one would say it would be impossible to penetrate.

Sydney Bristow was always dressed to the nines, attractive and captivating and able to get into whatever event she needed to.  Surprisingly, she managed to elude capture.  Our minds allowed for this unlikely circumstance week after week because it was a fictional TV show where it is alright to suspend belief.

Now, we see two aspiring reality TV wannabees (whose names I’m not providing as I do not want to give them more publicity) literally stroll in the front door of the White House to attend President Obama’s first state dinner.  The attractive woman apparently so captivated the Secret Service Agents that they lost their judgment, their sense of purpose and mission and situational awareness.  This is an amazing business execution failure.

All the top U.S. government officials were present at this event, including the full line of succession to replace President Obama.  If these people had had bad motives, Senator Robert Byrd could have become the President of the United States (he did not attend the event).

The good news:  Nothing nefarious happened.

The bad news:  The U.S. Secret Service suffered a major business execution failure on an international stage.

We have heard that when the couple reached the first security point, they were passed onto the next even though there names were not “on the list.”  We have heard that the individual who made this decision “assumed” that the irregularity would be handled at the next check point.  It was not.

How can the U.S. Secret Service have a process that allows for a single point of failure?  The mere fact that the agent allowed the couple to go to the next check point is a single point of failure.  This is completely unacceptable.

What should happen next?  Some want to charge the couple with whatever crime they can be charged with to “send a message.”  From my perspective, this is a way to deflect attention from what really happened–a security breach that could have had potentially horrific consequences but, thankfully, did not.

We should be grateful that these publicity-seeking people only wanted publicity.  Perhaps we should thank them for exposing the security vulnerability, a vulnerability that a junior high school student could have easily anticipated.

Should people in the Secret Service lose their jobs over this?  Yes.  This breach should be career-limiting for one or more people.  If we want to send a message, it should be that the U.S. Secret Service will not tolerate single points of failure, especially points of failure as idiotic as this.

Your thoughts?

Dave Gardner, Gardner & Associates Consulting



Jimmie Johnson Enters Business Execution Hall of Fame

November 22, 2009

Today, Jimmie Johnson won his fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.  As an aficionado of this NASCAR, I can tell you this is an incredible achievement and warrants entering Jimmie Johnson in the Business Execution Hall of Fame.

While Jimmie’s name goes on the championship trophy, it is critical to recognize that NASCAR is a team sport.  So, this Business Execution Hall of Fame recognition has to be shared with Hendrick Motor Sports, Jimmie’s brilliant crew chief, Chad Knaus, and approximately 600 other folks involved in driving such superb execution.

NASCAR racing is big business–a business of incredible detail where fractions of second can make the difference between winning and losing.  Few drivers out of the 43 that start a race each week are able to win over the course of a racing year .  To come out as the best driver for four consecutive years is, well, absolutely incredible.

The other 43 teams aren’t slouches in this sport.  One of the biggest stars in the sport, Mark Martin (also with Hendrick Motor Sports), has been racing 27 years and has yet to win a single championship.  He came in second in the Sprint Cup Championship this year.

My hat is off to Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motor Sports and this team for this achievement in business execution.  Congratulations!

Dave Gardner, Gardner & Associates Consulting


Why Does Everything Have to Be So Complicated?

November 18, 2009

I’m a straight-shooting, pragmatic person who thrives on making the complex simple. The systems and processes I assist people with are not for my use; they are for the stakeholders daily use.

This month, I’m taking a look at business simplicity.  It’s easy to take the simple and make it complex, but, far more difficult to take the complex and make it simple.  That’s my passion.

Many companies (and, sadly, many consultants) seem to go out of their way to make things complicated.  Sometimes, I listen to people and say to myself, “What the heck does that mean?”  If you need a decoder ring, something is just not right.

The following graphic is profound in its simplicity. Take a moment and ponder it.

I wish I had created the preceding graphic, but, I did not. This visual was created by Jessica Hagy under a blog post titled “Needles and Haystacks and Such” for a blog located at http://thisisindexed.com.

Confusion is a function of how much information is available: too little information promotes confusion just as too much information promotes confusion.

I was recently involved with a Fortune 500 company and noticed that the marketing people across the enterprise were just pounding the sales people with new product and service information, new promotions, etc.  I wondered how a sales person could do their job with this constant bombardment of information. After a while, it has to feel like spam, turning people off rather than turning them on.

If I had been in sales, I’m sure I would have ignored it–it was just too much information for a person to absorb while still being able to execute their jobs. I’m certain they respond to the priorities set by their management–that would be the safer course of action.

One marketing person I knew had some 40 projects on her “to-do” list all destined to go to the same group.  I asked her if she ever sought feedback about how well the information she created was being received or assisted sales to be more successful.  She looked at me like I was nuts.  Okay, call me crazy! If you don’t seek feedback, how will you ever know?

The optimal point in this process visual diagram is where the curve is at it’s lowest point.  After that, the economic “law of diminishing returns” sets in. Incremental information promotes more confusion and overload as it is added to the mix. The challenge is finding out where the point of optimization is for the people who are expected to execute.  The best way to find that point is to simply ask the recipients for feedback.

Americans are terrible dealing with people in foreign countries who don’t speak English.  We say things louder and in a more animated voice thinking that this is the royal road to communication success.  It’s not.  The same is true with confusion and information.  Just as increasing the volume is ineffective with someone who does not speak English, more information is not more, but, actually less.

Improve business execution through simplification.  If processes or systems are not being followed or no longer serve the essential needs of the business, change and simplify them.  And, if your role is providing information, validate that the information you are publishing is serving the strategy, not confounding or adding to confusion or overwhelm.

People who are confused or overwhelmed with information are not going to be efficient or effective.

What is the best practice?  Find the balance between information and confusion.  The people using the systems and processes to do their jobs are the best judge of how well the balance has been achieved.  Consider what you can do to create simple, effective solutions.

And, certainly, don’t be shy about reaching out for help from a dispassionate third-party like me.

Dave Gardner, Gardner & Associates Consulting http://www.gardnerandassoc.com

Opening a wine bottle–extreme business execution

November 5, 2009

As we all know, business execution is about getting things done.  To that, I’d add success is more important than perfection.   In 90 seconds, see what an inebriated Frenchmen does to open a bottle of wine with no corkscrew.

Now you know what to do the next time you’re traveling and you’ve got no corkscrew. Remember you saw it here first.

Dave Gardner, Gardner & Associates Consulting