Managing Noncontiguous Resources
For better or worse
In 1955, if a man started working as a carpenter for Ford Motor Company he could count on retiring forty-five years later. The biggest change he would face was the annual model change. Even model changes did not affect him. Someone who graduated Computer Technical School in 1975 may not be so lucky. Now changes are happening without rhyme or reason, in various areas concurrently. This pattern is referred to as ‘noncontiguous’ in this report because there are many things occurring in unrelated areas affecting a single individual or group simultaneously.
Some of the likely causes of this phenomenon are external sources such as the economy and technology. Whatever the cause the effect is a workforce subjected to constant noncontiguous forces. This noncontiguous environment affects both the management and the employees.
For the employees there is no longer a reasonable expectation that they will be able to work only one job and provide a comfortable living for their family. Further, job security for even public sector employees is no longer a given. For older workers this change alone can be terrifying but younger workers who have spent years obtaining advanced degrees and education for specific business needs are also facing the challenge.
Management can no longer expect they will be able to find qualified employees willing to come into the office at all – let alone put in a forty plus hour week!
Meares, 1999) More and more employees desire to work
remotely with non-standard hours and no direct management. In this case, the challenge facing managers
is how to assure the company is actually getting what it is paying for. Managers must develop new paradigms to
Another concern is the exclusion of employees in remote or virtual arrangements from developmental opportunities that are otherwise available to employees who have greater face-time in the workplace.
(Emily Busch, 2011)
For both the workers and managers, reactions to organizational change resemble those to the death of a loved one. Studies on change cite the work of psychologists. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
who identified several specific stages in the latter. The early stages include shock and denial, refusing
to believe what has happened and instead believing everything will be all
right; guilt, at not having done or said more or for not being the decedent;
and anger, at the decedent or at God. Later,
one passes through the stages of acceptance, acknowledging what has happened, and
Now there is a need for a clear vision of acceptance so the organization can move on. The vision of what will be. Management needs to provide the vision and no one person, no matter how competent, is capable of creating and developing the right vision. Communicating the vision to all the people, eliminating all the key obstacles, generating short wins, leading dozens of change projects, the new manager anchors the new approaches deep in the organization’s culture. Forming a coalition of the right composition, with a significant level of trust, and a shared objective is required to succeed.
The downturn in the economy has caused a re-examination of many things that had been accepted norms. Compounding this affect is the increasing effectiveness of technology, the over building of real-estate resources, and insurance – both government and private. While large organizations are able to conduct functions with technologically enhanced smaller groups of resources, many are saddled with large employee populations protected by union agreements. Information technologies and robotic technologies are eliminating the need for human intervention in many situations. Resource structures optimized for contiguous operations become ineffective in this environment of multiple simultaneous noncontiguous changes. The implication is that the operational structure must evolve to effectively respond to the needs of the community and the non-contiguous changes occurring.
The basic problem lies within the relationship between organization and management. Management is the authority that individuals exercise over subordinates by virtue of rank or assignment. This includes the authority and responsibility for effectively using available resources for planning the employment of, organizing, directing, coordinating, and controlling resources for the accomplishment of assignments.
Organization creates structure and form resources; it is the means of management. Structure also determines interactions between the elements of the organization. The effects of these interactions affect the compilation, distribution, and dispensation of information.
The problem is that an operational organization built to support the mission during the last thirty years of economic growth inherently has an organizational control gap. This gap may not be a problem if a prolonged operation is called for but when short (sometimes-intense) operations are completed, resources must be able to depart quickly. The gap becomes a problem when three circumstances occur:
1. The original management structure remains in place
2. Business partners’ change priorities and accepted ‘friendly conditions’ erode – requiring rapid repeated tactical shifts to maintain continuity of services
3. Management can not choose to eliminate dormant resources
In the new paradigm of noncontiguous operations, the organization must evolve to a more fluid dynamic. By deploying technologies that allow consolidation of resources, the organization can be caused to contract (and expand) as needed. Centralization of resources under a single unit deployment model empowers management to employ resources where needed based on the noncontiguous nature of change within business, while enabling technical and intellectual assets to enjoy a more rewarding work experience.
The straw that broke the camel’s back
Why does the execution of tasks in response to changing conditions in the daily operations cause problems for the existing operational control organization? There are two critical differences between operational direction and operational management. The first difference is that while strategic planning is intrinsic to the Operational Director he (she) lacks the organic tactical capacity for fulfillment. This means that the Operational Directors are incapable of tactical resource deployment and must rely on subordinates to do so. The second difference is that an Operational Director’s logistic support is drawn from his (her) subordinate’s assets and thus must rely on subordinate units for support. Clearly, this distracts the subordinate’s logistical element from its primary mission of supporting his (her) own resources and workloads.
In contrast, the operational managers focus on the arrangement and maneuver of resources in relation to each other and / or the workload in order to use their full potential. The U.S. Army Joint Vision 2010
document articulates the differences by using the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act,
OODA, Loop analogy. Applied to civilian
organizations, the Operational Director Observes what is occurring in the
workspace, Orients upon timely and relevant information, then decides upon a
response. The decisions translated into incidents
and orders are sent quickly throughout the operational organization. While theoretically the Operational Managers
are responsible for ‘acting’, [not the Operational Directors], in reality the
two levels blend. However, in areas of
noncontiguous operations Operational Directors retain the responsibility for
the ‘white space’. The ‘white space’ is
the space between the noncontiguous zones of operation that are not generally
characterized by heavy anomalous activities. When an Operational Director
determines there is a problem the question becomes, how to execute tasks within
the ‘white space’ between the functional and component resources.
When an operational organization attempts to execute tactical tasks it must rectify the capability shortfalls, which invariably cause it to function less effectively. Meanwhile it must be careful that the structures do not create barriers between those who collect the information and those who must use the information.
Defining a clear picture of the future
In order to evolve, the organization will be required to get a picture of the future it is evolving to. John Kotter, in his book “Our Iceberg is Melting” offers an story that may help.
Iceberg is Melting, 2006) If
healthcare organizations are going to thrive, they must re-imagine what they
are. This includes Medical, clinical,
and technical disciplines.
One way this may be able to work is modeled after the railroad. As fewer locomotives were needed to pull the trains, and as the technology progressed that made the caboose obsolete, it became important to crew the trains differently. Engineers were needed at non-standard times and locations based on the movement of the trains (instead of the trains moving based on the availability of engineers). The result was a software product named Crew Call
2009) that enabled
railroads to call upon crews when they were needed based on the location of and
direction of travel of the train.
Similarly, healthcare should evolve to a model where health systems can
call on medical, technical, and intellectual assets based on the needs of the
patients not on the locations’ specific capacity or capability.
Information Technology can provide more cost effective services as a service organization model in which it ‘sells’ its services to each of the organizations within the health system based on their needs at the time. This will provide for more accurate accounting of Information Technology service costs and will help stabilize the revenue cycle within health systems globally.
New standards of work
The products of advanced technology and, in particular, information technology pervade the workplace and lives of us all. These products include the personal computer in all its formats, the smart phones on our belts, every new computing capable communication device in homes and offices as well as smart chips that make ID cards and credit cards function. In medicine, research leading to the recent success in mapping the human genome is based primarily on advanced use of Information Technology. Technology has already led to fundamental advances in perceptive understanding of the mechanisms of many diseases. In the near future, this will result in the design of procedural interventions to improve health that can be customized to the needs of individuals.
We live in a time when IT is—on a worldwide basis—transforming how businesses interact with their customers and with one another. Information Technology even affects how people interact with each other for business, social, educational, governmental, and recreational reasons.
Many recognizable IT trends are pointing to the substantial and sometimes-unanticipated impact of the Internet has had in just a few years, suggesting that we have only begun to see the societal transformations enabled by IT. Everyone must examine how this affects their business and adjust to it. New questions are needed and new answers formulated, and managers need to learn how to manage in a workplace where operations are noncontiguous, constant, and rapidly occurring.
Carol A. Meares, S. J. (1999). The Digital Work Force: Building Infotech Skills at the Speed of Innovation. Washington D.C.: The U.S. Department of Commerce.
DoD. (2010). Concept for Future Joint Operations: Expanding Joint Vision 2010. Washington D.C.: The Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Emily Busch, J. N. (2011). Remote Work: An Examination of Current Trends and Emerging Issues. New York: Cornell University.
Gleeson, S. (2009, April 24). RailComm’s Crew Call Software Simplifies FRA’s New Hours of Service Law. Retrieved from RailComm: http://www.railcomm.com/news-events/news/2009-04-24
Kotter, J. (2006). Our Iceberg is Melting. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Kotter, J. (2008). The Eight Step Process For Leading Change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review.
Ross, E. K. (1997). On Death and Dying. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Zajac, M. M. (2004). Managing the White Space: Non-contiguous Operations and the Operational Control Structure. Fort Levenworth, KS: United States Army Command and General Staff College.