Drive Bys, Definitions and Dilbert

Now that cycling season is over, it is time to get back to thinking about Organizational Biology – and this includes updating Phrankisms.  What really jogged my memory (and motivation) was coming across a couple of old Dilbert cartoons introducing the concept of ‘Drive-By-Management’.

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The urban dictionary defines Drive By Management as:

A management style bearing the characteristics of a drive-by shooting. Typically, this involves firing off pointers at subordinates with a total lack of regard for accuracy or willingness to take personal responsibility. The manager will then make a quick getaway without accomplishing anything.

I am not sure that quite captures my thoughts on the matter so my definition is:

The assignment of work objectives without the opportunity to negotiate the corresponding details to ensure an optimal result. These details may include due dates, quality or quantity measures, the purpose or ultimate use of the output and a discussion on how to improve the quality and productivity of similar, future requests.

John Wayne, the Military and What is the Problem?

So, what is the problem with Drive-by-management? Heck, think of a John Wayne war movie where he orders (or is ordered to) take that hill/building/machine-gun-nest. The doomed squad goes off with determined grit on their face to achieve the objective despite the possible costs. Later, a smaller number return having achieved the objective and saving the day. Hearty pats on the back and more determined gritted-faces follow. What is not to love about Drive-By-Management!

From a leadership position, the ability to send men (and women) off to do the impossible, without the bother of having to provide details or context, sounds pretty good. In reality it does not work that way. Let’s go back to Mr. Wayne and the military example.

Militaries don’t tend to willy-nilly send their soldiers off to certain doom simply because soldiers, in particular modern ones, are hard to come by.  Perhaps the last time we saw such willy-nilly’ness on a large-scale was during the First World War. Thus a military squad capturing a hill is actually not really Drive-By-Management. Before being sent off, the squad has had training on such things. It benefits from resources such as weapons, supporting fire, and communications between it and the rear.  The squad also has a visible objective – the hill/building/machine-gun-nest. After the objective is achieved, it will be carefully documented in the war diary and will likely be debriefed and evaluated by the higher-ups to see what can be learned for the next hill/building/machine-gun-nest. As a result John Wayne and real life equivalents display very little Drive-By’ness.

A better military example of Drive-By-Management in a military context is the Charge of the Light Brigade. If you don’t know the history the summary is there was:

  1. Personal antagonism on the part of the leadership of the English Military leaders,
  2. Poor communication that provided insufficient clarity and details on the objective, and
  3. Unwillingness on part of the subordinate to verify the details and facts before going and charging into what was asked of him.

The result was a great poem by Alfred Tennyson, the death of 156 men, and the loss of a critical fighting force the English could have used later on if it had not been wasted.

Are You a Victim or a Perpetrator of Drive By’s?

This is where the catchy name/metaphor breaks down a bit. Drive-By-Management is easy to thwart by the driver getting out of the car and asking such basic questions as ‘Do you understand or can you do it?’ The person on the receiving end has the ability to stop the car and ask questions such as ‘When do you need it or how will it be used?’ This is where Drive-By-Management meets Management-By-Walking-Around (and the subject of some future blogs).

In the meantime, what do you have to say; have you been a recipient of Drive-By-Management recently? Alternatively, have you been the one doing the driving? My impression is that Drive-By-Management is more prevalent to the public service but I have no real data to support this (and I see yet another blog on the subject). As a result, any comments or perspectives would be greatly appreciated.