Thursday, December 18, 2014

Jim Huston


Challenges are fun

Industry Voices

December 11, 2014

Jim Huston

Editor’s note: This is the third and final part of a series on finding, training and keeping good people.

Most people respond to a challenge. Unfortunately, we too often don’t capitalize on this dynamic in our organizations. Author and business entrepreneur Jack Stack capitalizes on this innate human response when he likens business to a game in his book, “Great Game of Business.” I encourage you to read it.

How it works.

While a captain in the Marine Corps, I was a member of Marine Air Group (MAG) 22 stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif. We had approximately 100 Huey and Cobra helicopters, plus a number of OV-10 fixed-wing observation planes.

Without certain parts (propellers, landing gear, etc.), these aircraft could not safely fly – Not Operationally Ready Supply (NORS). Lacking less essential parts (rocket launching component, machine gun mount, etc.), they could still fly but were Not Full Mission Capable (NFMC). Our group had approximately 30 aircraft missing 100 parts that prevented them from flying safely or fully performing their mission. Each morning MAG-22 sent a classified message to the Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) informing them of our aircrafts’ ability (or inability) to perform. We had too many planes down and our commanding officer was feeling the heat. Something had to be done.

My job as an aviation supply officer was for my section consisting of 10 marines to get these parts any way and anywhere I could. Because #%$@* (some things) always flows downhill, I was right in the middle and feeling the heat, too. Some parts were in our warehouse under a different part number.

Many were scattered around the U.S. or the globe in warehouses at stateside or overseas military warehouses. Others might be found at the military aircraft “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. Local manufacturers might be able to manufacture the needed parts or we could try to buy parts from the original aircraft manufacturers such as Bell Helicopter or Sikorsky. The possibilities were varied and many.

The reports from the U.S. Navy supply system bureaucracy that we were given were always late and virtually useless. The data weren’t current and they weren’t always correct. I decided to make a game of it. I found an old chalkboard, gathered my marines and laid down a challenge. On the chalkboard, I wrote the following:



The challenge worked and the atmosphere became electric. Marines made phone calls, sent messages and searched our warehouses for suitable substitutes. Within 10 days, we hit our goal of 75 total parts still needed. I bought four cases of beer and we had a party. It worked once, so I decided to try it again. I set the goal at 50. Again, everyone went bonkers and in about two weeks, we got the number down to 50 – another party. I then set the goal to 25 with the same results. It took another two weeks but my marines hit the mark.

Finally came the big challenge. Zero parts missing was a huge objective. I added that it had to be held for three consecutive days. No other MAG throughout the Marine Corps was at zero. The gauntlet was thrown down and everyone went nuts. We’d get down to 15 and it would bounce back up to 18.

We’d get it down to 9 and up it would go again to 12. However, we could see steady progress as we hit 5-4-3-2-1-Zero! Like a robin pouncing on a June bug, my marines would attack any new requisition coming in for a NORS or NFMC part. And we held zero for three days.

The lesson.

Leaders make work challenging. They also elevate the mundane to something meaningful and exciting. This isn’t always easy to do but with a little forethought and creativity it can be done. Set lofty goals within your organization that are both measurable and timeable … and make it fun. People will respond!


Jim Huston runs J.R. Huston Consulting, a green industry consulting firm.;