The recent “epic fail” of the Boston Globe’s ground game holds valuable leadership lessons. Apparently, nobody at the Globe verified the readiness of the replacement distribution vendor ACI Media Group before ditching the old vendor, Publishers Circulation Fulfillment on December 27.
ACI did not have enough drivers and did not have efficient delivery routes mapped out. The route problem discouraged drivers, paid by the piece. When the drivers found the routes didn’t pay much, some quit, deepening the crisis. Despite the efforts of Globe employees, who rallied to help deliver papers, many readers did not get papers or got them late. Finally, the Globe rehired Publishers Circulation Fulfillment for distribution in about half the territory. PCF, which also delivers The Boston Herald, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and other papers in the area, will restart with the Globe January 11 and is undoubtedly scrambling to unscramble the mess in their own operation, caused by loss of drivers and reconfiguration of routes that came with the Globe’s departure.
The Globe’s owner, billionaire owner John Henry, issued an apology to readers, January 6. Henry appears to be disciplined, systematic manager. He made his money in formulaic commodity trading. He adopted Bill James' “Moneyball” tactics to help improve the performance of the Boston Red Sox, one of several sports teams which he owns or has interests in. He is probably studying what he can learn from this fiasco.
Some ground game lessons are:
Logistics matter…a lot. Knowing how many people you have on task vs. the task requirements and how efficient or effective the tools they have (in this case sequenced delivery lists) are key measurements. Low bids can be illusory.
Trust but Verify. You can’t get stuff done without trust but “Show me,” should be a frequent rejoinder to any representation. Henry claims ACI is “the best in the business” but good reputations and expertise do not absolve leaders from using their own judgement. And talk to people in the trenches to test what you are hearing - The tone of surprise in Henry’s apology and in the accounts of reporters, exposed for the first time to the grubbier distribution end of their trade, bespeaks an unhealthy detachment from the front line.
- Strategy matters, even in mundane ground moves. Henry states in his apology, “Subscription revenue is going to be the primary source of revenue in the future for newspapers.” If this is going to happen at the Globe (which I doubt but that is another story), then every part of the value generated for readers, not the least of which is getting the product to the reader, has got to be executed as strategy.
Improving your ground game is becoming more important. New competitors have disrupted information oligarchies. Many theaters of action now lack trusted, broadly shared sources of information. Whether your enterprise is based on profit, patronage, or information power, you can expect that your influence upon beliefs and deeds will depend on what you can make happen, up close and personal, on the ground.