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NEWS | Dec. 19, 2013

Zuhls’ Rules – Management

By Lt. Col. Mike Zuhlsdorf 11th Civil Engineer Squadron commander

Editor's Note: This is the second of a three-part series designed to explore leadership, management, and synthesis of the two. The purpose is to make us better 21st Century Airmen.

In the first commentary in this series, we recognized our Air Force needs leaders capable of dealing with the complex and dynamic issues facing us today. Additionally, we discussed some successful leadership traits and outlined ideas on how we can become better leaders. In this article, we'll explore some successful management principles that have stood the test of time.

Before we begin, I'd like to provide some context to the importance of proactive resource management in our Air Force today. I feel it's more important now than at any other time in our Air Force history for us to manage our resources properly. Over the next five or so years, sequestration will result in fewer dollars available for us to accomplish our missions.

"The sequester does not allow us to maintain our readiness model over the next five years," said Eric Fanning, acting Secretary of the Air Force. "It's a tough five years for us going forward."

I believe that to ensure continued organizational mission success over these next few years, we have to capitalize on holistic resource management opportunities.

We must view our resources from an Air Force perspective, not from a unit or wing perspective. This, frankly, is a change of mindset for many of us. Organizationally, we're accustomed to spending every dollar we're given through the year; sometimes not with the best purchase in mind. An example of mindset change should occur at the end of the year. We must not waste dollars by purchasing frivolous materials, equipment and supplies. We should consider turning unused funds back in to our Major Command or Headquarters Air Force so higher priority, mission-critical resources (e.g., material or equipment) can be purchased at a location that needs it. To do that, we must have Airmen who understand key management principles.

As we discussed in the previous article, we've been taught that leadership is "art" whereas management is "science." I believe that. To be successful managers, we must be able to apply general concepts such as process development, measurement, and product outcome. Let's take a look at some common successful management traits to get a better idea of what they look like.

Managers actively manage resources to complete the mission. Management is not simply counting beans. The best managers I've watched proactively employ and integrate our people, equipment, material and time. Successful managers understand resourcing intricacies and apply them in measured amounts.

Managers plan. To be truly successful at managing resources, we must properly plan. Planning can be laborious and it can "hurt" your brain, but taking time to plan in advance how you'll use your resources ensures future success at all levels. Additionally, it will help you advocate and communicate those requirements to our senior leaders and joint teammates.

Managers program viable and executable budgets. They understand the Air Force vision and strategy and work hard to prioritize and schedule what they need, at the right times, for mission execution. The budgets they develop are easy to understand, justify mission requirements on their own merit and are executable.

Managers understand processes. To be successful, the best managers work with their teams to develop transparent, repeatable and defendable processes for their customers. Nothing gains customer buy-in better than being able to explain to them our processes and communicate what our limiting factors are to helping them. Once they understand that, they work harder to help us help them. That's synergy, which is something we need in today's environment!

Managers develop ways to measure their process inputs and outcomes. The metrics they develop are well thought out and achievable for their team. They're easy to communicate to the next level, too. The best metrics measure data already being collected. Adding additional workload for the sake of measuring processes, in this manpower-constrained environment, is not the right way of doing business today.
Managers identify and evaluate trends. One thing that separates the good managers from the best is the ability to instantly recognize when they need to make process adjustments. Trend analysis is a lost skill in today's "too much to do with too little time" Air Force. However, it must be done. We must make time to evaluate where we should spend that last dollar to properly manage our mission-critical assets.

Managers understand inventory. The best managers know when we need more resources (i.e. - dollars, time, materials, supplies, equipment, personnel, etc.) and have an innate ability to understand where the "red lines" are within the system. They work hard to communicate to their senior leaders what those "red lines" are so they know what needs to be procured to accomplish our diverse mission.

Managers prioritize. The very best managers know they cannot procure everything. Therefore, they prioritize what really needs to be secured. Through experience, they innately know what should be procured and the order it should be secured. They also understand the big picture and are able to integrate their prioritized list into other resources to gain strategic buying power between organizations. Get to that level, and you know you've succeeded!

How can you become a better manager? Study management theory and read about it when you can. There are a veritable plethora of great management books and degree programs available to us. Additionally, take active management roles within your unit when you get the chance. Finally, watch and learn from those you respect around you; the Air Force and the Department of Defense are full of great managers.

Our Air Force not only needs great leaders but we need great managers too. We need individuals who are smart and experienced in their areas of expertise. I'm confident you are one of those smart and experienced Air Force warriors. I'm confident you are doing all you can to help us better manage our resources in these trying fiscal times.

In the final installment, we will explore how great leaders successfully synthesize leadership and management skills within our Air Force to better our organization.

Lt. Col. Mike Zuhlsdorf is currently the 11th Civil Engineer Squadron commander at Joint Base Andrews, Md. His team manages an $80 million annual budget and multiple processes, to ensure joint base partners are provided the infrastructure and emergency response capabilities required to project diplomatic, informational and military power anywhere in the world.