On 10 May 1940, Hitler’s Germany commenced their offensive in the West with the invasion of Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. Just three days later, the Nazis crossed the River Meuse, triggering the collapse of the Allied Forces. The Fall of France in May-June 1940 at the hands of Nazi Germany was one of the great surprises of the 20th century. The reason for this overwhelming and shock military defeat lends itself to renewed analysis from a management perspective.
It is commonly believed that the application of armoured “Blitzkrieg” decided this military encounter. However, this is widely a held but false belief.
Impact of our research
It is not uncommon to learn from cases that are unusual, special or extreme in some way. The context of this specific military campaign offers an extreme background to develop leadership and strategic thinking.
The defeat of France by Nazi Germany in May 1940 can be considered as a real-life David versus Goliath story. The inferior party prevails in a stunning, puzzling manner over a force that was considered ‘invincible’ at that time. However, it is less a question of what resources are at your disposal, but whether you can out-manage or out-smart your opponent. In management speak, how to intelligently manage an environment characterised by Uncertainty, Volatility, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA).
Why the research was commissioned
The study of history should be, as Clausewitz suggested, “meant to educate the mind of the future commander, or, more accurately, to guide him in his self-education, not to accompany him to the battlefield; just as a wise teacher guides and stimulates a young man’s intellectual development, but is careful not to lead him by the hand for the rest of his life.” Military encounters can give insight into major management issues not because they are directly relevant to day-to-day organisational issues, but because they offer managers the chance to explore extreme examples and identify key points that they can take back to their own work. Each one may find different points that are relevant to their own context, but dealing with uncertainty and working out how to deal with strong competitors in a fast-moving environment are issues that most organisations can identify with. It is a thought-provoking case that resonates with many of today’s challenges.
This article examines how events from the past, present, and future form into event structures over time. This question is addressed by investigating the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 until the fifth anniversary in 2016. This allowed to analyze different events over time. The findings reveal that events can be used in two different ways. One process was meant to focus on events, whereas the other one backgrounded events. These different ways to use events revealed four different mechanisms of how event structures can be formed. Moreover, each mechanism has its own idiosyncratic temporal orientation toward either a nostalgic past, imagined future, “better” future or critical past. Second, the article contributes that the paradoxical ways of focusing on an event and backgrounding the very same event need to be embraced simultaneously to enable a greater sense of wholeness. Last, the article reveals multiple temporalities within and across temporal trajectories.
Coordination theories are characterized primarily by a focus on integration, in which coordination is aimed at achieving a coherent and unified set of actions. However, in the extreme settings in which fast-response organizations operate, achieving integration is often challenging. In this study we employ a fragmentation perspective to show that dealing with ambiguity and discontinuity is not only inevitable for these organizations, it is a key characteristic of coordinating. We undertook an inductive, qualitative field study on how officers in command from the fire department, medical services, and police coordinate during emergency response operations. Our data are based on a four-year multi-site field study of 40 emergency management exercises in the Netherlands, combined with 56 retrospective interviews. Our inductive analysis of this data shows that officers use three coordination practices to deal with ambiguity and discontinuity: working around procedures, delegating tasks, and demarcating expertise. We theorize our findings by showing how these practices lead to conditions in which fragmentation can become an effective method of coordination. In doing so, we provide a more complete understanding of the process of coordinating in fast-response settings that will benefit both crisis management practice and organizational theory.
This study of US Navy Sea Air and Land (SEAL) commandos contributes to research investigating mindfulness in high-reliability organizations (HROs) by identifying the indi- vidual and collective influences that allow SEALs to build capacity for mindful behaviors despite the complexity of their missions, the unpredictability of their operating environ- ments, and the danger inherent in their work. Although the HRO literature identifies a number of hallmarks of reliability, less attention is paid to how mindfulness is opera- tionally achieved in situ by individuals on the frontline working in HROs. This study addresses this gap using a multiphase, multimethod investigation of US Navy SEALs, identifying new links between individual mindfulness attributes (comfort with uncertainty and chaos) and collective mindfulness influences (a positive orientation towards failure) that combine to co-create a phenomenon we call “mindfulness in action.” Mindfulness in action occurs when HROs achieve an attentive yet flexible focus capable of incorporating multiple—sometimes competing—realities to assess alternative solutions and take action in dynamic situations. By providing a more nuanced conceptualization of the links be- tween individual mindfulness attributes and collective mindfulness influences, this paper opens up new avenues of discovery for a wide range of reliability-seeking organizations. For supporting media please see https://vimeo.com/153223681.
Emergency calls are high-stake situations characterized by volatile and time-critical conditions. The use of the telephone restricts sensory perception to a single modality—hearing—which makes both sensemaking and embodied sensemaking more difficult. Using observations, interviews, and organizational documents, we unveil how attention to the non-verbal cues of callers and their surroundings assists emergency operators to make sense of incoming calls for help. We find that operators use two practices to prioritize the calls: a frame-confirming practice and a frame-modifying practice. The practices are underpinned by configurations of verbal and non-verbal cues, wherein caller’s emotional expressions and environmental sounds are both considered as distinct input. The non-verbal focus in this study extends our understanding of first-order sensemaking within the emergency domain but also in other sensory deprived settings in high-consequence industries. The contributions of this analysis to sensemaking research reside in the revelation that non-verbal cues contextualize and consequently frame the discursive elements of sensemaking. More specifically, this research offers the insight that embodies sensemaking benefits from attention being given to callers’ non-verbal cues, rather than valuing only one’s own bodily experiences and mere verbal descriptions about events.
Global terrorism in the early 21st century appears to be an inevitable part of organizational life. Even among people not personally injured in an attack, the immediate aftermath can be a period of hardship, stress and sensemaking. This paper develops theory about how people give meaning to their work after terrorism. In contrast to views of everyday work as something that loses significance in times of such tragedy, I outline the conditions under which individuals are also likely to find positive meaning in it. Doing so, I integrate varied findings about workplace responses to terrorism and provide a basis for empirical testing rooted in theories of work meaning, sensemaking and the cultural response to disaster. The paper concludes with implications for research and practice.
The book by the late Alan Bryman and David Buchanan explore unconventional methods. A chapter in the book is specifically dedicated to extreme contexts and is perhaps extra interesting to this community.