Honig International in the News
January 08, 2003
"How to avoid the missteps of Giants"
Learn a lesson from Jim Fassel's weekend mismanagement
By Greg Saitz
Star-Ledger Staff

Management consultant and Giants fan Howard Guttman was watching the football game at his home Sunday and feeling pretty good about the outcome.

Then he witnessed a painful 17-minute management meltdown that saw his Giants lose to the San Francisco 49ers by one point.

"You could see the things unraveling and I was thinking, 'What are the coaches doing on the sidelines to make sure the players don't lose their heads?'" the principal of Guttman Development Strategies in Ledgewood said yesterday. "The coaches were operating like the guys were screwing up in a vacuum."

But what happened during the last quarter or so in California is not just for football fans to lament. It provided a textbook lesson in crisis management for everyone from everyday workers to Fortune 500 CEOs, experts said.

Consider the failures of the Giants' executive team. In little more than a quarter, they:

Lost control of their subordinates, and the team lost focus.

Failed to make sure everybody knew the rules.

Weren't proactive in recognizing problems and taking steps to correct them.

Assumed their workers would know what to do in a disaster.

The result: The Giants, who led by 24 points in the third quarter, lost 39-38.

"Obviously, things like that don't happen in 17-minute intervals in a business context," said Barry Honig, president of management consulting firm Honig International in Tenafly, "but what did happen was a death spiral that got out of control.

"Apparently the management team -- the coaches -- probably were so stressed about what was happening they weren't able to get the team in order."

Guttman, Honig and William Dorman, president of Dorman Associates Inc. in Lambertville, also did some Monday-morning quarterbacking yesterday. They all agreed Giants coach Jim Fassel and his assistants fumbled from a management perspective.

In other words, don't blame safety Shaun Williams, who was ejected from the game with about a minute left after twice losing his cool.

Don't blame Trey Junkin, who misfired the snap on the final play of the game. Don't blame holder Matt Allen, who heaved a desperation pass instead of calling a timeout.

Instead, look to the leaders, the consultants said.

"I see it absolutely as a symptom of the job the coaches did," Guttman said. "The real proactive question to Fassel and the coaching staff is, I'd say to them, 'So what part did you play in allowing that team to self-destruct?'"

Guttman, who was at Giants Stadium two weeks ago to watch the team beat the Philadelphia Eagles, said Giants players seemed to respond well to a directed style of leadership. That is, the coaches told the players what to do each step of the way.

But in a crisis, that kind of hand-holding leadership doesn't work well. Football teams -- and companies -- need players or employees who know what they should do and when, the experts said.

An example is the way subordinates at eBay responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Chief Executive Meg Whitman was out of the country at the time and when she called in with several directives for the company, she was told her instructions already had been considered and were being implemented.

"You want to get to the point where the team itself becomes self- directed vs. coachable," Guttman said, noting the Yankees are another good example of that. "The Giants didn't do a good job to get this team to be self-directed when it came to a crisis."

Honig said organizations need someone who can stand above the intensity of the moment. One meltdown can easily lead to another.

A good leader will acknowledge a mistake and focus followers on moving forward instead of focusing on the mistakes.

"In the case of the Giants, they didn't create a big play to change the momentum," said Honig, who said Sunday's game likely will become the equivalent of a Harvard business case study in how not to handle a crisis.

Guttman and Dorman both said the key for management is to recognize when things are going badly, then explain to the team what is happening and how to correct it.

"Unfortunately, in football you have 15 minutes to react," Dorman said.

As for the last play of the game -- the longest six seconds of the season -- several players did make mistakes. But neither Fassel, nor any of his assistants, instructed the holder during a timeout just before the snap what to do in case of a blown play.

Fassel has said he assumed the holder knew what to do since they had gone over the scenario many times in practice.

"When you make assumptions, you get in trouble," Honig said. "You know the old joke about assuming."

Even with a last-second instruction, it's unclear whether the outcome would have been any different. By then, the team's "death spiral" was in its final turn.