performance and conformance: the west coast offense

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  • ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY MANAGEMENT / Summer 2001 / 89 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

    Performance and Conformance: The West Coast Offense

    Jeff Weinrach

    We are quickly approaching one of myfavorite times of the year: the time whenall New York Jets fans like me scream atthe top of their lungs in extreme despairbecause we do not agree with the teamsknowledgeable selections in the NFLDraft; when every team in the NationalFootball League has high hopes for theupcoming season and, naturally, startplanning for their Super Bowl TickerTape Parade down Main Street.

    With the advent of the salary cap andfree agency in football, parity is the nameof the game. Rather than being able torely primarily on talent, it is more impor-tant these days for a successful team inthe NFL to have an innovative game plan,to use their talent effectively, to scouttheir opposition, and (hopefully!) tolearn from their mistakes.

    When Bill Walsh was coaching theSan Francisco 49ers, he implemented anoffensive game plan that became knownas the West Coast Offense, which reliedon quick passing and impromptuchanges to receiving routes based on thealignment of the defense opposing them.He had what turned out to be the perfectquarterback to run the system, JoeMontana, and an abundance of talentedplayers to work with. The West CoastOffense led to a number of Super Bowlvictories for the 49ers, as well as numer-ous copycat West Coast Offenses aroundthe league, none of which were as suc-cessful as the originators.

    This pattern is not just found in foot-ball. We just witnessed one of golfs, ifnot sports, greatest accomplishments: all

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    four major mens golf championship tro-phies are sitting on a single fireplacemantle in Central Florida, home to oneEldrick Tiger Woods.

    What is it that makes Tiger, weekafter week it seems, outperform his com-petition? They all use similar equipment,theyre playing the same course with thesame conditions, they have similar travelschedules, and so forth. He is clearly thenew standard for golfing excellence,but what does that mean?

    A few years ago, Michael Jordan, andhis prowess in basketball and business,inspired the catch phrase Be LikeMike. If we want to Be Like Tiger, willwe find that there is a difference betweenhitting a golf ball like Tiger and winninglike Tiger? If so, what is the difference?


    Does anybody remember when ChrisEvert and Jimmy Connors each rosethrough the tennis ranks with two-hand-ed backhands as a key part of their arse-nals? I dont know what you thought, butI thought that it showed lack of strengthin the arms and wrists and would limit aplayers mobility and finessethat is,until I tried it for myself and discoveredthe opposite was true.

    Before they came along, players suchas Billie Jean King and Rod Laver, withmore traditional tennis strokes, were ourmodels of high performance. How manytennis coaches started teaching two-hand-ed backhands only after Chris and Jimmystarted winning all those tournaments?

  • Jeff Weinrach90 / Summer 2001 / ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY MANAGEMENT

    Then, when we saw John McEnroewith his unorthodox (and painful to lookat) serving stroke, didnt we all go to ourneighborhood court to see if we couldserve like that? Was that the new stan-dard or just a fluke?

    There are numerous other examplesin sports when we, either as players orspectators, experience something total-ly different and often innovative withexceptional results. We recognize that,in many instances, it may take time forcompetitors to adjust to this innova-tion. But after the adjustments havebeen made, these differences becomemore commonplace and often becomethe new standard for excellence, atleast until another Tiger Woods comesalong.


    We gravitate towards best prac-tices in many aspects of our life: themodel marriage, the model business,even the model diet. The results do notlie, we tell ourselves. If I just do whatthese other people did, Ill be just as suc-cessful. Ill follow their recipe to successclosely and watch the results blowthrough the roof.

    I wish it were that easy! One asidehere: have you ever noticed that we sel-dom hear about what innovators triedbefore coming up with their model prac-tices? Often, their prior attempts failedmiserably!

    The reason it is not easy to copyexcellence is that conformance doesntnecessarily relate to performance.


    We are in a profession where com-pliance plays a major role in how weconduct business. We track data that arereported to our stakeholders, we conductregular assessments or audits addressing

    our environmental aspects and impacts,we provide training to our staff, and weimplement process improvements inorder to achieve particular environmen-tally related targets.

    We also gravitate to case studies inthe literature or in seminars that explainhow another company, perhaps similarto ours, went through the same set of cir-cumstances with an outstanding out-come.

    Moreover, we now have an environ-mental quality standard, ISO 14000, thatprovides a set of rules to live by (an envi-ronmental management system). Theserules are designed to provide a high levelof environmental surety, a level similarto that which comes through meeting ourenvironmental compliance obligations.And, as an environmental standard, ISO14000 sets a clear benchmark: it has thesame implications to any organizationthat is successful in achieving ISO 14000status.

    The problem with focusing on envi-ronmental compliance and the use ofISO 14000 as an environmental standardis that the major emphasis, in bothinstances, is on conformance rather thanperformance.

    Conformance is synonymous withadherencethat is, abiding by a set ofrules to meet a particular goal or target.Measuring conformance can, therefore,be achieved by determining how alignedwe are to the set of rules.

    Each rule may have a differentweight indicating its relative impor-tance. If there are ten rules and we are inconformance with eight of them, we maynot be able to say with confidence thatwe are 80 percent in conformance if therules have different weights. However, ifthe weights can be adequately deter-mined and applied to the individualrules, then the degree of conformancecan be more accurately depicted as aquantifiable measure.



    There is often an expectation that,with ISO 14000 for example, the greaterthe conformance, the higher the perform-ance. But this is not an exact science.Performance is more effectively meas-ured as an outcome or set of outcomescaused by conformance.

    If we are, for example, 80 percentaligned with a conformance standard,then it is likelybut not necessarilytruethat outcomes relating to pollutionprevention, resource conservation, ener-gy efficiency, and other measures woulddemonstrate success to a similar degree.

    But we could also achieve similarperformance outcomes through innova-tion, creativity, and sound planning thatmay be totally independent of anyknown conformance standards (the WestCoast Offense, as an example). In fact,the only adequate measure of perform-ance that illustrated the success of theWest Coast Offense was that the teamwon Super Bowls.

    In some of his earlier writings andseminars, Dr. Robert Pojasek, a regularcolumnist for this journal, described theinherent differences between prescrip-tive methods and descriptive meth-ods for pollution prevention.Prescriptive methods used tools such aschecklists and audits to identify oppor-tunities for pollution prevention. Thesemethods tended to focus on confor-mance because the checklists were theprimary source of information used todevelop a pollution prevention plan.The contents of the plan would dependgreatly on the level of conformance withthe checklists.

    The descriptive methods used toolssuch as process mapping and root causeanalysis to illustrate for the particularorganization where opportunities forpollution prevention reside and whatissues may be important in the imple-mentation of a pollution preventionplan. Because predefined checklistswere not instrumental in the descriptiveapproaches, these approaches couldfocus more on performance (outcomes)related to successful implementation of apollution prevention plan.

    I have seen, over the last five years orso, many examples of conformance thatled to performance. In several of theseinstances, however, performance hadbeen achieved without an understandingof why it had been achieved (becauseanother organization had developed themethodology first). The organizationknew that they were being successful bylooking at their data, and they knew howthey were being successful because theywere implementing an approach thathad been identified as a best practicebut they didnt know why it was a bestpractice.

    BEYOND BEST PRACTICES Philosophically, this has troubled

    me. If everyone in sports had conformedto the then-current best practicesbecause they assumed it would workwithout the need for bold and innovativethinking, there may not have been aJimmy Connors, a Tiger Woods, or a WestCoast Offense.

    We learn by trying and by experienc-ing. We get helpful ideas from case stud-ies. We conform to comply. We performto excel.

    Jeff Weinrach is director of quality and standards with JCS/Novation, Inc. He can be reached at