Custer’s Last Stand, otherwise known as the Battle of the Little Bighorn, has almost become synonymous with failure. The year was 1876, and Custer was part of an army campaign to force Native American tribes off the gold-rich lands in South Dakota’s Black Hills.
He’d been warned that the territory was well defended by thousands of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians (as they were called at the time, thanks to the early European settlers in the New World mistakenly believing they were in India). Instead of planning a surprise attack or waiting for reinforcements as he was ordered, he decided to charge full speed ahead with all his troops toward the Little Bighorn River, in what is now Montana. As could be expected, they were easily defeated, with Custer and all 265 men in his regiment losing their lives, save for a sole half-Indian scout.
What can we learn from this about resource management? On the surface, the failure lesson seems obvious: Don’t go foolhardily into a sure failure where you’re grossly understaffed and all the odds are against you (a mistake organisations seem to make on a regular basis). But as we dig deeper, there’s more to this story.
Leading up to this event, Lakota holy man Sitting Bull had gathered an unprecedented meeting of Cheyenne, Sioux, Arapaho, and other tribes. He’d convinced them to set aside their differences and work together. As you’ll see in our ten strategies, allies can make all the difference between success and failure.
In addition, Custer didn’t understand the terrain he’d be dealing with, nor did he believe the extent to which he was outnumbered. He was told to wait for reinforcements, but he ignored his orders. To add insult to injury, he split his troops into three units, sending one detachment south to prevent the enemy from escaping up river. Another unit was sent to draw the enemy out and force them to set up a defensive line. And Custer took a third unit north.
Thus he had 265 men split into three groups facing thousands of united warriors. Not a good strategy by any definition. Yet organisations do this all the time, dividing their resources to take on an overwhelming flood of work, virtually assuring than none of the initiatives will end on time or successfully.
There’s a difference between boldness and foolishness, and a fine line between bravery and stupidity. Indeed, if Custer had observed our list of ten strategies, his name might have been associated with something other than heroic failure. To avoid this same fate, download this paper to take a look at ten strategies in more detail.