Copyright 1996 by Harvey Robbins & Michael Finley; all rights reserved.
There are four attitudes with which an organization can be managed. They run a gamut from maintaining control (Old Age management) and distributing control (New Age management). Four points can be designated to demark four attitudes about control:
ƒ Pummel. Terror: "Do what I say or you will die." The bad old days. This time-honored method seeks control at any cost, and can be used to force either change or non-change. The worker is a slave.
ƒ Push. Distress: "Do what you must do or the enterprise will die." This is conventional motivation, the deliberate use of fear to galvanize positive action -- the burning platform from which people must jump (change) or perish. Push uses force, like Pummel, but it is not brutal force. It encourages people to act by loading them up with negative information. In the hands of some, this is the big lie. The worker is a rat in a Skinner box.
ƒ Pull. Eustress: "Do what you must do to achieve the future you dream of." Imagination, inspiration. It is less control than a willingness to lead coupled with a willingness to follow. Pull is Push plus empowerment -- workers motivate (scare) themselves. The manager is a human being with no power to coerce; the worker is a human being with free will. A kind of fear is involved -- urgency might be a better word for it. This is the hardest way to achieve change, but the way with the best long-term results.
ƒ Pamper. Torpor: "Do what you feel like doing." This is the realm of entitlement, the supposedly good new days. Pamper is Pull minus accountability. Zero, maximum empowerment, slack performance, scant measurement and evaluation. But no fear, either. The worker is a child.
The first two are related, characterized by fear, manipulation and disrespect for the worker. The second two are also related, characterized by an acknowledgment of the worker's humanity. The first and last categories are the xtremes, but anyone who has been in a lot of different organizations know that a huge number of them operate on these extremes of sadism and permissiveness.
The best hope organizations have for making successful change lies in utilizing a balanced combination of the middle, more temperate two -- Push and Pull. Push to get people's attention and start them thinking. Pull to leverage people's knowledge and creativity to putting the change over. x
Before we can understand the moderate positions of Push and Pull, we must confront the extremes surrounding them.
No word is more at home in a discussion of organizational change than fear. The entire history of organizations has been about using fear to get people to do what you want them to. By and large, it has been a smashing success. "Do this or starve," "Do this or we break your thumbs," "Do this or suffer the eternal fires of hell" were all compelling motivators: they got us to move. Whether the boss was General Patton or Pope Innocent III, the system worked essentially the same way. The boss knew what was best and held power over you, so you did what the boss wanted, or suffered the consequences.
The history of the world has been one long tale of Pummel. Recall le droit du seigneur, the right of lords to first choice over their vassal's crops and, in mega-Pummel circumstances, their daughters and wives. Bosses could expose workers to any kind of danger. In the extreme circumstance of slavery, the worker's very life was a commodity to be traded or frittered away. There was not much the boss could demand and not get. This expectation continued until the notions of citizens' and workers' right began to take hold in the last 200 years.
The fear years were characterized not just by intimidation at the bottom of the heap, but contempt at the top. Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky illustrated this contempt in a story called "The Grand Inquisitor" that he included in The Brothers Karamazov. In the story, Jesus returns during the Middle Ages, preaches a gospel of liberation, only to be arrested and visited in his cell by the ecclesiastic official whose job it is to nip dangerous heresies before they flower.
This authority assails Jesus for making the work of the Church harder. Where the Church guarantees the peace of mind that comes from acknowledging authority, Jesus (a New Ager of the first order) preaches freedom. The inquisitor says that all human beings are drawn to, and can be manipulated by, three great desires:
ƒ for miracle. "Give us an easy solution, a quick fix, and save us from a lot of trouble.
ƒ for mystery. "Save us from having to think."
ƒ for authority. "Tell us what to do and we will unite behind you, and destroy whoever does not agree."
These are dark thoughts, but you hear variants on them from time to time in the modern workplace. "We need a strong leader and an ironclad system to protect us from change!" If these thoughts truly depict our deepest human inclinations, then no heresy, no initiative breaking with the truisms of the past, has much chance of success. True human nature is is too set in its ways to permit such hopeful experimentation with empowerment, democracy, or shared visions.
The outward sensibility of the age we live in today is one of rationality, enterprise, and optimism -- very different from the gloomy feudalism Dostoevsky described. But the mentality called Pummel prevailed until very recent times. We heard it in the remarks of industrial barons as divergent as GM's Charlie Wilson and the USSR's Joseph Stalin. And it is not extinct, not by a long shot. Even in the midst of our cheerful change campaigns, the glum feudal mindset is lurking just below the surface.
Pummel has receded some. The industrial model receded because it no longer worked in the evolving world. It failed catastrophically -- General Motors in the 1970s, the Soviet Union in the 1980s -- when it became apparent that the people in charge of an organization, or country, or church, no longer had the knowledge, or wisdom, or competence, all by themselves, to make the right decisions for the entire enterprise. Pummel lost its punch.
Or did it? Russia yearns for another strongman. Simple, brutal solutions are still appealing during hard times.
And many initiatives today are hardly New Age. Downsizing, takeovers and workouts, austere cycle time reduction, outsourcing to sweatshops abroad, and the fast-food model of operational efficiency are all Pummel ideas, seeking to extract benefit for the few by minimizing the humanity of the many. Pummel is alive and well, cloaked in a new glove. The cog-in-the-works model still works. x
The democratic age we live in is the first to dally with the idea of easing up on fear. After millennia of mistreatment by tinpots and despots, we decided our humanity entitled us to certain inalienable rights on the job.
The important successes of the labor movement at the beginning of this century secured important protections against loss of life, limb, exploitation and capricious treatment. Quality guru W. Edwards Deming's invocation to "Drive out fear" is the keystone of many of the most idealistic change initiatives, including TQM, empowerment, teams, and the learning organization. Yet in many cases, the act of implementing change initiatives creates the fear they are trying desperately to drive out.
This movement was in part prompted by the sense among our most prosperous blue-chip organizations that workers deserve better treatment than being whipped like dogs. Out of this sense grew the idea of the humane organization, a place where workers are treated with respect.
The offshoot of this new sensibility has been a new kind of organization. In addition to the traditional terror-based Pummel organization, there is now the nontraditional, leader-as-good-guy, anti-fear Pamper organization.
Many Pamper organizations are old-line industrial companies that achieved great success, then began to loosen up on the reins. In our time, corporate raiders have zeroed in on companies that have gone soft, moved in on them, and kicked all the pets off the sofa: The belly-soft Pillsbury doughboy was put on a strict regimen of calisthenics when the company was acquired by Grand Met PLC in 1988. When Newhouse bought The New Yorker in 1985, the literary world was aghast at seeing its gods treated as mere mortals. Pampered journalist Brendan Gill termed the acquisition "the death of kindness."
The sure sign of a Pamper organization: everyone wants to work in one, and no one wants to invest in one. x
Pummel and Pamper are murder for change initiatives, but in different ways. Predictably, the Pummel organization results in a cadre of compliant but disloyal, not especially proactive workers who are out sick a lot. They do what you tell them, but nothing more.
Almost as predictably, the Pamper organization results in an uninspired cadre of flaccid people filing their nails and going through the motions. Like the stereotype civil servant and union steward, they know they won't be fired, so they don't do the work they are capable of doing.
Our veering between these two extremes is a big reason change initiatives like TQM and teams come crashing down around us. Either the change doesn't matter to us -- we know we'll be OK whether it succeeds or fails -- or the initiative is conducted in such a manipulative or dishonest fashion that we can't bring ourselves to comply even with its idealistic requirements.
And the only way out of the danger zone appears to be the administration of violence: threatening people with layoffs, conducting surveillance of employees, making an occasional example to the workforce by destroying a worker who has violated the new norms.
Fortunately there is a middle zone, occupied by Push and Pull. They may be likened to two different kinds of doctors.
The first doctor, Push, believes that the disease is the enemy, and is willing to wage war against the body in order to drive the disease out. This doctor has an arsenal of weapons to hurl against the cancer -- knives, poisons, death rays.
In the business world, Jack Welch in his early days at General Electric typified this kind of change doctor. When he came to his position in 1980, he deliberately set out to scare the wits out of everyone under his command, to scare those people who were unwilling to change into leaving the organization, and to scare the people willing to remain to new heights of productivity, quality, and shareholder return. He spelled out very plainly to his troops that only those businesses commanding a #1 or #2 position in their markets would be around to enjoy the sunrise. He was given the nickname "Neutron Jack," after the bomb that destroys people but leaves infrastructure intact.
A common metaphor for this kind of leadership is the burning platform. The dying company is like an offshore oil rig. You want to move the workers to an entirely new rig, at some unseen other location. But how do you get the workers to leave the rig, which as its most basic level is still keeping workers out of the water, employed, insured, dressed, fed? Why, you set it on fire.
By setting the platform on fire (calling attention to the danger the enterprise is in, perhaps underscoring, hyping or falsifying it to dramatize the point) you give the workers little choice but to do the thing they thought they dreaded most, jumping into the water, which is deep, cold, and most likely infested with things that bite. The choice is jump, or fry. And many people will never jump. Getting them to think imaginatively about change is like petitioning the local crack house to separate its recyclables.
This is the Push strategy for change. People cooperate because, if they don't, they surely suffer. Push usually has elements of the first category, Pummel. It can be very painful; indeed, it is about pain. But it does not emanate from unchecked power, and should stop this side of sadism. At the very least, Push is utilitarian Pummel; it seeks to address the best interests of a wide range of constituencies, from shareholders to workers to customers.
Push by itself is the route most change initiatives take, and it has had it share of successes. It is unabashedly Machiavellian, but do not condemn it out of hand for that reason. Lots of companies really are on fire, and workers do seem to need the wake-up call that a good jolt of fear provides. The trick is to administer the strong medicine of fear in a measured, sensible way. Beware the doctor who cures the disease but loses the patient.
This means "scaring" workers no more than is necessary to achieve the desired response; scaring them more will likely freeze them, like deer in approaching headlights. Most managers find that the secret to eliciting the desired behavior is to tell them the truth, unvarnished, unaudited and unmassaged, in addition to making sure that workers or team members have some sense of hope.
In the case of the burning platform, workers must have a life preserver or a pathway out of danger. In the case of an organization threatened with downsizing or annihilation, workers need a cogent plan, an achievable schedule, and the training and technology to put the new regimen into effect.
Few managers, however, know how to sustain that sense of manageable crisis for very long, and that is why so many organizations succumb to the "initiative of the month" syndrome -- an endless treadmill of change campaigns that no one can stay upright on for very long. x
To succeed on a reliable basis, the emergency ward doctor Push must work in cooperation with a different kind of doctor.
Doctor Pull is not the opposite of Doctor Push, but he is different in emphasis. He focuses not on the disease (what's wrong) but on the body (what strengths may be enlisted in restoring the entire body to good health). This doctor does not claim the title of healer. In his care the body heals itself, through its own genius.
Like Push, which manipulates individuals' fears to get them to do what management wants, Pull also engages fears, but in a positive way. Pull works to engage the imagination of patients. It makes them want to survive for reasons all their own. It challenges workers to find the meaning that change holds for them, and for them to make the change driven by desire, by a positive goal as much as by a negative fear.
A good example of a Pull organization is pharmaceutical giant Merck & Company. In 1935 George Merck made what today would be called a vision statement, but back then was it just a man saying what his company, stood for: "Medicine is for people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow."
Where Push is conventional, typifying a mixed view of human nature, Pull embodies the best hopes of the New Age, that people are mostly very good and just need a hint of leadership to unleash great waves of creative productivity.
Pummel, of course, holds that people are inherently unreliable; and Pamper, that people are quasi-godlike and cannot fail to make correct choices.
Pull often results in disarray, as different people begin moving at different times, and with different degrees of momentum. But Pull has a major advantage over Push: it permanently alters the way workers think of themselves. It has the power to make them metaphiles for life.
With empowerment as its main lever, the Pull movement does for organizations what "rational expectations theory" did for macroeconomics. That economic theory, developed during the Carter administration and awarded the Nobel Prize in 1993, concedes that people will do what they perceive to be in their best interest. The government may use incentives or scare tactics to bulldoze people toward behaviors it desires -- spending more, saving more, etc. But people will bulldoze right back with their own desires and dreams.
Where Push is managed by managers, the Pull change equation places the fulcrum much closer to workers. The debate is whether Push or Pull requires more "leadership." Yelling at people that they are in grave danger, and allowing them to come their own rescue are two very different approaches to leadership.
Both approaches involve fear, but in different degrees. Evil fear (Pummel) is when management maintains an atmosphere of entirely self-serving terror, and the home team -- the people who work for the organization -- are treated like the visitors. Useful fear (Push) is when management manipulates workers to achieve results that are deemed to be good for them. Good fear (Pull) is the sense of urgency that workers ignite in themselves to make positive changes. It is the acknowledgment that organizations must compete in order to survive, and for the individuals within the organization to prosper.
Pull initiatives show up in surprising places, like the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas. It was the first "clean" casino there, featuring attractions for the whole family. When Steve Wynn unveiled his plan he met a wall of cultural opposition.
But Wynn stuck it out, and his vision prevailed. The results are apparent as soon as one enters Las Vegas today. It is no longer just a place to gamble and drink. It's a fantasy island of Taj Mahals, Camelots, and ancient and modern Memphises. The people working in Las Vegas are not the depressed army of underpaid, illegal maids and janitors one encounters at many vacation sites -- they are uniformed, empowered, trained, and brimming with the confidence that their operations are second-to-none.
Many management teams think they are pushing the Useful or even Good fear, onto their workers. But that's not how it comes across to the workers. Something sick happens in the gap between the Horatio Alger story the company founder transmits ("I suffered and prevailed and so can you") and the Edgar Allan Poe tale of terror the workers receive ("He wants us to suffer because he suffered"). They "fill in the unknown with negatives."
Change initiatives cannot occur in a work environment overdosed with fright. How can a terrified organization be a learning organization? Why would beleaguered employees share information, as they must in the new organization? How can a team that must run on trust run when there is no trust? What kind of "coach" coaches through brutalization? (When management theorists talk about managers being coaches, they don't mean Woody Hayes.) xPush: Give a man a fish and no other choices and he will have a fish. Pull: Teach a man to fish and he can have a fish any time he wants one. Pummel: Pollute the water with fear and the fish will all die. Pamper: Serve him fish with salad and beans in bed until he explodes. x
Combining the Four Approaches
The message of Pummel is: Adapt and die. The message of Push is: Adapt or die. The message of Pull is: Adapt and live. The message of Pamper is: Have a good time. common mistake organizations make is thinking you have to choose one or the other, all Pummel, all Push, all Pull or all Pamper
In truth every organization uses all four all the time, but in an ill-planned, herky-jerky, self-contradictory fashion. It is Push one day and Pull the next. Push with one policy, Pull with another. Little thought is given to consistency. Things happen because that is today's executive whim, or something was written in the employee handbook a long time ago, and is thus hallowed.
Indeed, you can even mix the extreme points. Many Pamper organizations bathe its yes-people in luxuries, while setting the Pummel dog on whistle-blowers attempting to call attention to the truth. Then you have the quixotic Pummel leader who vacillates between leading by brute force and leading by idealism.
Napoleon Bonaparte and hotelier Leona Helmsley are classic examples of this Pummel vision: people who cracked their dreams open on other people's skulls. Change works best with a balanced approach, in which the concerns of all constituencies are weighed and given rough parity. Napoleon learned that an army that could undergo any privation and fight valiantly in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity was less enthusiastic fighting in the name of empire. And Helmsley, dubbed "The Queen of Mean" for her harsh treatment of hotel workers, learned that pleasing one constituency with chocolates on the pillow does not erase the bitterness of employment policies that pummel.
There is a time and place for all these approaches. Pummel and Pamper work only in the very short term. Pummel is martial law, very useful in times of war. Pamper is pleasant as a short-duration reward, toxic as a long-term lifestyle.
Then we come to the two more useful approaches. Push is reliable in the short to medium term, to pull a flaming airplane out of a nose-dive or rally a team to salvage a season. Pull is much more reliable as a long-term change methodology, guiding an organization and its people toward its best values and instincts.
Both approaches can work, but neither is assured of success, and there are many situations when one choice alone just won't do it. When a platform is really burning, it is no time for long-term wool-gathering. When an organization is groping to create a new culture, based on learning, cooperating, and trust, any perceived Push will be toxic.
An organization that lies, in order to scare people, in order to improve, will eventually be found out, and when it does, it will have eliminated any chance of being taken seriously by its people.
Push by itself is a limited methodology. A Push organization must take care not to push too hard, or work too close to the border to Pummel. When people are more afraid of being found out than anything else, everything else -- customer satisfaction, feedback loops, sharing information, team activities -- goes right out the door.
The fear of Pummel is purely destructive; the fear of Push also has a destructive aspect, but it must have its heart in the right place. It is Pummel to tell employees to double their output or be let go. It is Push to tell them that if productivity does not improve, jobs cannot be guaranteed.
Purely destructive fear ("Do this or I'll hurt you") works only in a narrow bandwidth of situations. It works where there is zero presumed bond between boss and underling, in which the underlying is performing generic tasks that any other person can be readily recruited to do -- slavery. The difference between Pummel and Push can be as faint as the difference between a threat and a warning.
Push fades into Pull as brutality fades into acknowledgment of one another as human beings. It is not brutal to spell out the facts of life to colleagues, that your enterprise cannot succeed without them contributing their best efforts, and that the consequences of failure are shiveringly real -- people losing their jobs, communities losing their economic engine, families losing their futures.
Healthy fear is nearly an oxymoron. So choose a word that works for you: urgency, intensity, hunger, desire, adaptativeness, determination, competitiveness. They are all the same in the Pull context: the will to live, a preference, when the bodies are stacked and tallied, for not being counted among them.
The secret to successful change is to know when to Push, when to stop Pushing, and when to let workers' own aspirations Pull them through change.
A common error is to suppose that a leader must be one or the other: a manipulative despot on the Push side, or a benevolent politician on the Pull side. The great leaders, like Lincoln and FDR, combined the impulses. Lincoln did not emancipate Southern slaves until the country was galvanized by the bloodshed of war. FDR could not help European Jews until he had first built a coalition of diverse interests to defeat the Axis powers.
Both men knew when to try one strategy and when to go forward with the other, meticulously building consensus for change. Then, when the people are ready and the goal is within reach, the leader encircles it with the rope of braided ambitions. x
The Meaning of Meaning
The Pull approach to change derives in large part from the writings of psychotherapist Viktor Frankl. In 1959, he published a remarkable account of survival, Man's Search for Meaning. Because of the insights in this short, readable book, Frankl was greeted by the psychological world as a liberator from the dominance of Sigmund Freud. His ideas center around a "will to meaning" that is as strong or even stronger than Freud's pleasure principle, which depict people as, basically, living for the next cheeseburger or sex experience.
It is sweet triumph that Frankl is regarded as a liberator because his pivotal experiences were as a captive Jew in three different Nazi prison camps, including Auschwitz. For the prisoners of these camps, there could be no more horrible disruption, no more unthinkable change than to be plucked from a life of normal liberties and choices and set down in a factory whose end product was their own deaths.
What interested Frankl was how prisoners coped with their prospects. Many, treated as animals, became little more than animals, abandoning their sense of self and the vision of the future that once carried them along. Others, to his astonishment, adapted even to those unadaptable circumstances, by focusing on a future they were determined to experience. That future became their meaning, and that meaning sustained them through their plight.
The final freedom, Frankl concluded, is what is left after every other freedom has been taken away -- the freedom "to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
Now page ahead fifty years. Nazism is dead. Ours is in nearly every way a brighter age. The world is not at war. The democratic impulse burns brighter than ever. We have the technology to link soul to soul and communicate more perfectly than humankind ever dreamed. While hate is not extinguished, it has acquired a bad reputation. There is a global consensus that competition is healthy, that diversity is good, that individuals matter, and that systems can be improved.
Yet we live in a world of sullen rage because the promised improvements are not coming easily enough, or quickly enough, or they are not coming at all.
The modern workplace is not a concentration camp, but Frankl's insight s are relevant nonetheless.
We change, Frankl says, by envisioning very intensely what we want to happen in the future. Once that picture or vision is clear in our minds, we intuitively take whatever steps are necessary to make the vision reality. . The man determined to survive and reunite with his family will take care of himself to guarantee that the dream comes true. The company determined to keep its people employed in the years ahead will stake out new markets, make changes in processes, and lay out strategies and tactics to make it so. The team that wants to make the dreams of all its members come true needs to commit to achieving team goals in order to bring individual goals into focus.
Once we identify a dream, things become clear. We see where resistance is coming from, why it's happening, what our part is in keeping it alive, and what it takes to mold the organizational imagination to focus more on the positives of change and less on the negatives.
The organizations and the people that will succeed in changing are those that master the art of living in the future, and advancing toward it from the past , able to convert the friction of resistance into positive propulsion. x
Why Change Fails
Organizations are like minds, and change initiatives are like psychotherapy for these minds. They are especially alike in the reasons they fail: the wrong therapies, too many conflicting therapies, the wrong therapists, or the commonest problem of all, patients who have not made up their minds to get well. x
When a change initiative collapses, organizations have to sort through the rubble and reconstruct what went wrong. The reasons for failure vary, from things over which one had control, to things that came out of nowhere to blindside the effort. Some of the most common reasons:
ƒ It is the wrong idea. A change initiative begins its life, nine times out of ten, in the mind of a manager who knows something is ailing the organization, who then brings in a consultant to prescribe the proper medication. The problem is, consultants are not general practitioners. They usually sell only one product, so inevitably that's the product they will convince your company to implement. It may be a perfectly wonderful product, a tonic to productivity and a tune-up to improved morale. But it's like taking Preparation H for a sore throat: you needed something else.
ƒ It is the right idea, but the wrong time. Maybe the resource you were expecting to support the change wasn't in place yet. Maybe there weren't enough top-level people behind it yet. Maybe you didn't have time to pick up the pieces from the last change failure or integrate from the last change success. Too often, driven to perform, teams and organizations try to do next week what should take till next year to achieve. Scattering pixie dust over a change initiative and hoping it succeeds is a questionable approach. You cannot do today's initiatives using last year's processes, or a management philosophy that is even more out of date. Pummel can't change to Pull in a day. Success is built in logical stages; this applies even to ambitious stretch campaigns.
ƒ You're doing for the wrong reason. Usually, the wrong reason is financial. "We're only in it for the money." Money alone has little meaning for people. Push hopes greed and fear are enough to build a dream around; they aren't. An organization driven by short-term monetary goals will not be able to sustain a long-term improvement effort for the simple reason that it does not intend to. There are plenty other wrong reasons; executive ego or boredom rank high on the list, but not as high as money.
Tufts University HMO undertook a comprehensive reengineering campaign not because it was hemorrhaging costs or losing patients but because its CEO had a vision of providing better low-cost service to members. The organization learned that it was suffocating in its own paper flow. Substitution of electronic scans of documents for actual documents removed weeks of bottlenecks from decision making.
Just because something is a change does not mean it is a good change. A lot of companies, for instance, are dead set on achieving something called reactionary change. This is the kind of change in the Beatles song: "Get back to where you once belonged." Every successful company has a moment in its history when everything clicked -- leadership, product design, the personality mix of the key people created a golden era, a sweet spot in time that management would love to return to. So they launch a change initiative to do that very thing, reinstill a spirit of entrepreneurism, fellow feeling, and working weekends. It is all very touching, but it is the change initiative that fails most certainly, and most painfully. Organizations need to learn to let go of their youths, just as individuals do. Change must not be based on sentimentality or a fetish from the past.
ƒ It lacks authenticity. Not to take away from the merits of reengineering, but isn't it odd that, once 10 companies announce they have met some success by overhauling their business processes, another 1,000 follow suit almost immediately?
What is happening is a classic case of me-tooism. Businesses are led to change not because of the inherent merits of the case but because everyone else is doing it. What are the odds that a business undertaking a change in such a faddist fashion will conduct the kind of exhaustive self-examination that successful reengineering (just as an example) requires?
Worse, the sloppy veneer of a me-too initiative does an injustice to the original idea, and hasten its demise. The great example of this is William Edwards Deming's tirades against organizations implementing cheap versions of TQM, milking the system for quick-fix advantage and passing on the long-term philosophical headaches. It's one thing to say quality is job one in your ads; it's another to make it so in your everyday behavior.
ƒ Your reality contradicts your change. It never fails. A company announces its plans to flatten the workforce. Everyone will be equal, everyone will be a "customer satisfaction agent." But the old perks don't go away. The phantoms don't die. Key managers still get the choice parking spaces, washroom privies, stock options, golden parachutes, and incentive clauses. "Increased pay for increased risk" is quickly forgotten -- it was only a ruse to get people to bleed more willingly.
Or the company will make a public commitment to better communication. But the reasons for poor communication aren't addressed. Teams members are still boxed off in individual offices, unable to get at one another. Or email is monitored, prohibiting open exchanges.
When a company says one thing outwardly and does another thing inwardly, the outcome isn't change but cynicism -- the disbelief that things will ever improve.
ƒ You lose perspective. John Hudiburg was the greatest champion total quality management ever had. When he took over at Florida Power & Light he set for the company the goal of winning Japan's Deming Prize -- something no U.S. company had ever done. He turned the utility company inside out, implementing a rigorous Deming-style statistical process control regimen. And they won. But the story continued. Everyone hated the Demingite system, profits were down, and shareholders were in revolt over what they saw as evangelical grandstanding by Hudiburg, and they replaced him. The company remained committed to quality, but with a more human face, and with a clearer eye toward the need to show shareholder return.
ƒ You have the wrong leader. When companies are in trouble, a common reaction is to go outside and hire a rough rider to come in, take the reins, and lead the organization to better days. The fallacy here is that any changemaker can work in any organization. A CEO who is at odds with an organizational culture won't achieve spit. Attila was perfect for the Huns, as Francis was for Assisi. Mixing and matching just doesn't work.
ƒ Your boss is on a bender. The worst reason for plunging a company into the boiling oil of change is to alleviate the boredom of senior management. Yet it is clear from the quotes of some CEOs whose organizations are boiling away -- and whose employees are getting fried -- that they are deriving personal satisfaction from the turmoil. To them it's an adventure, or a military campaign, a break from the routine of monitoring accounts receivable and inventory turns. [Carol: You asked what this means. It means that some change initiatives are executive indulgences that show disrespect to the hard work and history that are part of every organization.]
Few managers have paid much of a price for going change-crazy. In the eyes of search committees, a manager with his or her finger on the change button usually looks more attractive than a manager willing to let good enough alone. We're talking the managerial equivalent of testosterone here. Better to be thought a proactive disaster than to go down as a mere caretaker. "See that man sleeping under the Financial Times? He took care of his company."
This is one area where the Japanese business culture has it all over America's. Japan's corporate leaders may be autocratic, but they must evidence a sense of obligation to the organization, and they have been known to apologize publicly for strategic misjudgments. Our business culture was forged in the days of the robber barons. We still celebrate the corporate exploits of Napalm Ned and Hammerin' Hank and Slashin' Bernie and Butane Bill (the nicknames are changed to protect the innocent), as if they were cartoon figures in a tall tale, and not dictators with life and death power over the thousands that they lead.
Change is serious business, too serious to be the plaything of a Napoleonic brat.
ƒ People aren't prepared or convinced. Short-term, this implies training. You didn't bring people in on the idea at the earliest opportunity. They never had a chance to comment or critique or help shape the initiative. Or when you finally did unveil it as a done deal, you made it worse with slipshod or indifferent training.
Long-term, the problem may have lain with an organization's culture. A meaningful change initiative is usually an assault on a culture that is no longer functional, or that is a little sick -- an organization where individuals are pitted against one another, or where backhanded tactics are rewarded. When an initiative takes on the power structure of an organization, do not presume it will succeed. Better to presume it won't, and hope you get lucky.
ƒ You get carried away. Many initiatives fall victim to the sin of excess. Organizations are so enthralled with the idea that they try to see their entire enterprise through that single magic lens. Teams are a good example of an idea that gets carried away with itself. The truth is that most companies operate on a team basis well before it comes up with a teaming plan. The teaming plan is a way to assign people to work together on an ongoing project. But they were doing that before the word team swam into senior management's consciousness. People have been teaming very naturally and without a grand scheme for thousands of years. But now comes a comprehensive workforce overhaul that seeks to make a conscious discipline out of an intuitive habit.
To make matters worse, managers become so invested in the initiative that the purpose for the initiative begins to fade from their neocortex, and they slide instead into the habit of setting up teams wherever their gaze takes them.
Soon teams of two, three, eight and ten are performing work that a single person was doing perfectly satisfactorily before. The irony is that the initiative set up to slash through bureaucracy begins a new point of blockage and slowdown.
ƒ You don't get carried away enough. You talked the talk of a powerful idea, but you didn't walk the walk with it. You talked quality, but when shipments backed up you ordered products sent out before they were ready. You talked empowerment, but when people didn't guess right, you jerked them back into reality. You talked safety, but when the pressure to launch got to be too much, you ordered the shuttle to lift off.
ƒ Bad luck. It happens. Contingencies no one planned happened. A natural disaster. A rumor or news report that has everyone obsessing about the wrong thing. A jar of tampered Tylenol. A tank leak in Bhopal. A death in the corporate family. The collapse of the dollar abroad.
The worst luck is the kind a company brings upon itself. Misunderstandings that no amount of lucid and honest communication can put right, because of the poisonous atmosphere of distrust that has accumulated over the years.
ƒ There is nothing you could do. Nowhere is it written that a successful change initiative is all that stands between you and long-term survival. Markets change, products die, people flatten flatter than dust. It may help to see that businesses in the U.S. are undergoing all these initiatives because of pressure from other countries. These countries are undergoing a remarkable renaissance of innovation and ingenuity. And they have no consecrated tradition to steer around to achieve these things. Many organizations here, no matter what they do, haven't a chance against those people. Competing with them is like catching a fly with a spoon. It is their hour. x
As global change engulfs us, we look for human institutions which won the battle we are fighting, to survive the buffeting waves of change over the long term. There are no old companies. The oldest civil government worldwide is that of the United States, a young 220. [Carol, you asked what this meant. The United States is indeed the oldest government in the world, operating for the longest period under a single charter or constitution.] The oldest extant human institutions are religious in nature. There are religions, churches, and denominations, in the west and in the east, that date back over two millennia. These institutions know something about change. Can it translate to your organization?
Their success can be explained by their combined use of both Push and Pull techniques. The spiritual impulse underlying most religion is Pull, a sense that there are greater purposes than the self can set forth. The appeal of religion is in the vision it sets forth. Most religions are radical revolutions against existing ideas. They set about to replace an existing culture with something very new. As they mature, the tend more toward the Push side, leveraging their authority against unwanted change.
There are two paradoxes in the vitality of religions. The first is the paradox of unanimity. When everyone in a community agrees to and swears by a common vision, at risk of their souls, that organization will be a formidable one. Unanimity is assured by exerting the full authority of revelation, scripture, and the occasional miracle -- plus the punishment of exclusion.
You may object that change is anathema to established religions, which brings us to the second paradox -- strength through division. Religions and sects are constantly splitting apart amoeba-style, into schisms and differing emphases and interpretations. The two halves are almost invariably healthier after the rending and pleased with their newfound unanimity -- until the next disagreement arises. Thus Christianity thrives through continuous downsizing.
An important clue may be religion's use of signs and rituals to strengthen connections. A handshake is no sacrament but it is still a powerful physical connection between people working toward a common end. We feel differently about one another when we touch.
Organizations seeking to tighten the sense of inner community would do well to cultivate these rituals -- sharing bread, the pat on the back, the moment it takes to break the silence and say "Thank you." x
We're Hurting, and What We Must Do
Compared to workplace conditions over the ages, people in organizations today have it pretty good. Pummel is still out there, even in the good old USA. But it has given way to other forms of abuse, from the entitlement woes of Pamper to the many variations of organizational rage that bring each of us home every day desperate for a stiff drink, the TV, or a good cry.
What we want is to be wise so our work will bear the imprint of good judgment at every step -- when to hurry up and when to slow down, what matters and what really matters. And organization comprised of wise individuals will always judge well -- but there is no such thing. What we seek instead is to be a wise organization, that knows how to create and maintain an environment in which ordinary individuals may, as often as not, choose wisely.
Change fails when workers lose faith in the change leadership has proposed. It succeeds when leaders understand and anticipate trust issues going in to the initiative, and honestly addressing them. Caring leadership must find the right balance and sequence of Push and Pull efforts for the organization or team, given its culture and history. Push to get people's attention, Pull to galvanize their commitment. That is the macro half of successful change.
The micro half of the change is what causes most leaders to tremble. Success requires more than large-scale organizational redesign. Up-close, it requires that attention be paid to the human side of the change challenge. We must learn as much as we can about every individual on our teams, and we must come to understand what combination of Push and Pull will bring out the best in each of them. The micro half is harder than the macro half, more painful and more baffling at every step.
The next section will help you understand the process of individualization. x
1 Lines from the screenplay for The Third Man
2 Judith M. Bardwick, Danger in the Comfort Zone, Amacom, 1991; John Adams [book on stress in the workplace, publisher, year]
3 Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays: "Personality, or What a Man Is," Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, Little, Brown; 1980
4 Cite source for burning platform metaphor, John Kotter article
5 Michael Hammer and Steven A. Stanton, The Rengineering Revolution, HarperBusiness, 1995
6 Quote taken from James C. Collins' and Jerry I. Porras' Built to Last, HarperBusiness, 1994
7 Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, Washington Square, 1963
8 William Warriner, 101 Corporate Haiku,
9 Michael Finley, "The Reengineer Who Could," Masters Forum Application Kit, June 1995. Based on remarks made by James Champy in Minneapolis, June 6, 1995
10 One of Murphy's lesser known laws.
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