Monday, October 8th, 2018

For OD Professionals Wanting a Challenge–Institional Garage Sale

As a former executive in the field of Organizational Development I am aware that the processes we use in our country to either solve problems or to create good are not working well today.  The hierarchical structure for most businesses creates a power and reward distance among its members that hinders engagement, creates resentment, and suppresses breakthrough possibilities. Regimented education processes aim at a narrow focus of achievement that precludes teaching how to be a community member in the classroom and then, later, in society. There is no process to create vibrant, healthy marriages and family groupings until problems occur and then perceived and real hurts begin to overpower what could become effective. Certainly, our justice system cannot manage the multitude of judgments and punishments in a way that leads to peace, resolution and learning, but rather, to more judgement and punishment in the vicious cycle of non-resolution and learning. Our religious institutions are in need of new ways to govern that support their beliefs and tenets in order to be respected. All of our institutions are in the five hundred year transition that is described in Phyllis Tickles’ book The Great Emergence in which institutions  disintegrate and need revamping. The focus of her book is religious but includes all institutions.

Of course I think of this institutional crumble in relationship to Judge Kavanagh and Dr. Ford. How painful to watch antiquated approaches invented long ago punish both “witnesses” with no deep resolution. There will be a decision, but probably not the closure that resolution brings. Our fore-people didn’t consider that the masses would be involved in real time decisions. We  average people were supposed to elect representatives to do the work, in private, with only the written word to inform, and that, often weeks after the event. We need process reform from how to elect a president to how to choose a Supreme Court judge. Let’s not leave out all the global institutions. The UN  and NATO both come to mind. We need an Institutions Garage Sale!!  Burnish the good, keep what still works, toss out the old, and create the new.

I am not hopeless at all. There is good ferment happening and there are examples and exploration of a variety of systems (that might become institutions in the future). The Charter for Compassion reaches across all religions to bring an enlightened empathy to the world to alleviate suffering and injustice.  Conversations for the 21st Century (started after the Sandy Hook tragedy) has many permutations but are all based on conversing and connecting to find new ways to be together in community.  We  happen to live during a particular transitional upheaval. We are in the middle of the mess and it can be discouraging and anxiety producing. But new forms are coming.

During the Supreme Court Nomination Procedure I was reminded of The Restorative Justice movement. It is a new process for justice proceedings. A foundational principle is that crime (abuse, harm) causes harm and justice should focus on repairing that harm. The people most affected by the crime should be able to participate in its resolution. The community is responsible for the well-being of all its members, including both victim and the person who caused the harm/crime. Repairing  the harm and rebuilding relationships in the community — is the primary goal of restorative  justice.

I like what John Braithwaite says in his writing about restorative justice in Australia. “Responding to pain with another ‘spoonful of pain’ is seen as a less satisfactory response than responding with healing or repair. A reason is that hurt tned to beget hurt, creating a vicious spiral of retribution and feuding.  Alternatively, it is possible to flip this dynamic into one of healing begetting healing—a virtuous circle.

Wouldn’t it be remarkable to create a new kind of healing justice in our government that allows deep understanding and a commitment to heal all parties that are damaged rather than continue a punishment system that declares winners and losers as the only solution to severe personal, community and institutional hurts and damage.





Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Why Don’t Companies Learn?

I read business articles and I am encouraged by their content as they show a shift in how tocreate a healthy company, good for the business and equally good for the people. The articles are like baby steps that we clap for to reinforce. Yea. Good article on “making” work have meaning and purpose. Clap, clap, clap. Yea. Business models for additive manufacturing. Mass customization! New twenty years ago. But, clap, clap, clap.  And how about making a business case for curiosity? What? What about all those business creativity and innovation classes? Still, yea. Clap, clap, clap.

What on earth goes on that learning does not occur or accumulate? What is the deeply engraved model that makes CEO’s and companies dumb?  What literally retards them?Is it the military model of command and control? Is it the cumulative wounds of previous unacknowledged failure (denial)? Are companies and CEO’s so anxious that they turn to action (any action) to quell the fear of not knowing what to do?

I was an EVP of OD and Learning for a global food retailing company and saw some major progress. I brought together a global group of about fifty people to create a learning” virus”. Our mantra became that each person  become “a proud learner and a humble teacher”.  Shockingly the phrase took hold with people who were in the meeting and those who were not. A meeting would be stopped and someone would ask, “What would we do if we were “proud learners and humble teachers”?

We (I had a great team) created self-managed learning groups of Store Managers with a template that worked. Members created their own team results report and one for their own professional development. They supported one another and held one another accountable.

We created global learning focused on day to day issues of food retailing, bringing together people  in video conference to talk about lighting in the meat department, end displays, and how to let go a likeable, but non-functioning associate. Gritty stuff

I have many examples of learning that galvanized a whole company. We had a good run of about 12 years before the over-riding antiquated culture of “business” gradually oozed back after a leadership change. The humble teachers and proud learners gradually, and not so gradually, left the company.

What seems to allow the old organism to renew its grasp as well as to re-establish a sick culture?

—fear that creates a frozen response—same response to all issues

—too many outside influences that take over the primary culture ie. Consultant teams that live inside and become a ghost management team

—Obsessive focus on cost

—Loss of the sense of a “whole” company in it together

—Fear of fear that shows up in lack of truth telling that could heal and energize

—Check lists of minutia instead of overall purpose allowing any behavior that works

—Searching for too big a solution all at once that entails betting the farm so it never happens

—Dis-integration at every level, horizontal and vertical

What is the root cause of these attributes? You tell me.It circles around the trust of democratic small (“d”)  and the fear that creates overly tight leadership (autocratic at best, dictatorship at worst). We need to turn the light on this lurking business model that has a hold on a larger transformation.


Monday, September 10th, 2018

The Chaotic Leader

Chaotic Leaders

There are many chaotic leaders. There are many leaders who change their minds, their strategy, their schedule, their point of view often and quickly.  There are many leaders who act without vetting their ideas with experts and/or the people who work for them. There are many leaders who rant and rave in their private office. There are many leaders who expect total blind loyalty from the people who work for them. There are many leaders who are unaware of their impact on those who get the work done. There are many leaders who don’t “get” the need for process and principles to guide decisions.

Too often these qualities seem to come in combination. The result is:

—Discouragement for people who want to get the work done

—More conversations about the leader than about the work

—Confusion about what the work actually is

—Fear, fear, fear of the arbitrary (Remember, random reinforcement makes people nuts.)

—Constant irritation that turns to anger that can’t be expressed to correct the irritation

—Disappointment—because people still want a leader they can respect

—Profound disengagement that leads to losing of top talent

—Time and effort muted so that effort does not equal results

In industry, chaotic leaders don’t last long. The Board and the stock price are not tolerant.There is no fixed time to wait out a chaotic leader. There can be expensive contracts to pay outbut stopping the damage is worth the cost.

I’ve coached chaotic leaders who have realized their impact and changed their behavior. It takes fear of losing a job they want, willingness to be self-aware, hiring good people to counter-act impulsive decision making and keeping the good parts of chaos that translate into flexibility, openness, urgency for action, and willingness to risk.








Monday, September 3rd, 2018

Blue Collar Kid

I am a blue-collar kid from a family of workers.My dad never wore a suit to work. He wore “work clothes”—dark brown pants and shirt, always clean and pressed. He worked three shifts—days, nights and four- to -twelve. After retirement, he still slept according to the rhythm of those shifts. He carried his lunch and coffee with him each day.

We lived in a house with and alley and he would go out the back door and down the sidewalk to the car. His walk to or from the car was always the same. It was matter of fact. He was an oil stillman. As he said, “my job is boring until a tank blows up”. And one day more than one tank  did. He was at home and ashamed not to be killed with his buddies. Slumped and sad, he wept all day smoking his Lucky Strikes.

My dad was pro-union and a member. He hated mistreatment or unfairness. I would hear him talk to my mom. He was asked many times to become a supervisor but would not, could not separate from his buddies. One year he took me to the annual Christmas party and I left loaded with more gifts I’d ever been given at one time. My dad was treated like a celebrity. He knew everyone. His nickname was Bud. (Probably because his first name was Withington.) I remember one group of his buddies laughing about how big a raise they could have had based on the cost of the party. It was good-natured cynicism.

My dad hated mistreatment or unfairness and so he grew to be decidedly anti-union as he saw the corruption in them and their betrayal of labor. He died a Republican with a nice investment portfolio. He believed in honest, hard work. And he thought capitalism was the best economic system, although at one point, I believe he was a card carrying communist. Not sure

My dad was refined (I smile because he worked in a refinery!!)  His prized possessions were a collection of The Harvard Classics and box set of Famous Classical Music. We ate in the kitchen except for Sunday (depending on his shift schedule). He would be still dressed from church, white shirt with cuff links, tie thrown over his shoulder and he carved the roast or chicken at the table. He watched the first Julia Childs TV show on publication television and was a good cook when my mom let him into the kitchen. A too strong curry and a raisin pie were his worst experiments that we teased him about forever. His chocolate eclairs were famous and his pizza, homemade crust and all. He brought home our first ever avocado we ate it while it was hard as a rock. Who knew that is needed to be soft?

My dad labored to give me a college education. He called me when I was a new mom and said, “Your mom and I are coming to see you so you can take us out to dinner. I just paid off your college debt.”  He made 4000 dollars more a year than my college annual cost. I never heard a complaint or grudge. He loved visiting me at college (DePauw University) in Indiana and made life- long friends with the retired CEO of a large oil company at one Dad’s Day. My dad was literally on strike at the time they met. They talked and talked and talked in a corner while his daughter and I were irritated that they weren’t going to the football game with us!

Every prom dress of special outfit I had came from my dad putting a good suggestion in the suggestion box and getting a bonus or from trading shifts and from working on holidays. He took me to buy my wedding dress.My dad labored with endurance and optimism that his work mattered to his goal of a college education for me and my brother. He labored with pride. He was never late and never called in sick.

I thank all of you (and those of us who might labor differently). And I wish for us all: respect for laboring, a livable wage, recognition and use of talent, and the knowledge that your work is worthy and matters. I’m proud to be a blue collar kid.