The December 2004 edition of Harvard Business Review has an interview with Sam Palmsiano. An IBMer all his career, he took over as CEO in 2002. Faced with the need to get 200,000 employees to coordinate efforts and integrate hardware, software, consulting and services in seamless solutions to customer problems he:
a. Commissioned a consulting study
b. Approached the Board to sell stock so he'd have enough money
c. Led a discussion of company values
d. Instituted a carefully-designed management program in a controlled and steady manner, allowing sufficient time for implementation at each step along the way
Go ahead. Think about it. Make your choice. Then read the rest of this post for the answer and some quotes I'd like to see made by a superintendent.
The answer is "c. Led a discussion of company values". In fact, after some top management thinking and testing of some proposed changes to IBM's "Basic Beliefs", they were put out for a "ValuesJam" on the IBM intranet. The responses were initially so caustic and cynical that one top executive wanted to pull the plug after less than 24 hours. But, Mr. Palmisano let it run, and ultimately the conversation found a balance and input (and ownership) toward the values developed.
Now, here are the quotes:
How do you get people to passionately pursue [a] purpose?
You could employ all kinds of traditional, top-down management processes. But they wouldn't work at IBM -- or, I would argue, at an increasing number of twenty-first-century companies. You just can't impose command-and-control mechanisms on a large, highly professional workforce. I'm not only talking about our scientists, engineers, and consultants. More than 200,000 of our employees have college degress. The CEO can't say to them, "Get in line and follow me." Or "I've decided what your values are." They're too smart for that. And as you know, smarter people tend to be, well, a little more challenging; you might say even cynical.
But even if our people did accept this kind of traditional, hierarchical management system, our clients wouldn't. As we learned at IBM over theyears, a top-down system can create a smothering bureaucracy that doesn't allow for the speed , the flexibility, the innovation that clients expect today.
[T]here's no way to optimize IBM through organizational structure or by management dictate, you have to empower people while ensuring that they're making the right calls the right way.
Well, if three-fifths of your business is manufacturing, management is basically supervisor: "You do this. You do that." But that no longer works when your business is primarily based on knowledge. ... for one thing, people -- rather than products -- become your brand."
Amazing. And superintendents and school boards continue to roll out programs from the top and pay no real attention to the feelings, goals, passions, and values of the most altruistic set of professionals anywhere. Crazy. Some say you can't run schools like a business. I say I'd like to see a school system run by a superintendent with the same grasp of fundamentals as Mr. Palmisano.