When the Push Uphill Meets the Shove From Above

I see a lot of posts on Social Media about Changing the Culture – including implementing a Learning Culture – or moving to become a Learning Organization. And how L&D has a significant role to play.

L&D has a role, but a supporting role, IMO/IMV.

So it sometimes feels as if we are setting ourselves up for failure, or to be the fall guy.

Most miss the critical Secret Sauce of Leadership Commitment.

And … It’s not about Learning. Or Communications.

It’s about Consequences.

Pushing 50′ of Wet Rope or Fire Fighting with Water Balloons

Pushing 50′ of Wet Rope was a phrase I’ve borrowed from the late Geary Rummler – from something he said in a 1-Day workshop I attended at Motorola back in 1981 – one week before my official start date – and captured on a video that he allowed me to post a long time ago – available here.

Rummler said (from the transcript):

“… there’s a performer that emits little bundles of things call behavior and with a little bit of luck they end up in clumps which accomplish tasks with more luck those tasks actually contribute to a job or output, a job output or accomplishment, and with lots of luck there’s some connection between that and an organization output. So I say that linkage does exist. I think what some of you were saying earlier, the frustration is getting an organization to articulate what that linkage is. Big organizations are really keen on coming to us and talking to us at this end. Okay you guys put in the knowledge and skills and somehow with a little bit of luck we’ll get this out the other end, and it’s very much like pushing 50 foot of wet rope to make that happen. So I’m a firm believer that you pull performance out, rather than you push behavior in. We’ve got to link individual performance to organization performance and if we don’t do that, it’s basically all over, as a performance-based training game.” 

If your Leadership doesn’t expect and reinforce the change and the change journey – pull the change out – it just won’t happen – except in pockets around the Enterprise, here and there.

And maybe that’s how they have to start. It just won’t happen easily or quickly – if it happens at all.

Leadership Must Lead

At Motorola

When I joined in June of 1981, Motorola was embarked on a huge Cultural Change Initiative to become a Participative Management organization. Likert’s System Four.

Motorola was a patrician/fatherly kind of culture. The founder, Paul Galvin sent his employees’ kids to college. You couldn’t get fired after 10 years on the payroll – as a Motorolan – unless the CEO said it was okay – as no one should have lasted that long and been incompetent, or otherwise not worthy of a life-long commitment from the company. Loyalty was a two-way street.

But times were changing and frankly, Japanese quality and lower costs and pricing were eating Motorola’s lunch. The old ways that got us here would not keep us going.

The culture needed to change. So the Participative Management Program (PMP) was started – with great anticipation from some and great resistance from others. Information and ideas would flow up and down the hierarchy. Decisions would be made by those closest to the customer, etc.

When the resistance got too much, and some of the senior leaders poo-pooed the whole thing, the Motorola internal phone system froze immediately after everyone saw the video from the CEO, the founder’s son, telling everyone that the change would be difficult, and some long-term Motorolans might not make the journey with us.

That yanked the Social Contract right out from under everyone’s feet. Those words got everyone’s attention.

And then Bob Galvin fired one of his senior leaders, who had been with the old man since almost the very beginning.

And THEN everyone knew the man was damn serious about making the changes.

Because Actions Speak Louder Than Platitudes.


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