Success Story: Top Leader Champions Change

How A Top Leader Champions Change Using Eight Elements of Leadership Constancy

In the mid-1980s, work on organizational development was a popular theme in manufacturing industries. The main focus of these efforts was the process of teamwork and collaboration to solve problems, rather than the problems themselves. The objective was to create healthier organizational cultures that would more naturally avert or address problems.

I had a very eye-opening experience with this change effort at the Fortune 100 chemical company I worked for at the time. We called it Organizational Effectiveness (OE). It was introduced company-wide in 1985, and I first learned and used it at a manufacturing site in New Jersey. We adopted it wholeheartedly at the site and by most measures, made a successful shift in the plant culture.

Training for Success

One of the things I most appreciated about the change was the training and playbook, refer also to Elements of Leadership Constancy #2 and #3 on how to conduct meetings. By following the training and playbook, Leadership assured that every meeting called was 1) necessary, 2) planned with a purpose, process, and expected products, 3) guided by ground rules, 4) staffed with critical roles of leader, scribe, resource, and participants. The training prepared one to perform any of these roles. The leader did the planning, (time, place, invitees, purpose, process, etc.) and led the discussion. His/her focus was on what was to be accomplished. The resource attended the meeting with a focus on how to accomplish the work or the process of the meeting. He/she ensured participants were sticking to ground rules and the topic as outlined in the meeting process and that the group met time commitments for each segment of the process. Additionally, the resource ensured that everyone’s voice was being heard and intervened with tactful, purposeful adjustments to the course where necessary. The scribe wrote down, in large letters visible to everyone in the room, the comments of each participant, being sure to capture their exact words. The resulting comments list was provided to the leader for the compilation of the meeting minutes. Participants followed established ground rules, the process, and freely provided the information and expertise they had in support of the purpose and products. At the New Jersey site, meetings at all levels were very effective and conducted efficiently by the playbook including weekly plant staff meetings, shop floor problem-solving meetings, as well as critical communication meetings.

Attrition in Texas

Several years and three job transfers later when I was assigned to a large manufacturing plant in Texas in 1993. I found that there were almost no remnants of the OE initiative at this site. To my dismay, many times I found myself in ineffective, time-wasting, mind-numbing meetings. Whenever I inquired about the OE effort from the prior decade, I was almost universally met with a disdainful guffaw or chuckle: “OE? What a waste that was!” The OE effort at that site had the reputation of being an attempt to hand the reigns of the operation over to the plant floor teams which then ran amuck with it. The education for me came as I examined the obvious question: “How could the same initiative in the same Company have such different outcomes at a site in New Jersey vs. one in Texas? The answer, as you have anticipated, was in the application of the elements of Leadership Constancy (LC).

Reflections on Top Leader Champions and The Eight Elements of Leadership Constancy

It became obvious that Tony, the Plant Manager at the New Jersey site, was key to the success of OE there. Tony was a true champion of OE. Before becoming Plant Manager, he had extensive training on the background and theory of OE. In a prior assignment, he trained OE change agents in preparation for the rollout of the corporate initiative. Tony was deeply knowledgeable and passionate about the potential this initiative had for the company. He apparently possessed LC elements #1 and #2. Tony was the highest-level Leader at the site, and he was a change agent. I don’t know to what extent his bosses supported him in the change effort, but there were certainly no signs of a conflict on the site. Sometimes just having your boss stay out of the way is all the support you need. Tony practiced LC elements #4 and #6. He used every interaction with his organization as an opportunity to demonstrate and coach the new behaviors expected. Tony’s staff meetings were crisp and effective. He expected ours to be the same. I observed him performing every meeting role. He would be an impromptu resource at shop floor meetings. What a luxury it was to have Tony as Manager as we implemented OE at the site!

So what happened at the site in Texas? How could things have gone so wrong? I can’t say exactly because eight years later, it was over and almost no one wanted to talk about it. I would surmise that the case for change was not effectively made and sufficient knowledge and buy-in of site Leadership was not achieved. As a result, the effort morphed into something that became a self-fulfilling prophecy for Leadership and was clearly unsustainable.