ACT Change

In the article, “Changing Others Through Changing Ourselves,” the authors describe a new set of principles that are grounded in just that: in order to change others, we must first change ourselves.  This change within ourselves involves aligning our vision for the common good, which in turn attracts followers to change themselves to achieve the new vision.  This set of principles consists of the following:

  1. Seeks to create an emergent system
  2. Recognizes hypocrisy and patterns of self-deception
  3. Personal change through value clarification and alignment of behaviors
  4. Frees oneself from the system of external sanctions
  5. Developes a vision for the common good
  6. Takes action to the edge of chaos
  7. Maintains reverence for the others involved in change
  8. Inspires others to enact their best selves
  9. Models counterintuitive, paradoxical behavior
  10. Changes self and system

These principles were derived from practice theories obtained from looking at similarities between Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

This type of leaderships doesn’t let excuses (or other defense mechanisms) get in the way.  With ACT Change, it is important to recognize not just that we want to change, but to make that next step toward taking action to get there.  Our behavior needs to become more purposeful rather than self interested, which means being open and inclusive and doing what is right regardless of rules, laws, etc.  Most of us will never achieve this type of leadership, but it doesn’t hurt to strive for it and I’m sure it will make us better leaders in the process.


Organizational Silence

Organizational Silence exists throughout many organizations/companies, large or small.  This phenomenon is the belief by employees that speaking up about things would either be ignored or would have negative repercussions. 

I have worked at organizations where this type of perception is rampant, and it’s not fun at all.  As authors Elizabeth Wolfe Morrison and Frances J. Milliken describe, not only is organizational silence inhibiting to innovation, but it makes employees less motivated, psychologically and physically withdrawn, and increases the risk of turnover.  Not being able to express one’s opinions/concerns about how the organization operates is demotivating.  If organizations want a machine that doesn’t think, but just does the work they should invest in developing robots. 

The bottom line is that organizational silence prevents growth, increases turnover (voluntary and involuntary), and can even go so far as to create a hostile working environment.  All of these symptoms cause a huge risk to the company over time that will eventually hurt their bottom line.  Top management need to make it their responsibility to encourage employees to speak up in a constructive manner.  Some of the best ideas come from the line employees who are on the front lines every day.

Treadyway Tire Company

HBS case on Treadway Tire Company provides an example of a company whose top leadership has it all wrong.  Treadway Tire Company, a major supplier of tires, employed approximately 9,000 staff across North America. Their main (and most up to date) plant was housed in Lima, Ohio.  The Lima plant was plagued with high turnover from its line foreman (essentially floor/low level supervisors).  A new HR person, Ashley Wall, joins the facility and tries to save the company money by determining the root cause of the plant’s turnover problem, which is causing other employees to have low morale.

While Wall’s attempt at finding the cause is commendable, her observations fall short of seeing that the root cause is the system Treadway Tire Co. has in place.  Furthermore, her solution is to hire college graduates to fill line foreman and above positions in the future, which doesn’t seem like an effective way to solve the problem of low morale.   The system at Treadway Tire Co. is the real problem and until that is fixed, no amount of college graduates or bandaids will solve their turnover problem. 

To start, the Lima plant does not properly train their foreman (one would wonder if they properly train any of their employees).  Foreman are supposed to be trained by their superiors, General Supervisors, but the General Supervisors assert that they do not have enough time and when they were foreman they had to figure it out for themselves.  Thus, the General Supervisors just perpetuate the cycle of low support.  A more formalized training was attempted at one point, but the company decided to put the program on hold to cut costs.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if companies do not invest in their top line, their bottom line will always suffer.

Second, the line foreman are given targets that they are expected to meet or exceed, no questions asked.  External factors, such as equipment being broken or sick employees are not acceptable reasons for not meeting or exceeding their goal.  In fact, as a reminder, a daily report is sent out daily that breaksdown each line area and provides the previous day’s actual performance versus forecasted performance.  The audience for this list is all line foremen, general supervisors, area managers, and the plant operating committee.  If the foreman fails to meet their goal for whatever reason, they are yelled at and/or threatened with a negative performance review. 

These bully tactics trickle down as the foreman take out their frustration/pressure on employees.  Line level employees receive the same sort of lashing for making it more difficult for the foreman to reach their goal (e.g. being late from lunch).  Though undesirable behaviors due need to be acknowledged, shouting at employees does not seem like a very effective way to get one’s pooint across.

In addition, although line foreman are low level supervisors who are expected to discipline their employees, they do not actually hold power.  Line level employees are unionized, whereas line foreman are not;  therefore, most line foreman are not familiar with union stipulations.  Thus, when the foreman writes up a union employee and the union goes to bat for taht employee, the foreman is not present in the hearing and does not receive an explanation of the decision, which is usually to overturn the foreman’s recommendation.  Why would anyone then expect employees to respect the foreman or for the foreman to understand how to work within union stipulations?  There is a serious lack of communication and training going on with this scenario.

My final point is that Wall’s implied solution is to hire more college graduates for foreman positions.  This is not a solution, it is a bandaid, and not a very good bandaid at that.  Rather than further diminishing employee morale by taking away opportunities for career growth within the company, Treadway should work on grooming the people they have to be better employees.  With better employees, comes better supervisors in the future.  Treadway has serious systemic problems that are not being addressed, and until the company is able to honestly look at itself, turnover and low morale will continue to be an issue.

The Men’s Wearhouse

The Men’s Wearhouse (TMW) is a case of unexpected success in the men’s clothing industry during the 1990s, a time when other men’s retailers were seeing rapid declines in sales.  The question we are left with is can The Men’s Wearhouse sustain their success?

George Zimmer, founder and chairman of TMW, operates under the premise that his employees are his customers.  Thus, their culture and policies are formulated to emphasize that belief.  Zimmer asserts that taking care of the company’s employees, especially in retail, is critical to employees treating actual customers with extra care.  In order to take care of their employees, TMW offers a higher wage than other retail clothing stores, provides training/morale events, and provides a servant leadership management style.

TMW identifies five stakeholders (in order of importance to the company): employees, customers, vendors, the community, and then to its shareholders.  This is significant because it acknowledges the importance of ensuring the top line is taken care of for sustained growth for the bottom line.  Although the article does not go into detail about TMW’s shareholder, they are clearly the kind of long-term/forward thinking shareholders that anyone who owns a public company should dream about.

Although I like the philosophy behind TMW, I am curious how it is actually implemented.  Though teamwork is encouraged and people can and have been fired for sharking, incentive programs aimed at individuals seem to inherently promote competition.  Maybe having the rhetoric and visible repercussions in place for people who are not team players is enough if you find the right people.

If TMW is able to maintain its culture that values its employees, they will continue to thrive because those employees will go out of their way to make sure the company is a success.


This week’s case study, “The Layoff,” illustrates a situation that many companies have faced in recent years with the economic downturn in the U.S.: finances are weak, so mass layoffs become the solution.  Having been at a company in a previous position that did choose to do a mass layoff, there really are no winners or losers in that situation.  Those that are chosen to leave are obviously devastated to lose their job/livelihood, while those that are chosen to stay are left with survivors guilt and are forced to readjust to the new environment.  This move was a last resort for the company, who tried to go other routes with no success. 

While laying people off is an option for companies facing financial troubles, it is not the only option.  I appreciated the three responses to the case by Laurence J. Stybel and Maryanne Peabody, Jurgen Dormann, and Robert I. Sutton.  These commentaries highlight the fact that layoffs should be a last resort option, but if chosen, there are better ways to handle the situation than others. 

I especially agree with Dormann’s response to first look at the companies marketing strategy.  Their may be some long term strategic moves a company can make to generate revenue.  More importantly though, it is important to keep communication lines open.  Dormann uses an example of his experience as CEO of ABB.  He put the accountability on his workers to come up with ways to generate revenue/cut costs in order to turn the company’s financials around.  After two years, the company was saved as the employees helped contribute to saving $1billion with their ideas.  These open lines of communication clearly worked in allowing employees to be accountable for their jobs and the company’s success.

Often when companies find themselves in a financial bind, the first reaction is to cut costs.  Cutting costs is great, but it will only go so far.  Bottom line is that if a company is not generating revenue, no matter how lean they are, it will ultimately fail.

Servant Leadership and Leading with Integrity

In Stephen Covey’s article, “New Wine, Old Bottles,” he discusses the idea of servant leadership.  This type of leadership requires a leader to be forward thinking, trusting, and to have humility.  Many old school authoritarian leaders find themselves in nicely packaged training sessions on the latest trends of leadership, only to return to their office with the same principals they had before.  Using buzz words is great, but actually implementing changes that create mutual respect amongst executives and their employees is the key to effective leadership.

In the brief Wall Street Journal article, “Good Leadership Requires Executives To Put Themselves Last,” The example of Michael Leven, chairman and CEO of US Franchise Systems, is used to illustrate leaders who put integrity and the good of the company ahead of personal gains.  Leven is a leader who does the right thing and is prepared to leave the company if doing the right thing does not align with top management’s goals.  While serving as President of Days Inn of America, Leven noticed some shady financial practices, such as a shrinking cash flow and debt from franchisees not being paid, so he quit.  Actually, he not only quit, but he wrote a letter to his bosses outlining his suspiscions of owners siphoning funds from the Days Inn account.  Thus, not only did Leven pull himself out of this bad situation, he tried to do something about it.  Leven did the right thing even though it came with a high cost (that he was very much aware of).

Unfortunately, most of us will never work for companies where this type of leadership exists at the top though there may be some mid to lower level management that put the company first.  One has to wonder how long they can last in an environment where the people above them only care about their bonus for the year?

Leadership: Doing the right thing

The two Wall Street Journal articles for this week both provide examples of leadership, where the leader puts their people before their own possible personal gains because they know it is the right thing to do.

The article, “For Lt. Withers, Act of Mercy Has Unexpected Sequel,” tells the story of a black U.S. Army Lieutenant who chose to put the lives of two Jewish men, Peewee and Salomon, during WWII.  Although Lt. Withers had a lot to lose in going against unwritten orders to avoid contact with rescued Dachau prisoners, but he was able to put aside the threat of being discharged to save Peewee and Salomon from being returned to Dachau with other former prisoners. 

Being a black soldier during a time when segregation was still in full effect in America, Lt. Withers could have easily have been discharged had he been found out.  Being discharged dishonorably would have prevented him from receiving the GI BILL and thus returning to school to make a better life for himself once he got out tof the Army.  In addition, Lt. Withers knew that if he sent the two men back, his team would lose respect for him because they were willing to except Peewee and Salomon on board.  Thus, Lt. Withers let his conscience guide him to put his team, Peewee, and Salomon first even if it meant he would not receive what he wanted.

The second article, “How a Marine Lost His Command In Race to Baghdad,” is another war story, this time involving Colonel Dowdy and the most recent War in Iraq.  Col. Dowdy is another leader who puts his men before strategy, only in this case he did end up being stripped of his command and was reassigned. 

According to the Marines, the key to being successful at warfare is speed.  Col. Dowdy felt speed was not more important than the lives of his men, which unfortunately his higher ups did not agree with.  Even though Col. Dowdy completed his mission and was still on schedule to join the other forces in Baghdad, he didn’t do it in the manner or speed that the Generals wanted.  Not only did Col. Dowdy complte his mission, but only one marine out of 6,000 died under his command and yet he was still the only senior officer to be dismissed in Iraq.

Lt. Withers and Col. Dowdy are leaders because they don’t just do things right, they do the right thing.  They both put others before their own personal gain even though the ramifications if/when found out meant the end of their career.