Wake Up, America–And the Rest of You, Too
November 15, 2010 Doug Mewmaw
On a flight home after a recent business trip, I met a man who mentioned that he had left his previous company to start up a small business. During the conversation, I noticed how passionate he was when he talked about his old company. Since he raved about his past experiences, I had to know why he left. His answer didn’t surprise me. He said, “My company stopped being innovative.” When I asked him to elaborate, he said, “We spent more time in meetings and nothing ever got accomplished.”
He added, “I saw a lot of creative ideas that never materialized. It was like pulling teeth to get things done. In the end, I hated it.”
On the same business trip, I had the pleasure of teaching some performance management skills to an IT staff on the East Coast. First the bad news: During these sessions, one young associate kept dozing off during the consulting sessions. It got so bad that his manager had to keep nudging him to get him to pay attention. As a result, the young associate probably picked up only 60 percent of the material. The good news: The site was extremely happy with the performance changes we made to their production system. In fact, the performance improvements were immediate. Faulting decreased and their response time improved, simply by adhering to some performance best practice guidelines. Even more amazing was the fact that the change was able to be applied quickly and without issues.
When I got to the airport, I actually had some time to ponder the events that transpired during the week. After crossing off my list, corporate motivational speaker, I thought about the gentleman on the plane and the young “Rip Van Winkle” IT associate in my consulting session. The two stories reminded me of a story that I wrote a few years ago, entitled Why American Employees Are So Unhappy. In the midst of one of the worst recessions in our country’s history, one where unemployment is close to 10 percent, I think we can all agree that it’s not a pretty picture for the middle class and corporate America. As someone who continues to spend a significant amount of time in the bowels of corporate America, I thought the people I met on my trip would make perfect metaphors for what is still occurring at companies throughout America.
Remembering the frustrated entrepreneur, I ask the leaders of corporate America the following question:
“Do you want a business model where associates aspire to be innovative or do you want a business model where productivity seems to move at a snails pace?”
It seems like a simple question to answer, but think about what you’ve told the associates in your IT department over the last 10 years: “If the system goes down, you’re fired.” Or, “Don’t implement those changes if there is a chance the system will go down.”
One CIO even told me that he knew that his system architecture was sub-par. “About 80 percent of the time we don’t have issues, but there is 20 percent that should be worked on,” this CIO explained. When I asked why the problems weren’t fixed, he said that he would rather have his system up in running than make the necessary changes to improve the overall customer experience. The reason: “We have to keep the shareholders happy, and downtime does not make them happy.”
I imagine this conversation with my wife as she is taking the kids to school on a frigid Chicago winter day. “Honey, the van should be okay. I took it to the repair shop. The mechanic said he fixed 80 percent of the engine problems. And by the way, the bill was $1,100.”
As ridiculous as that analogy is, I assure you that this 80/20 phenomenon is prevalent throughout corporate America. Ask any programmers who wanted to fix programs but bailed on the idea when they found out the change control process would take three days.
Where is the quality workmanship? Does the customer experience matter any more?
To company leaders, I say that it’s time to stop the nonsense. The current culture is not working. I’ll ask the questions that need to be asked: Do you think the shareholders really want you to abandon strategies of innovation for a culture of risk avoidance? Does that strategy take American companies to the next level?
I assure you it does not. Like our talented entrepreneur who learned he could no longer make a difference at his company and then left, many associates “leave” their company mentally and simply go through the motions. People are still clock watching and saying, “Is it time to go home?” As for risk avoidance, all I can say is this: What is the value in that strategy?
To me it’s really simple. Here are two things that companies MUST do in order be successful:
Remember, American workers want to make a difference. So let them.
I’m not an economist, but it’s obvious that the leaders of corporate America need to reboot a program that is looping. That is, Americans don’t have confidence in our economic future. Why? The combination of outsourcing, seeing companies embrace a culture of risk avoidance, and abandoning quality initiatives that create inspiration and innovation, has brought corporate America to a standstill. No one will admit it, but it has.
To the American worker, I will say this: You are not blameless here either. Yes, I know you feel like a victim, and yes, company leaders do in fact create the company culture. But the American worker needs to not only persevere through these tough times, but get back to the basics simply by improving one’s work ethic. Quit the clock watching and give an honest day’s work. We all know good, hard-working people that are out of work. If you are one of those associates that are “going through the motions,” shame on you for not doing your best.
America is a country that loves stories about second chances, about the underdog, about redemption. It’s time for everyone in corporate America to admit the current processes are not working. The America second chance story is a simple one. Company leaders need to create a corporate culture that inspires people to do their best and rewards innovation. American workers need to be passionate and take pride in their jobs once again.
Wake up, America. And while I am thinking about it, everything I just said about America applies equally well to all of the Western economies that seem to be limping along.
Doug Mewmaw is a “jack of all trades” IT veteran who currently is director of education and analysis at Midrange Performance Group, an i business partner that specializes in performance management and capacity planning.