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In the beginning, there was God. God was the founder.

 

A business story about Organizational Leadership.

Disclaimer: Like any parable or mashal in Hebrew an allegorical reference can provide illuminating metaphor or simile. I admit this one is a bit edgy and the comparison is imperfect but separate enough to offer constructive link and insight to engage in progress and improvement. It is said objectivity increases in direct proportion with distance to the problem.

In the beginning, there was God. God was the founder.

In a business the founder is like God, as the creator or Prime Mover. That's the role the founder plays in the business.

Now God decided to start His operation, which is civilization as we now know it, and interestingly enough, right off the bat, he had what we now call a start-up problem. He had this idea about paradise. A place where no one had to work and everyone got along. It was the really first big social experiment with socialism and what you might call radical liberalism. It didn't work then and it doesn't work now. It's right in Genesis. All you have to do is read it.

God said: this isn't going to work because there is corruption; Adam has eaten the fruit and everyone is focused on blaming everyone else so we're going to cancel this operation. So remember whenever you attempt something new and it does not work don't be too upset. Even God needed to adjust. Free will can be such an inconvenient truth. He said: "That is not working; we're going to set up a market economy. Everybody, out of paradise! You're going to have to go to work and you're going to have to sweat. It's going to be a tough cruel world but it is going to work. You are going to work, earn it and appreciate it."

There is a quote from the Jerusalem Talmud that says: "he who does not eat of his own is ashamed to look at his benefactor". It would seem we need to earn something for it to have value or for us to truly appreciate it. Charity may be an obligation but the ultimate in charity is to give someone a job not just a handout.

And it did work for a time. In the beginning it was wonderful. It is just like that in a small organization when it first starts. Remember in the narrative when Abraham did not know what to do, who did he talk to? He talked to the Founder. And the Founder talked back. He said: "Here's how you do it." Sometimes it was not pleasant and rather challenging. But, it was clear that in the beginning when the organization is small, when people want to know what to do, they talk to the founder! The founder gives direct feedback and it is wonderful. It succeeded and the organization began to grow.

The next business problem that God encountered is one that some of you may be acquainted with if only from current news events. It's called “downsizing. The enterprise got out of control so God took a core group of employees; He put them on a boat and He laid everyone else off. He said if we can't handle this we will reduce to a manageable size. Get the believers on the boat and everybody else is out of here. But this was incredibly painful. So God decided right then and there that we're not going to go through this again. Most founders will say exactly the same thing. "We had to do it, there was no other way, but this is not my idea of running a business." I can tell you from personal experience there is nothing quite so gut wrenching for a founder as this process.

Now if you remember in the narrative, it came to pass, that people were dancing around the golden calf and they were worshiping idols and this was very upsetting. God said: "Come on! This is just out of bounds. Where do these people get these ideas?"

Being the Chief Executive Officer he got a hold of his Chief Operating Officer. And he said: "Moses, We've got problems. We're going to have a meeting. I want you to come to the office, and incidentally I want you to bring a couple of stone tablets, a hammer and a chisel because you're going to take some notes." So, Moses went up to the mountain, because that's where the office was, and they had their meeting. And after the meeting he came down and had what we now call an "All Company Meeting." Everyone who was not out of town on business had to come to the meeting. He got up in front of them and said: "As many of you already know I had a meeting with the Chief. This was not your ordinary Monday morning operations meeting. Things got pretty rough. We've got big problems. Folks, there are going to be some changes.

What God knew was, after the organization gets to a certain point, it's time to document the basic values and principals upon which the organization was founded. This is your constitution. The interesting thing about the Ten Commandments is they are not procedures. Eight out of the Ten Commandments don't tell you what to do, they tell you what not to do. They set the limits. You can do anything you want but you can't do that. Now, as long as you don't do these things, be creative. Explore new ideas. Think outside the box. Our founding fathers also knew this is the nature of a good constitution and relied heavily on the principals.

If we are proactive, we’re going to try something new. If it does not work who has a problem? We all have a problem. If it does not work, together we pitch in and fix it.

In business we need to make decisions and implement them. It does not work without both. I don’t know the best decisions I ever made in 40 years of business because they never got implemented. I have learned to prefer a mediocre decision with good implementation over a flash of genius with poor implementation. I can provide many examples of flash of genius. The best play in the book is useless unless it can be executed with precision. What is not going to work is to just tell people to be proactive, anticipate, take some risks and rebuke them with the results are disappointing. In an integrated organization when we are in trouble we will fix it together "You can't admonish people to do quality. You have to teach them the skills." - David Kerns (Xerox)

If you don't perform it is not an occasion for discipline. It is an opportunity to learn and council together. You have to like the now famous IBM story when the Vice President came to his boss after making a $10,000,000 mistake and expecting to be fired. To which Tom Watson replied: “Fire you? I’ve just spent $10,000,000 training you.“

Do you realize if you punish people, in this climate, do you think they are going to tell you when things are going wrong? Pretty soon you won't have any idea what is going on in the business. But how about if they know when they go for help they will get it, not censure and scorn, as long as they have not violated the Constitution.

When rates of change are slow people know how to do what they do far better than managers. They need us when something unexpected happens, when they have a problem. They need managers only when things change.

The current reality is we live in times of white knuckle rates of change. As rates of change increase the penalty for mismanagement escalates. How to further integrate the values, accommodate diverse interests and create a high performance team is well beyond the scope if this commentary but it all starts with a Plan with incremental review and updates.

“Plans are nothing; planning is everything” - D. Eisenhower

Maurie Rosenberg
Organizational Leadership Consulting
Turnarounds and Change Management.