Corrections or additions?
This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the October 24, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
When Pyramids Fall
Pyramids are impressive. But they house only the dead.
Despite timeless popularity, the corporate pyramid hierarchy, with
all its mazy passageways and ladders, stifles business communication
like a tomb. And the real marvel of the monument: all those folks
pulling hard in chorus on the same rope somehow petrifies into
For business leaders seeking to restimulate corporate arteries, the
Princeton Chamber is offering a seminar, "The Simpler Way:
Executive Skills" on Friday, October 26, at 8:30 a.m. at the
Learning Systems in New Hope, speaks on innovative management
based on his quarter century of experience in business and educational
restructuring. Cost: $50. Call 609-520-1776. This event is one of
the Princeton Chamber’s bi-annual Leadership Seminars.
"Take a look at nature," suggests Barkley. "Animals —
man included — respond to a crisis with energy, with teamwork,
and without hierarchy. When the flood waters gush through the levy,
everybody rallies, everybody fills sandbags, people naturally sort
themselves out according to abilities and resources. Nobody just
on the bank and directs. What business has to do is bring that crisis
direction into the daily workplace."
Exactly how leaders can engineer this less-than-simple change has
been a lifelong work for Barkley. Following a boyhood in Allentown,
Pennsylvania, Barkley earned a teaching degree at East Stroudsburg
University and moved to Hampton, New Jersey, where he taught
school. After 10 years of teaching, he learned the difficulty of
children to what he considered to be petrified programs. In l980 he
joined New Hope’s infant Performance Learning Systems as its first
employee. The consulting firm began by redirecting the views of
and now also consults to businesses.
The company found that pace of technological change caused paralysis
in the old pyramidal pathways. The process of running ideas and needs
up to the top, and then waiting for a decision, just left many
foundering as the pace of change accelerated.
Detroit offers a landmark example. One of the major auto parts plants
desperately needed a product change. By the time that need filtered
up to the top and the decision was mulled over, and trickled down;
by the time the employees were retrained and the new production line
installed, the product had become obsolete. Definitely, thought
it’s time for a change. Still, Barkley maintains his motto: "you
can not manage change." Change happens on its own. You can fight
it, or better yet, create it. Exactly how business leaders may
change for swifter communications is a thorough and ongoing task that
will shatter not only old walls, but old attitudes.
But using information to form a power base within a business proves
counterproductive in the extreme. Nothing should be on a need-to-know
basis. Barkley suggests rather that firms create an intranet structure
where information flows continuously across department lines.
should literally link the folks in sales with "those odd
over in design. Maintenance and administration should read each
missives and thus be connected for instant input. And it becomes the
leaders’ job to ever seek out that instant input.
fostered that initially involve everyone in the decision-making
then secondly spread the word, making each employee aware of the
focus. This involves some sledge hammering of old and cherished
"Meetings should mix and match people from, say engineering and
sales," says Barkley. "Find out what changes are required
to make the product more salable." By the same token, he
the technical people, when giving a seminar on the latest in-plant
software to instruct in interspersed groups, blending production,
financial, and sales — rather than one department at a time.
Sharp leaders aim to bond their employees beyond the workplace. A
host of both engineered and informal methods can unite workers, but
the very best, Barkley says, is outside training. "The next time
the technical boys head off to some outside workshop, find a few
folks from production or administration to accompany them," he
advises. "Later they will naturally unite within the
hive ideally leads to a vision — an agreed upon, pervasive idea
of what one’s own firm is striving to achieve. "Here we go
Those who wake up and make this maxim a reality in their own shop
may find some very solid benefits. The maintenance man faced with
a decision no longer stops work and runs it up the flag pole. Instead,
he makes his own decision based on his firm’s focus. The entire
of "It’s not my job"also disappears.
This whole Barkley communication method entails a democratic
system. Employees are rewarded as they become further involved with
the overall goal. This change evolves as the company’s hierarchy
and success becomes redefined. Since decisions are no longer made
by the few from above, but by every employee, at every level, how
high you climb up the ladder, how many new promotions into ever more
airy and elite ranks will become irrelevant. The individual takes
pride in his job, not in his standing. Motivation swells from the
product, rather than competitive reward.
After a massive survey, USA Today in its May 10 issue announced that
all the traditional reward systems have proved useless. "It’s
easy to understand," explains Barkley. "If you want to give
your top two salesmen a trip to Hawaii as a perk, fine. But don’t
delude yourself into thinking they became the top two salesmen because
you dangled the trip as a carrot. Odds are those two would be your
top salespeople no matter what you did."
When Performance Learning System began spreading to educators its
gospel of continuing, integrated decision-making 30 years ago, it
was probably new. To be honest, it seems a little shopworn now.
the business community has for decades been absorbing this message
like a lead sponge. Some gospels take time to catch on. No, the creed
is a good one. It is merely falling on ears clogged with the sound
of ancient routine.
— Bart Jackson
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