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

formality

and routine.

For business leaders seeking to restimulate corporate arteries, the

Princeton Chamber is offering a seminar, "The Simpler Way:

Enhancing

Executive Skills" on Friday, October 26, at 8:30 a.m. at the

Nassau

Club. Stephen Barkley, executive vice president of Performance

Learning Systems in New Hope, speaks on innovative management

techniques

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

stands

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

elementary

school. After 10 years of teaching, he learned the difficulty of

molding

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

educators,

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

companies

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

Barclay,

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

manipulate

change for swifter communications is a thorough and ongoing task that

will shatter not only old walls, but old attitudes.

Information. Information has been and always will be

power.

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.

Computers

should literally link the folks in sales with "those odd

people"

over in design. Maintenance and administration should read each

other’s

missives and thus be connected for instant input. And it becomes the

leaders’ job to ever seek out that instant input.

Relationships. Relationships, insists Barkley, must be

fostered that initially involve everyone in the decision-making

process,

then secondly spread the word, making each employee aware of the

company’s

focus. This involves some sledge hammering of old and cherished

channels.

"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

encourages

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

interested

folks from production or administration to accompany them," he

advises. "Later they will naturally unite within the

workplace."

Vision. All of this interworking within your own corporate

hive ideally leads to a vision — an agreed upon, pervasive idea

of what one’s own firm is striving to achieve. "Here we go

again,"

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

attitude

of "It’s not my job"also disappears.

This whole Barkley communication method entails a democratic

motivation

system. Employees are rewarded as they become further involved with

the overall goal. This change evolves as the company’s hierarchy

flattens

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.

However,

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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