The envelope, please…
by Michael Finley
In their book, Why Change Doesn't Work (Peterson's, 1996), Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley define metamoron as “the inability to countenance necessary change.” It's the opposite of a metaphile, “a person or organization that seeks out and welcomes opportunities for positive change.” But just defining their terms wasn't enough for Robbins and Finley co-directors of The Why Things Don't Work Institute, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to exposing organizational self-destructiveness: they wanted to provide examples. “The Top Ten Business Metamoron Awards” are awarded annually to those corporations and individuals whose behavior best illustrates the kind of counterproductive leadership that causes pain to investors and employees alike. The 1996 “winners” are:
10. Nike for its Olympics commercial that says: “You don't win silver, you lose gold.” With excess competition eating away at the morale of every organization, this winner-take-all philosophy is most dispiriting. Earth to Nike: Only about 50 of 5 billion people can win the gold. Not only is second best still “winning”—any honest effort is.
9. Major League Baseball and the Players Association. With attendance and ad revenues off 15 percent since the last lockout/strike, quasi-commissioner Bud Selig rejected a contract that would have reassured fans that the game would be played in 1997. Result: diminished faith in a once-prized tradition.
8. Archer Daniels Midland. While the father-son management team of Dwayne and Michael Andreas fixed prices, misled investors, fooled employees and lied to federal regulators, the board of directors watched on passively, unwilling to object to criminal behavior. Result: the swindling of shareholders and the demoralization of thousands of workers.
7. Texaco. Not CEO Peter Bijur, who has moved forthrightly to put the company's racism behind it, but the comfortable trio of racists who cheerfully plotted to keep their own employees from receiving simple justice and destroyed evidence of their own wrongdoing. Result: You can trust your car to the man who wears the star, but not your career.
6. The AFL-CIO. While organizations are fighting to treat workers as individuals with unique knowledge and talents, Big Labor continues to use its membership as a monolithic sledgehammer, pounding at its onesided political objectives without regard to the wishes of union dissidents. Result: power for unions today, but certain deterioration of trust tomorrow.
5. “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap, Scott Paper CEO, a cruel downsizer, a shameless self-promoter, and apparently a world-class prevaricator, has gleefully fired thousands of people, blaming the organizational woes on their greed. Of course, he takes the credit for any successes. Result: a caricature of egomaniacal management who builds a personal empire on the broken dreams of the people he was hired to lead.
4. Federal Aviation Administration. For its political grounding of ValuJet in the wake of the crash in the Florida Everglades. Regulators moved much more quickly to rein in an upstart post-deregulation carrier than they did with old-line carriers that suffered worse crashes (TWA 800) during the year. Result: decreased faith in regulators, and greater confusion on safety.
3. Microsoft. One year after the biggest advertising blitz of any product in the history of the world (Windows 95), Microsoft let slip that the real operating system of the future would be Windows NT. Although ferociously adept at technological and strategic change, Microsoft has yet to assume leadership in building trust with a skeptical public. Long-term transformation cannot be managed by withholding information from stakeholders.
2. Ross Perot. Ross Perot performed an invaluable service four years ago by putting American managerial genius on the electoral table. He was visible evidence that business leaders could serve the larger community and that their typically utilitarian approach to doing good had value. But in 1996 his rigged “victory” over challenger Dick Lamm proved only that executive ego is as fathomless as the most cynical of us suspected. Result: no credible third-party effort in 2000.
1. The 1996 Elections. The test of a successful organization is Does it meet the needs of its customers? In 1996 both Republicans and Democrats played their customers for suckers. Voters apparently decided neither side can be trusted without the other to block it. Result: gridlock, no meaningful change and even greater fear of future change.
Arguments? Questions? Further nominations? E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. ■
Michael Finley is co-director of The Why Things Don't Work Institute and co-author of Why Change Doesn't Work, a 1997 PMI Information SourceGuide selection. To order, call 610/734-3330, ext. 32.
PM Network • January 1997
PMI research shows project teams that draw from an array of perspectives and skillsets deliver powerful outcomes.