The Reeeeeeally Big Two?!

For whatever reason/s, I’ve been in a “boil it down” mood for quite a while (see my outbreak of new Special Presentations). Somehow, somewhere, recently I was confronted with a “What have you learned in thirty-five years?” moment—maybe it was concerning Katrina. From my lips emerged but two words (after a long pause): DECENTRALIZATION. ACCOUNTABILITY. Upon (much) further reflection … I will pretty much stick with the two (profound) (and related) words/ideas.

There’s a potent analysis of Big Co performance I regularly use in my seminars; the bottom line is that over an 80-year period only one Giant Company in the U.S. has thrived to the point of staying ahead of the stock market for eight decades. It’s: GE. Not “Welch’s GE” of 1980-2000, but Welch et al. et al. Forever & ever, amen. I’ve known the company pretty damn well for three decades, and at even its worst and most bureaucratic moments the Big Two have been the rule: Go to Cincinnati to “do” aircraft engines—and you are The Big Boss, almost as much as if you were a corporate CEO. You are pretty much on your own to Succeed … or Fail. And the Upside & Downside consequences are Clear & Severe. PepsiCo … same deal. And J & J. (And my old employer, McKinsey & Co.—they weren’t screwing around about the “Up or Out” “idea.” “Idea”? Try: Stark REALITY.) Yup, damn few other Big Cos get it—or even seriously try it. New HP Mr Big, Mark Hurd, is attempting to undo Ms Fiorina’s accountability-draining centralization “strategies” and a horrid (spirit-draining!) matrix org structure—and re-introducing two HP pillars … DECENTRALIZATION & ACCOUNTABILITY!

This ain’t a “boxes on the org chart” drill! Brian Joffe runs South Africa’s amazing BIDvest. They perform mundane services (e.g., building maintenance) in much of the world—and make a ton of $$$ in the process; and they are growing like blazes. I attended a BIDvest corporate fest in Bangkok last year, and I listened to the irrepressible Brian J preach the Gospel of Decentralization & Accountability, which he insists must go all the way to the “bottom” of the organization. (Hey, there were South African front-line maintenance folks at the Bangkok event!) Here was the keynote line from BJ that I scribbled in my notebook: “Decentralization’ is not a piece of paper. It’s not me. It’s either in your heart, or not.” In other words: True Decentralization is Decentralization-in-Spirit … a Heart Matter, not a Chart Matter.

Tom Peters posted this on October 13, 2005, in Strategies.
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