End of Program Reflection – or – How I Got An A In Parallel Parking 101 at VCU

I cannot believe I am writing my end of program reflective essay.  I have learned so  much over these past 2 years, not only about how adults learn, change strategies, and action learning but also about myself.  What I found so exciting about this program is that we would learn a concept or theory and then watch that concept and theory come alive in a real world situation.  So here I am on  my last Sunday morning as a student with my cup of coffee and the dogs all walked and laying on the bed as I am writing my reflections about the program. I did not want to write about in this class I learned about this theory, in that class I learned about that intervention. Therefore, I thought I would talk about some of the take-aways that I learned.  Although, I have a number of other take-aways  from each class, I wanted to point out the highlights as to how I can apply what I learned in this program.

My first recollection of VCU was actually coming onto the Monroe Park campus for my first appointment with Dr. Carter.  Talk about an artifact! As I was slowly driving through campus trying not to hit students, looking for Oliver Hall, and all becoming very intimidated about the entire campus environment.  I was thinking that in the past my intimidatation would have overpowered me and I would have cancelled my appointment.  After I met Dr. Carter and she was explaining the mechanics of the program, I felt the intimidation building.  I wanted to ask myself “Can I do this?  Do I actually think I can complete a master’s degree?”  Although the intimidation was there, there was even a more powerful force that was overcoming the intimidation.  That force was determination.  Now, I have come to the realization that my applying to the program was bigger than my intimidation of the program.  It was “you can do this Pam.” Even when I admitted on provisional because of my writing sample, the determination outweighed the intimidation.  Now, I know that I can write, but I rush and I have to let my writings “marinate” before I can call it a finished product.

As I entered my first class in Adult Learning with Dr. Muth, I thought now thats a true professor.  He reminded me of one of those professors at Antioch who would walk around the campus protesting for some cause.  In Adult Learning we used Capella’s book on adult learning, and a whole new world opened up for me regarding about how adults learn through new lenses.  That was very profound to me.  I began to look at different concepts with new lenses.  An example of this was my constant confrontation with my manager.  He is not a people person, and wants little interaction as possible.  This used to really irritate me, but when I looked at our relationship with a different way, I realized he is not going to change, so I had to change. 

Dr. Gerber’s class was also a very interesting class.  He is so cute, because he refuses to come into the 21st century.  I remember Erica Enge’s comment about how afraid  she was that one of his tapes would break.  I wonder if he would be willing to have them converted to CD or podcast, probably not.  One of the most interesting concepts I learned in his class is that learning disabilities covers a huge spectrum of conditions.  I was really amazed that some people who have problems processing information  actually may have a learning disability.  A very good friend of mine who was my classmate as an undergraduate, realized she had a learning disability.  She came to that realization when she had her youngest son was tested.  This revelation allowed me to look at matters involving difficulty with people with new lenses.  Another good friend of mine was having problems with one of her co-workers who would not answer emails, or deal with certain situations that  had a direct on my friend’s department, such as not handling shipping problems.  When I first suggested that maybe if could be an ESL problem, she said no because he has lived in this country for years.  Later, my friend came to me and stated that her co-worker could have a problem with writing emails and giving directions, because my friend looked at her co-worker through diffrent lenses, and started to ask herself questions.  I believe by  suggesting to my friend  to approaching this matter in a new way.  I suggested that the problem may be that her co-worker  may have a problem of processing information because of his ESL.  Eventually my friend and her co-worker had a opened a dialogue  about their situation and now are  moving in a positive direction. 

Dr. Abrams class, the dreaded EDUS 660, I was thinking what did I learn out of this class about myself that I can use as a take-away.  I heard so many things about this class, who not to take it from, take an easy class with the this class, don’t take it in the summer.  I learned that when you are faced with something you don’t want to face, is when you must try face it and face it head it on using all the resources and courage you can muster.  I was intimidated by doing quantitive research, probably from a fear of statistics.  Also, Dr. Abrams class was an eclectic class with students from a variety of programs, so it didn’t “gell” like my other classes.  I learned you have to put aside you biases as well as your fears and try to get the most that you can out of the situation. I also learned from Dr. Abrams’ class  that it is okay to have setbacks and start over again because it is a part of the learning process.  I had to changed my focus on my last project and with Dr. Abrams help, I was able to create a successful product.  This class reminded me of the fact that I cannot swim, although I have taken a number of swimming classes over the years.  The reason why I haven’t learned is because I am afraid of deep water and even though I know you can tread water to stay afloat, I am still afraid.  I now realize that maybe instead of taking classes with others, maybe I should have taken private lessons to concentrate on how to tread in deep water.  By using what I learned in Dr. Abrams’ class, I hope to put swimming lessons on my “bucket list”.  I don’t know how I got an A out of that class. 

I always learned something out of all the classes that I had with Dr. Carter.  Change Strategies, Groups and Teams, and Capstone.  The Capstone was very challenging but also very good.  What I learned my Groups and Teams class, I was able to use in the Capstone.  My Groups and Teams class has some major challenges mainly with the personalities.  Although it was frusturating during the class, it was beneficial  because it showed me that working in groups and teams, you must face unexpected challenges.  The Capstone was a major learning experience. We also experienced some challenges, but this time we used what we learned and were able to overcome our challenges by “naming the elephant in the room.”  Its not only the big things that you learn that are important, but also the little things.  One of the little things that I learned from Dr. Carter that had a major impact on me was during our presentation to the Read Center.  Dr. Carter instructed Buddy Murr to go in front of the group and and place a “pause” in the presentation, in order to have the group  to process the presentation up to that point.  That very simple point made me realize that it is important to allow people to validate and decipher the information instead of throwing it out all at once.  I also learned to link what you have learned to your presentations.  For example in our presentation on Johnsonville Foods in Org Learning, we incorporated Kurt Lewin’ s freezing, unfreezing into our presentation.  I learned in Dr. Garland’s Instructional Strategies class that evaluation can be as simple as answering one question. I will miss this program, I will miss the interactions,  my classmates, and I will even miss the challenges.  

Last night I was having a telephone conversation with my mother who asked me what I was having for Sunday dinner.  I told her probably bacon and eggs.  She replied “for Sunday dinner?”  I told her that sometimes we have to look at things with a different lens, even what we have for Sunday dinner.

Finally, I feel I have grown from this program.  The experiences I have learned over the past two years will be coupled with other experiences to set the groundwork for whatever my future endeavours I may pursue.

Learning Champion’s Culture

Its been a little over a month since Kellogg acquired Champion and within that month the culture shock is incredible.  One of the first things I came across is the communication blog on Champion’s website.  This blog allows colleagues to post their thoughts, comments and concerns regarding anything from policy to thanking colleagues who served in the armed forces on Veteran’s Day.  Many of former Champion (now referred as Champion legacy) are not accustomed to having a voice on issues.  In the past, many would stand in hallways complaining about this and that, but were never provided a resource in which to echo that voice.  Over the past month, many former Champion legacy colleagues are asking questions about sick and vacation time, retirement, and a host of other policies, however there a number of other hot button discussions under debate.

The most current hot button discussion underway is Kellogg’s smoking policy.  Under Kellogg’s smoking policy, no smoking is allowed  anywhere on the company’s property.  This includes any colleagues’ smoking in their automobiles on the property.  Many former Champion colleagues are rather upset about this policy, especially those who worked at the Richmond Virginia site (a tobacco state).  As a company that manufactures and distributes pharmaceuticals, Kellogg wants to promote initiatives that cultivates a healthy lifestyle.  Many colleagues  debated smoke breaks, second hand smoke and the cost of insurance.  Former Champion legacy employees are slowly learning to find their voice and starting to lose their fear that management has instilled within them for years. 

Another change that former Champion employees are becoming familiar with is Kellogg’s foundation.  The company strongly believes  not only in giving back but also helping their colleagues give back as well.   The Kellogg Foundation will match funds of colleagues who donate to 501c non-profit agencies.  The amount the foundation will  match is from $25.00 to $15,000.00 per colleague per year.  Champion was not as generous in their charitable contributions and was very restrictive regarding agencies receiving donations. 

Overall, it will take several months if not years before the former colleagues of Champion can really feel apart of Kellogg’s culture.  Many of the tacit culture experienced by Champion’s former employees eventually change over time as they continue to gain an understanding of Kellogg’s culture.  As for those former Champion employees who cannot or will not embrace Kellogg’s culture culture will not survive.  Over the past month, many former Champion employees are facing lay-offs and for those eligible, retirement.  Many other former Champion employees are desparately trying to quickly learn Kellogg’s culture in to fulfill their own agenda regarding their worth to the company.  It will be interesting to watch this concert play out over the next several months.

Can Champion’s Employees Survive in Kellogg’s Culture? Understanding The Death of an Organization

Last week Dr Carter asked the class to observe the culture of various organizations.  Well, last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I had an opportunity to  experience the death of one organization  and the rebirth of another. The organization I was employed by my  for 10 years, 11 months, 3 weeks and 5 days was dead, and its remains were  consumed by a a very hungry entity–Kellogg.  The deal was consummated at midnight last Thursday night/Friday morning.  On Thursday morning the  outgoing organization held a simulcast hosted by  its outgoing CEO.  He thanked a number of people on the transition team, said his farewells and he was gone.  Do, I feel sorry for him?  Absolutely not!  He has 15 million green tissues with dead presidents printed on them to console him.  At precisely 4p.m. last Thursday, the Tate Sign Company came to remove our old organization’s building sign.   The next morning, all appearances of the name of the old organization had all but disappeared.  I truly believe this was the moment that reality finally became apparent to some people that the transition of change has arrived, and the culture as they knew was drawing its last breath.

On Friday morning precisely at 10a.m., the new organization held the second of two simulcasts hosted by the CEO and his new executive leadership team.  The first simulcast was held at 2a.m. for the benefit of our colleagues in Asia. The old organization never did that before.  What I thought was interesting was when we entered our conference room to view the simulcast, there was a countdown clock showing the minutes before the presentation started.  Hum, never seen that before.  Then, we all received little goodies bags that had information on the new combined organization.  The bags contained information on all of the presciption and over-the-counter products.  There was also information on the new organization’s values, strategies, and culture.  The little pocket card  regarding the organization’s culture stated, “We are fast, flexible and focused[and aggressive].  Absolute profit growth drives our commercial decisions.  We are entrepreneurial and we establish single points of accountability.”  That is going to freak some people out. Old Champion people would rather be dipped in hot oil rather than experienced change.  The simulcast started exactly on time and was put together very well.  The presentation  started with a digital story of how the organization’s primary goal is to “move forward.”  The focus then shifted to the future that will include very tough decisions, and finally questions.

In order to understand this profound change, it is necessary to  visit the culture of this defunct organization.   When an organization such as Champion is stuck in neutral, it is like  “quicksand” that allows the continuation of resistance while preventing change from occurring.   When the change does occur, many of the organization’s competition has not only implemented that change months and years before and are so far ahead of the game that the organization stuck in  quicksand cannot catch up.  There are a number of reasons why Champion was acquired by Kellogg.  The remindar of this post is dedicated to reflecting on what I feel were some of the causes  and how the employees of Champion can move forward in Kellogg’s culture.

I believe there were a number of reasons why Champion was vulnerable to acquisition, however for the sake of time I will only discuss three.  First  I feel the organization was a “good ole boy” company.  If you looked at the executive leadership of  Champion, there was absolutely no evidence of diversity displayed on their senior leadership team.  The only woman on Champion’s senior leadership team was the President of Human Resources.  By not embracing diversity and inclusion within the organization, true culture with different perspectives was not injected into Champion.  They continued to resist true change, and when change did occur, it was already extinct.   This disengagement of diversity and inclusion was confirmed by a member of the previous organization who I will call Jim.  Jim was a senior director for logistics and was based at one of the sites in the northeast.  I have known Jim for a number of years and he is a very nice guy who loves to talk.  In May of this year,   Jim came to Richmond to complete the final  tasks regarding the  closure of the distribution center.  When he was in town, Jim would take his staff (including my girlfriend and my daily lunch partner worked for one of his managers and later directly for him) out to lunch and I would tag along.   During our last lunch together (my girlfriend was being laid off) Jim confided in us that he was really glad he had an opportunity to get to know us on a personal level.  Jim ( who is white and in his mid-forties) stated that the culture at his site dictated that it was not only  not in one’s best interest to fraternized with subordinates, but also not with people of color.  Even in the military, there was a culture that allowed officers and enlisted to engage and interact without risking protocol.  This culture was embedded with a very strong resistance to change.    In the September/October 2009 edition of Diversity Executive magazine, there is an article written by Chuck Shelton entitled Engage and Equip White Men to Lead Diversity.  Shelton gives two causes why white male leaders disengage from diversity and inclusion,  “inclusion efforts have not included them and many white men have not learned how to include themselves.”  Kellogg’s senior executive team embraces diversity and inclusion.  For example, Kellogg’s Chief Medical Officer is an older African American woman.   Additionally, there was so much nepotism displayed at Champion that after awhile it was no longer hidden.  People with influence helped others obtain positions that they clearly did not possess the necessary qualifications.  Now, there may be a possibility that some of these individuals may have to prove their worth to the new organization in order to keep their jobs by competing for their current positions.

The second reason is a result of the first.  By practicing nepotism, Champion did not cultivate its people to become strong leaders.  In the past, many people were promoted based on who they knew (also see my previous post).  After these individuals were placed in these positions, many did not receive any type of mentoring or guidance on how to be an effective leader.   For example,  last Thursday I observed my Associate Director giving our members of our staff instructions on some changes involving the integration of Kellogg’s processes into our processes.  She was not confident, unsure of the information she was trying to convey and did not have a handle on the situation.  I did not blame her.  She was never coached, mentored or even supported regarding how to manage a department.  Kellogg on the other hand motivates their employees (referred to as colleagues) on how to become effective leaders.  They know how to get  things done quickly and get them done right.  To give you an idea of how far behind the power curve Champion culture was, the organization did not have a Chief Learning Officer and were still using the word “training”.  Their training departments were fragmented and outdated.  Kellogg has a CLO and their intranet website saturated with learning opportunities.  Kellogg uses updated learning software, Champion used an old antiquated training software system.  It is important to develop people to want to embrace leadership roles.  However, in order for that to happen there must be processes in place to coach and mentor as well as effective resources available for leaders to lead.

The final reason that contributed to Champion’s demise was the fact that the organization was not aggressive in seeking out new prescription and over-the-counter products.   Research and Development, who were supposedly  dedicated to developing new over-the counter products were very lackadaisical in their pursuit.  There was no collaboration between marketing and research and development to understand the pulse of the needs of consumers.  Champion had a number of prescription products within the pipeline however, the pace of t which the organization was moving was slow and cumbersome.  Kellogg on the other hand is an aggressive company and moves to achieve their goals and objectives.  They are about providing medicines that are effective and affordable.  Kellogg wanted Champion’s bio-tech division, and is determined to acquire a strong return on investment of its 68 billion dollars.

How can Champion’s employees survive in Kellogg’s culture?  First, they must understand that there is no more Champion.  It’s dead, so mourn the lost, eulogize the lost and then find a way to move on.  Second, learn about Kellogg’s culture and begin to adapt to it.  Change is hard, but in the words of the Borg on the T.V. series  Star Trek, The Next Generation, “resistance is futile.”  Finally, if you cannot deal with the new culture, then find another job and leave.  There is no such thing as loyalty to a company.  That was during your parents’ time.

What do I think of Kellogg?  Well, they are aggressive to the point that when they want something the organization goes after it.  Champion is Kellogg’s their third acquisition so  the organization  has learned from its mistakes from  previous acqusiti0ns and used that knowledge to acquire Champion.  They display an environment of opened communication and do not shy away from the fact that they want to make profits (Champion would never  admitted to anything like that).  Many of  Champion’s employees will not be able to survive in Kellogg’s culture.  As for me, I have other aspirations I plan to pursue, so I am really not overly concerned with Kellogg’s culture.  I believe if I wanted to stay, I would have no problem adapting the the new culture (after-all, I am a former member of the military)  For all of those who wish to leave Kellogg,  layoffs are eminent and I hope those who want to leave are chosen to leave.  As for those who wish to stay with the new organization, I wish them the best of luck, many of them are going to need it especially if they cannot confirm to the new culture.  Well, I think I will give Jim a call and see he is getting on learning the new culture.

Org Learning With Kellogg and Champion – Fact or Fiction?

During  the fall semester of 2008, while  enrolled in my consulting skills class, I had an opportunity to review a case study on 2 companies that were in the process of merging.  Champion was being acquired by Kellogg; a merger that was sealed with a handshake at a baseball game.  Now you might be asking yourself, “what does a case study from consulting skills class have to do with our class involving organizational learning?”  It has everything to do with our class because I am working at  a company like Champion and a company like Kellogg is about to acquire my company.  Champion is not a company that was interested in learning as an organization. The  case study of Kellogg and Champion is eerily similar to my company’s current situation.  Therefore, for the reminder of the semester, I will call the company I work for Champion and Kellogg as the companyy acquiring Champion.

One of our reading assignments focused on the concept of can an organization learn?  I want to focus my post on if a company such as Champion could have  learned as an organization, would it still have been acquired by Kellogg?   The article by Cook and Yanow discuss how a symphony or a basketball team must work together as a very well oiled machine, in order  to become a success.  Many times when I have listened to classical music, I try to  understand how the strings interacts with the brass section; the brass section interacts with the percussion section.  It is somewhat like a very old recipe that your grandmother has prepared time after time with no precise measurement. However, the dish develops into a culinary masterpiece.  Can organizations participate in this type of environment and learn as a whole?  I believe organizations can learn, but that learning must be based on 2 very important principles.  The first is that organizations must have the drive to want to succeed as a whole.  They have to have a very firm belief and commitment to their product/service lines.  The other principle is that organizations must move and act in concert.  Organizations have different departments/business units. All of these units have a stake in the success of the organization.  Therefore, they must be allowed to participate in the learning, not just the executive leadership.  Case in point is the company that makes flutes named Verne Q. Powell.  I happened to visit their website.  The cheapest flute this company makes is over $6.000.00.  Definitely not a company to go to in order to buy a flute for your kid’s high school marching band.   However, flutes are handcrafted, and each craftsman takes pride in the making of that flute. When the opportunity to use a different scale was announced, the entire organization was allowed to participate in the decision making process.  Johnsonville had an opportunity to gain additional business that would place a heavy burden on various business units.  The company allowed those who were affected to buy-in this proposition by acknowledging all the stakeholders as well as letting the entire organization contribute to the decision-making process.  Chapparral Steel, WHO, W.L. Gore as well as a number of other  forward thinking companies have the capability to learn as an organization.  Kellogg, a company that is aggressive in its future as a leader in its industry (which we will call widgets)also has the capacity learn as an organization.  Champion is not the first company Kellogg has acquired.  Champion, on the other hand, is a company that wasn’t really concerned with learning as an organization and as a result didn’t see the “writing on the wall” that their time was coming to an end. Champion is a company that did not work as a whole.  Additionally, the organization wasn’t as focused on their product line as many other companies such as Powell and Johnsonville.  As you continue to read my post, hopefully you will develop an understanding why Champion is coming to the end of its road.

Champion is a “good ole boy” company in the fact that it was happy with the status quo regarding processes and business decisions.  Promotions were based on who knew who; employees were not encouraged to pursue career opportunities, many positions were “created” in order to allow that employee to remain with the company.  Employees who were obviously not qualified for a position were not only allowed to apply, but often was awarded the position.  Allow me to elaborate further on this breach of protocol.  There was an individual, whom we will call Margaret came to work for Champion as a temporary employee to work on a project dealing with a certain type of widget.  Margaret, (whose mother worked for the company) landed a position in the department  where I work (we will call this department Widget Support or WS).  When I arrived at WS, Margaret was promoted from a team leader to a supervisor.  Margaret had a degree (not from VCU) in a foreign language (that she cannot speak).  She also did not have or receive any courses or training in supervisory skills.  WS was a department that always had some type of unresolved conflict daily.  Margaret landed a position at an adjacent plant as a widget inspector.  WS’s other supervisor (who we will call Bill) also left WS to also work as a widget inspector.  When the Associate Director of WS left Champion, Margaret not only applied for the position, she got the job!!!!  She had no idea what she was doing.  Once again, she did not receive nor was she interested in obtaining any type of managerial skills.  Approximately, a year later, Margaret applied for a position  as the Director of WS and once again got the job.  She then interviewed prospects for her previous job as Associate Director, and who does she hire?  She hires Bill for the position.  For the next 3 years, these individuals proceeded to manage by who they like and who they did not like.  Margaret is now making 6 figures, has a degree in a foreign language she cannot speak, is handling a multi-million budget while possessing absolutely no managerial skills.  Many good employees were forced to leave if management felt threatened.  If an employee challenged  a process, management became highly offended.  It’s important to understand the culture of  how Champion operated because by operating in this type of environment, the organization was not interested in learning.  The company was not working in concert as a whole system.  This is evident by a number of product debacles that occurred over the years.  Additionally, business units were not interested in sharing vital information with each other, including revealing information to stakeholders regarding changes in processes.

The bottom line is that Champion was only interested in the status quo that helped those who were in a position of power.  Champion along with companies like AIG, Leahman Brothers, Goldman Sachs possess an attitude of arrogance of its leadership and designated management to reap the rewards of the company.  Others who were subject to layoffs included hourly employees while the company maintained layers of management.

  • So, where are Kellogg and Champion today?  Kellogg is very near to consummating the acquisition of Champion.  Many of Champion’s executive leadership will not be a part of Kellogg.  Additionally, Kellogg is very tight lipped about which top executives will stay and go.  Also, Kellogg has to lay off approximately 20,000 employees globally.  Champion’s employees think that Kellogg  will acquire those numbers strictly from its company.  Meanwhile, the atmosphere is so toxic, you could cut it with a knife.  Many of the employees at Champion who are tired of the drama are hoping to be laid off.  To give you an indication of the arrogance of some of Champion’s managment, my manager (who is eligible to retire immediately) wants to retire on his terms and not Kellogg. This manager, who is typical of many of Champion’s management, feels policies and procedures do not apply to them.   I bet I will be on vacation when security removes him from the building kicking and screaming.  Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction.

Applying Organizational Learning to Make a Difference

Last summer I was contemplating not only what to do with my degree but also, what do I do with my life?  I made the decision to move back to my hometown of Springfield Ohio.  Springfield is a small bedroom community with a small liberal arts college, Wittenburg Unversity.  However, among the challenges the city faces include a depressed economy and no resources to empower the youth.  Therefore, I hope to use the knowledge I obtained over the past 2 years to make a difference within my hometown.

I plan to establish a non-profit organization which I am going to name “Genesis For a Change”.  The purpose of Genesis is to look at the community from a systemic approach and ask, “How can we make our community better?’  I would act as a change agent partnering with other agencies within the community to determine how we can identify, address and make a commitment  to solve problems adversely affecting the Springfield area.  It is necessary to partner with community leaders, resource agencies and as well as members of Springfield itself  to gain a better understanding of the pulse within the community.   Dixon explains the necessity to understand private meanings and then share our private meanings with others.  While I was visiting my family last month, I had an opportunity to meet with the city’s economic planner as well as a few non profit agencies.  My goal was to make the rounds to introduce myself, gain a brief understanding of each agency  and to explain my intentions.  My other purpose was to gather information in order expand my understanding of the needs of the community.  These meetings enriched my private meanings  that enabled me to better define my”what if”.  I also believe it allowed those agencies I met with to review their private meanings, and we were both able to share those meanings and came to the realization of establishing our common ground.

Dixon discussed engaging  in widespread generation of  information.  Information is crucial to the success of organizational learning.  The information I am currently collecting includes but is not limited to:  starting a non profit, fundraising, partnering with other resources, conducting needs assessments, and confronting resistance to change.  However, by collecting data, it serves to help me  gain a better understanding my private meanings that will help me to develop new ideas to engage the community to embrace change.

 So, if we apply Dixon’s concepts to my proposal, where is my project within the organizational learning cycle?  It is at  the beginning, the genesis.  I am collecting information on a continuous basis from external sources.    From the internal perspective, I have asked the question, what if  I could help make a change in this community?  What if I could help the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization to increase its volunteer base of  Big Brothers?  What if I could help create a grassroots movement to establish a Boys and Girls Club in Springfield?  What if I could empower people who feel discouraged to know and understand their self worth?   What if I could help those who want help?  What if I could save 1 child from the agony of throwing their life away?  What if I could empower 1 woman to no longer tolerate an abusive relationship?  What if I could help 1 family struggle for their way out of poverty?  What if I could turn a kid onto a musical instrument?
Now you may be asking yourself, “Why in the world would Pam give up her job, move back to Ohio and work within the community?  Well, I will tell you why.  The organization where I am employed has no honor, integrity or respect for its employees.  It is run by a bunch of old bald headed guys whose actions are so predictable that you could set your watch by them.  The organization is so resistant to change that it became stagnant in its actions.  As a result, it is now in the final stages of being acquired by another organization.  The environment is highly toxic and people do not know if they are going to be one of many of the approximate 15,000+  forecast to lose their jobs.  The sad truth about this fact is that many people want to be laid off because the atmosphere is so toxic.  Allow me to elaborate on this fact.

Last week, 2 of my co-workers and I were having a “hallway conversation” (actually it was outside the building after work) concerning the environment that we are exposed to everyday.  First, there is absolutely no moral.  Many people will call in sick, a number of mistakes are being made, some are even critical errors, and no one really cares.  There is an old saying that goes, “I can only care as much as you care.”   One supervisor has even cleaned out her entire office including taking personal items’ home and removing all other items off of her wall.  When asked why, she replied that she was only cleaning her office.  Actually, she has all but completely cleared her office out.  This is type of atypical action management of this department performs.  Information was withheld, including information that was critical to performing tasks.  For example, a few years ago the department was visited by members of one of the organization’s product lines.  Members of the department were told not to ask questions because it would make the department “look stupid.”  As the meeting progressed, 1 member of the department asked a question.  This 1 question opened an informative dialogue for both parties.  When the department requires training on a new procedure, the procedure is read line by line to the department.  There is no exchange of ideas, no trust and no respect.  On one occasion, I questioned my supervisor about a process and was told to “just do your job!”  When I asked could we discuss the matter, I was flatly told no.  Whenever management is challenged about a process, instead of management embracing and meeting that challenge, they take the matter as a personal attack.  I strongly believe  this is the type of culture threaded into the entire organization as a whole.  Many were promoted to positions that were not qualified.  Still others put their own personal agendas into action resulting in lower level employees losing their jobs.  The bottom line is there is no organizational dialogue, no humility, no collective integration of information, nothing.  As for the new organization that is obtaining my organization?  Well, they just received a multi-billion dollar fine (their 4th) for essentially bribing customers to use 1 product line.

I no longer have a desire to work in the private sector.  I rather work for the government, university/academia setting or a non profit organization.  Although, I no longer have a desire, I am very happy to learn that there are organizations such as Johnsonville, Chaparral Steel and others who empower their employees and embrace the need for organizational learning.  Maybe there is hope after all.  In the meantime, all of us in our organization are anxiously awaiting for the consummation of the acquisition in the hopes the new organization solicits volunteers to retire or accept  severance packages.  I am eligible for retirement on 30 November 2009, which gives me great solace.  I plan to spend the rest of my life using my learning experiences obtained over the 2 years to make a difference.

Where Can I Submit My Resume for Chaparral Steel, WHO and Johnsonville Foods?

Around this time last year, the country was discovering that it was about to witness “one of the biggest disgraceful mess” associated with American enterprise.   The “disgraceful mess” I am referring to the outright greed of companies such as Leahman Brothers, AIG and others.  The disgust the American people have for the leadership (and I use that term loosely) is valid.  It was the outright greed that almost brought this country to its financial knees.  Although these people may believe they have gotten away with “capitalistic murder”,  in time they will pay for their dark collar crimes.  It is unfortunate that we don’t hear about the good work that the 3 case studies  like Dixon chronicled  in our text. Chaparral Steel, the World Health Organization and Johnsonville Foods all depict an organization and companies that not only display strong values, but actually walk the talk in using strong lenses and approaches to improve their worth.  Therefore, I will devote the rest of my post on their commitment to organizational learning.

Chaparral Steel – Respect for its people.  Chapparral Steel takes the team concept to a new level.  They actually empower its people by not only giving them the authority not only to come up with good ideas but to actually implement them.  Inclusion is a major factor in building confidence, allowing its employees to think outside the box and the leadership validating employees worth to the company.  Chaparral Steel provides the type of environment of not using time clocks, classifying all employees as salaried, and giving  employees an active stake in the company.   This small company has gained tremendous respect in the steel industry by having the guts to face its potential problems and doing something about them.

World Health Organization (WHO) – Using a different lens to address a problem.  The WHO like many organizations set goals to achieve.  Other organizations may look at their goals only through an obvious lens. or they are only to fill lines on a page of objectives.  This organization used a different approach in addressing their goal of tackling smallpox outbreaks within developing countries.  The WHO reviewed the previous strategy of surveillance and control (Dixon, pg 77).  However, the organization reviewed a  strategy was to eradicate smallpox once held another organization, but the plan was never engaged.  The WHO had the foresight to not only revisit this strategy but made the decision to go forth and eradicate the disease.  The organization adjusted their lens to see the fact that smallpox was no longer a problem in North America and Western Europe because of the use of a  vaccine campaign.   Therefore, why couldn’t this same concept could be used in developing countries?  The organization was not worried about image, they not only learned from their mistakes, they published them.  

Johnsonville Foods-Enacting change strategies.  Johnsonville like many organizations  suffered from “I don’t give a damn” blues.  The organization  had no spunk, no life and employees were going through the motions of just doing a job.  Many companies whose employees are facing lay-offs may be going through this same scenario.  Part of the problem is that many companies have an “ole boy” mentality and “this is the way we have always done things”.  Management does not feel they have to engage with the layers within their respective hierarchies.  If a problem arises, management will decide with either no or diluted information.  On the other hand, they will hire a consultant agency who will determine the problem is a management’s lack of engagement.  Management will then pay the consultant’s fees and place the final report in a drawer.  This was not the case with Johnsonville Foods.  The family company was saved by vea son who actually learned something at Yale.  He realized that if he wanted the company to become more competitive, he needed help.  That help was in the form of the workers at Johnsonville.  Ralph Stayer didn’t have the answers and knew where to go to obtain them.  The layers of management were reduced thus communications were not diluted or entirely missed.  The entire organization was asked for their input, whether to accept new business. Inclusion of the entire organization as a whole was a major factor in changing the focus of Johnsonville’s direction.  By empowering his “members”, Stayer changed the focus of the company and as a result increased its bottom line.

What Are The Take-Aways From These Companies?

First, all 3 organizations value their employees even to the realization that new hires have something to offer.  In the case studies of Chaparral Steel and Johnsonville Foods, new hires must display a willingness to learn.  The WHO, on the other hand, respected the local cultures to incorporate the vaccination process with traditions by partnering with the local healthcare.
Second,  each organization was welling to make mistakes, communicate those mistakes and most importantly, learned from those mistakes.  The WHO published their mistakes.
Communication was the key to ensuring information was unfiltered and distributed to all parties.
Business schools should create coursework on organizations like our case studies.  The instructional design could include  companies that students would want to work for and why.  If future CEO’s could learn the values these organizations practice is true and not just lip service, we can avoid future disasters like Leahman Brothers and AIG.

How I Spent My Summer with McGregor, Weisbord & Leatherman

Well, its time for me to get back into the mode of blogging for class.  I drafted a hardcopy blog post to satisfy my requirement for ADLT 623, HRD.  However, I needed to make a permanent electronic record of my experiences over the summer.  Therefore, before I submit my blog post on Organizational Learning, I thought I would reflect on how I spend my summer as well as my ” excellent adventures” regarding Weisbord, McGregor & Leatherman (sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it). 

Before I begin to tell you about my “excellent adventures”, first I must reflect on the  direction I plan to take in terms of exactly what I want to do after graduation.  I contemplated over this question for  several months.  When I asked many of my classmates this question, most were unsure while others were still reeling over the fact that they recently graduated and can now breathe  a non-academic sigh of relief.    However, I still wanted an answer to my question.  It was a question that involved great thought and reflection as well as time to unfold.  Then one day an idea struck me like a band of space aliens on their way to an “Alien Anonymous” party on Earth.   The thought was  how can I contribute to the success of my hometown community–move back home.    I looked into the air as if to say to God “You have to be kidding me?”  I come from a small town (although we have 2 Wal-Marts) that is  depressed and people don’t know where to turn.  There are a number of very good non-profit agencies within the community that could need some direction in terms of need.  For example, Springfield does not have a Boys and Girls Club of America.   Therefore; I decided to begin to explore the possibility of developing a grassroots movement to establish a Boys and Girls Club as well as look to other needs within the community.  I had an opportunity to meet with some of the non profit agencies during my vacation which I became excited about the prospect of working with some wonderful people.  This is where my teachers  McGregor, Weisbord & Leatherman came into play.

I had the opportunity to contact Marvin Weisbord on the Facebook social media network.  I sent him an email that stated I was an admirer of his work with Future Search and we were currently using one of his books for my summer HRD class.  To my shock and delight, he not only responded to my email but he also agreed to hold a teleconference with my HRD class.  In the words of my 8 year old grandson, “it was just awesome.”  I plan to stay in touch with Mr. Weisbord as I continue to pursue my quest to contribute to the future of my community.

McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y is a true masterpiece.  His concept can be applied to so many different situations.  I want to continue to study McGregor’s theories in the hopes that it will provide me a toolkit to help me hone my ideas in order to maximize my potential for success.  One interesting note  I would like to add about McGregor is the fact that I was on the campus of Antioch College (now an university) while I was on vacation in Ohio.  The campus is home of The McGregor School located in Yellow Springs Ohio.  Yellow Springs is a throwback to the 1960’s.  It still has the old charm that I experienced as a kid and still has the feel of the “love generation”.  Antioch was doomed to closing its doors partly because its resistance to change.  Fortunately, several anonymous benefactors donated millions for the school to remain open.  Thank goodness a piece of history did not fall to the axe of the economy.   You might be asking yourself “What was Pam doing at Antioch in the first place?”  Well, I will tell you.  Yellow Springs is approximately 9 miles from my hometown.  Just outside of Yellow Springs is Young’s Jersey.  Young’s is a working farm that sells homemade ice cream.  They also have a fun area for the whole family (putt-putt,  golf driving range, water slide) etc.  My granddaughter Genesis had an interview at Young’s for her first job.  So while she was at her interview, I perused through Yellow Springs.  It is such a different place to live.  People still leave their doors unlocked, you can by vegan ice cream at the corner DQ, and people walk around as it were still 1968. 

I als would like to add a comment or two about our guest lecturer, Dr. Leatherman from the University of Richmond.  He was a character to say the least, but overall a very interesting fellow.  He provided a mass amount of information and I have to say I enjoyed his class. 

Now that I feel I have chronicled the experiences of my summer, I can properly submit my first blog post for Organizational Learning.  I believe it is going to be an interesting semester.

Change Strategies – A Reflection

One of the things that I really enjoy about the adult learning program is that the concepts learned can be applied to real world events.  The concepts I learned in Change Strategies are now incorporated into my life skills.  In order to grasp an understanding of how to best utilize these concepts I learned over the past 15 weeks, I had to understand the factors involving change.  These factors are not limited just to organizational change, but are applicable to all aspects of life.

The first step in transforming the concepts learned into my own personal tools to promote positive change is to understand the words change strategies that relates to the concepts taught in ADLT 625.  Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed)  defines change as to alter, to make radically different, to transform.  The dictionary defines the word strategy as a careful plan or method.  Therefore, change strategies in the context of ADLT 625, means to alter or transform an issue through a method of careful planning.  Often times, change may not be linked to a strategy however, the situation dictates that change is necessary.  An example of this is when I recently made an official complaint against my manager for unprofessional conduct.  Although, it was a reaction to a negative situation, it nevertheless created a positive environment for my well-being.  Change should always promote a positive environment, even to those who are resistant to change. 

The strategies discussed  i..e uture Search, Open Space, and Appreciative Inquiry all provide a positive foundation to implement change.  Its important to understand that its human nature to avoid or even openly resist change.  Therefore, by focusing on the positive aspects of change, the resistance can be kept at a minimum.  I believe that change involves a number of factors.  These factors are necessary in order to structure the framework of change.   

Change involves risk

Most individuals are openly afraid of change to the point of remaining in an adverse situation.  Many will remain in a low paying job or even an abusive relationship rather than risk change.  People who are afraid of the unknown that change may invoke will resist and eventually succumb to bad situations and  old habits. For example, in the case of someone involved in an abusive relationship, many may feel they are undeserving of a loving relationship and a positive life.  Many others may feel things will never change, and they have no other recourse but to remain in a undesirable situation rather than take the risk to change.  Risk involves fear and it is up to the individual to confront confront their fear if they are ever going to implement change.

Change involves self advocacy

It is important for those who seek change must become their own cheerleader.  Many people who are afraid of change, will  attempt to sabotage others in their efforts to implement change.  An example of this type of sabotage is when a co-worker discourages a new process because they are afraid of change.  Many people will state that “we’ve always done it this way”, thus implying that an organizational change is not necessary. It is to those visionaries to ensure they continually promote themselves as their dreams.  It is imparative that when others are critizing your dreams, that you stay the course in promoting your visions of change.

Change involves patience 

It is important to realize that change does not occur overnight.  In the case of organizational change, the actual implementation may take several months to several years.  During that time, it is necessary to remain focus on the change process to ensure that no “saboteurs” derail the overall plan.  The key to success is to take the time to  reflect on change process, develop the ability to see a situation to view the future with various lenses and consistent renewal of hope.

By  understanding these factors involving change as a guide, it is possible to implement change using some or all of the components of Future Search, Appreciative Inquiry and Open Space.  I am quite sure many of the early pioneers such as Einstein, Edison, Ben Franklin all used some version of these change strategies to create and thus change the world. Can we imagine not having the telephone, internet, GPS tracking systems, automobiless?  All of these things changed the world. 

+ It would be interesting to see what changes the world will hold a hundred years from now, or even fifty years.  What wonders the future may hold through the strategies of change!

 

SWOT Analysis on Change

It is almost lunch time, and even though I have a pile of work, it really is somewhat of a joke.  Don’t get me wrong, I feel very blessed to have a job, but it is just the fact that we do not work smarter and people’s emotions are caught up in issues that have no place on the job.  I am a “pair hands” involving a process that is not effective, but I also really have no say in making the process more streamlined and effective.  Can you imagine a person that diffuses bombs for a living has to deal with worthless issues at work.  We have to work smarter and with purpose. 

I wanted to blog today about conducting a personal SWOT analysis on our personal change strategies.  If anyone has ever taken business classes in the past, has heard of this acronym.  SWOT stands for strength, weaknesses, threats and opportunities.  Strengths and weaknesses affect the internal aspects of a business, whereas threats and opportunities effect the external aspects.  Strengthes and weakness have a direct impact on opportunities and threats.

In conducting this analysis, it is important to undergo a personal inventory of ourselves in regards to change.  So many of us wake up, and come to a strong realization that their life is “stuck”.  This is where we can examine our strengths and weaknesses.  I feel I have a number of strengths that include but are not limited to:  caring for others,  an adventure to know and understand, desire to build people up, a respect for my morals and values, risk taker, love learning.  As far as my weaknesses are concern these include but are not limited to:  give some more trust than they deserve, can be in a rush (Dr. C can attest to this concerning my writing), can be disorganized, sell myself short, times when I do not live up to my full potential.  I stated my SWOT examples were not limited to the ones I gave because that is what I see.  Others may see other aspects of my SWOT.   Strengths and weaknesses work in concert that affect our opportunities and threats.  For example, if I sell myself short in applying for a position,  I may be creating an environment to set myself up for failure, which creates a threat. 

Therefore, it is very important to conduct a SWOT analysis on ourselves in order to look at our strengths and weaknesses.  If we conduct this periodic examination, we are not “side swiped” when opportunities and threats enter our lives.  Change is constant therefore; we must live everyday and we must know where are going.  I don’t want to one day wake up and I am 85 years old, and say “Where in the hell did my life go?”

Before I close, I would like to tell you about a young man named Gene who I supervised when I was stationed in Germany.  Gene was a redhead kid from the farms of South Dakota.  He was always positive, and lived life to the fullest.  He learned to speak fluent German, was on the Honor Guard, was continuing his education.  When I had to draft up an award or his evaluation, I would tell him “Gene, I have only 15 lines for a write-up and you have 25 lines of stuff”.  He was married briefly, and when his wife said she no longer wanted to be married, he wished her well and was fine with it (we all wanted to give her a beat-down for letting such a great guy go).  When Gene left to come back to the U.S. (he was going to Officer Training School – OTS), we had a party for him.  I baked him a cheesecake, which he loved.  Gene completed OTS in Texas, he had some additonal training in Florida.  He was in a van heading for the airport, when it was involved in a crash.  He was the only person killed.  Gene lived life to its fullest in the few short years he was on this earth than some people who were 3 times his age. He lived to his fullest potential, and more importantly, he enjoyed doing so.  I think of Gene often, especially when I bake a cheesecake or am driving deep in the rolling countryside of the midwest.  I am very blessed to have known him because he taught me that it’s not only important to live your life, but also live it with purpose and have some fun.  I miss you Gene!!!!

 

Change The Way You Think And You Can Change The Way You Live

Well, here it is Sunday afternoon, and I have been working preparing for our Future Search debriefing this Wednesday, and the task of facing a new week.  I use to dread Mondays, the beginning of a long week.  I remember when I was a kid, one of the milestones that indicated that it was the dawn of a new week was 8pm at night, when the Ed Sullivan show was on the air.  I suppose that most young people don’t know who Ed Sullivan was, so if you are interested,  I suggest you look him up on Google. 

Sometimes when we dread something, we must really look at why we dread that thing we don’t want to face.  I haven’t done my taxes yet.  Why am I waiting so long do do them?  I have done them before without any problems.  I also do them online with a tax software and have my refund directly deposited into my banking account.  So, what is the problem?  Many of us dread losing weight.  We know that if we eat food that is healthy for us, we will live a longer life.  We will not have to take multitudes of medications and our quality of life will dramatically improve. No, we want to eat the hot dogs and cheesecake for breakfast.  Why do we dread going to those family functions where we must interact with relatives that we can’t stand because they said something to us years ago that we have forgotten about.  Why don’t we discuss the situation with that family member and move forward?

Often times we are afraid to face the things we do not want to confront even though in do so, our lives will drastically improve.  We make excuses to ourselves that we will get around to doing what we are suppose to do eventually.  It is so difficult to make that first step toward progress.  A co-worker of mine talks about going to graduate school to get her MBA, however she has yet apply to graduate school or  take the GMAT.  Her greatest fear is the fear of not getting the required score on the GMAT.  Even if she does not score to enter graduate school, she can retake the test.  If we lose that 10 pounds, we can have a small piece of cheesecake once in awhile or eat half of a hot dog.   Junk food is not going anywhere, so why do we blow a month of eating food that is good for us for a quart of Cherry Garcia ice cream at 2 in the morning?  The deadline for income taxes is April 15th, and I will receive a refund.  The process of sitting down and actually pulling out one’s tax records can be daunting.  Some companies now take advantage of people who do not want to go through the task of completing their taxes however, need their tax refund immediately.  People will lose up to $300.00 of their tax money to have someone else complete their taxes.     

How can people change the way they think?  One of the ways they may do this is to change their vision of how better life can be by going through  self examination and the willingness to invest in ourselves through change.  I had a friend I was stationed with in Germany name Gia.  She loved things, and wanted an assignment to Italy.  She didn’t want the assignment for the food, the travel, or experiencing the culture.  No, she wanted the assignment because she wanted a dining room set from Italy.  She had a picture of this dining room set on her refrigerator.  In someways, you might say she was conducting her on Future Search conference.  She looked at her past, her present, and envisioned her future.  She then developed her own personal action plan to get an assignment to Italy to buy her dining room set.  For her, she invested 2 years living Italy for a dining room set.  Whether it was worth it, only Gia can answer that.  I know for myself when I am most successful in life is when I make a plan, go through the plan, give up my control to God (I need Divine intervention in these cases) and execute the plan. 

I often don’t give advice, but in this case I will.  The next time you are faced with change, take a look at your resistance, why you keep putting off the inevitable? I is important to examine our lives and think about why we don’t actively participate in improving our future. Each of us must find our own  personal Future Search tools to improve the quality of our lives.  I know that Future Search is used primarily for whole systems.  Aren’t we as indivduals whole systems?  Additionally, doesn’t each of us want the best future we can possibly have therefore, wouldn’t we do everything in our power to have to accomplish that task?  In a perfect world.  Most people are not motivated to take control of their lives in order to live the best life possible.  If we don’t, the quality of our lives may never reach its potential.

Now let me see, what did I do with my W-2’s?