PINK ICE IN THE URINAL
Every year in April, at the time of the Masters Golf Tournament is Augusta, the state of Georgia hosts about forty national and international industrial leaders for a one-week tour of the state. The purpose of the tour is to entice industry to move to Georgia. Two or three days at the Masters is an effective way to encourage participation in the tour.
Over the years the tour has been effective. Georgia has an outstanding record of bringing new industry to the state. Since Herman Miller has a plant in Roswell, just northeast of Atlanta, one year we were invited to be one of the host industries.
Naturally, we formed a committee to make plans for this event. In the discussion of the committee, one well-meaning person suggested that one way to dress up the facility was to put pink ice in the urinals. Dispite the good intentions behind this idea, I take pink ice as a signal. Would pink ice in the urinals really help attract more industry to Georgia?
Some months ago, I was on what is known in the financial industry as a "dog and pony show." Our team was in Boston, making a presentation to some sophisticated financial analysts. After the presentation and during the question-and-answer period, one of the analysts said to me, "What is one of the most difficult things that you personally need to work on?" He seemed very surprised when I said, "The interception of entropy."
I am using the word "entropy" in a loose way, because technically it has to do with the second law of thermodynamics. From a corporate management point of view, I choose to define it as meaning that everything has a tendency to deteriorate. One of the important things leaders need to learn in to recognize the signals of impending deterioration.
I have made a list of these signals over the years. As you read this list, remember that many people in large organizations relish apathy. They often fail to see the signs of entropy:
- a tendency towards superficiality
- a dark tension among key people
- no longer having time for celebration and ritual
- a growing feeling that rewards and goals are the same thing
- when people stop telling tribal stories or cannot understand them
- a recurring effort by some to convince others that business is, after all, quite simple (The acceptance of complexity and ambiguity and the ability to deal with them constructively are essential.)
- when people begin to have different understandings of words like "responsibility" or "service" or "trust"
- when problem-makers outnumber problem-solvers
- when folks confuse heroes and celebrities
- leaders who seek to control rather than liberate
- when the pressures of day-to-day operations push aside our concern for vision and risk (I think you know that vision and risk can never be separated.)
- an orientation toward the dry rules of business school rather than a value orientation that takes into account such things as contribution, spirit, excellence, beauty, and joy
- when people speak of customers as impositions on their time rather than as opportunities to serve
- a growing urge to quantify both history and one's thoughts about the future (You may be familiar with people who take a looks at a prototype and say, "In 1990 we'll sell $6,493,000 worth"--nothing is more devastating because then you plan either to make that happen or to avoid it.)
- the urge to establish ratios
- leaders who rely on structures instead of people
- a loss of confidence in judgment, experience, and wisdom
- a loss of grace and style and civility
- a loss of respect for the English language
If you and your cooperation are committed to being as good as you can be, beware of pink ice in the urinals.