From The Order of Her Noodly Appendage
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Theory Fastball[edit]

The Polish government once announced that they were going to “initiate strict meat rationing in order to restore faith in socialism.” The Iraqi government once sent envoys to twenty nations to explain their country's peaceful attitude “before and during the war." Obvious contradictions like these often spring from a shortsightedness, a preoccupation with one's own point of view. There is danger in considering a single point of view.

Unfortunately, the tantalizing subject of effectiveness and productivity has been too often considered only from one point of view—the manager's. We are obliged to look at this subject from the perspective of the one from whom management expects effectiveness and productivity. What is the producer's side of this question? We need to spell out a new concept of work.

Some people search for the key to productivity in money and “perks” and the complexity of materialism. Some lose themselves in politically dictated togetherness or in the many adversarial relationships with which we are so familiar.

For many of us who work, there exists an exasperating discontinuity between how we see ourselves as persons and how we see ourselves as workers. We need to eliminate that sense of discontinuity and to restore a sense of coherence in our lives.

Work should be and can be productive and rewarding, meaningful and maturing, enriching and fulfilling, healing and joyful. Work is one of the great privileges. Work can even be poetic.

One way to think about work is to ask how poets and philosophers would lead corporations. At Herman Miller, our poets and philosophers have mostly been designers – George Nelson, Charles Eames, Robert Propst, Bill Stumpf. In every case, these very special people have made a significant contribution to Herman Miller. In every case, these people have been outstanding teachers.

George Nelson has helped me to see that the word “creativity” applies in the way that a physicist would talk about the process of discovery. The creative process in today's corporation is by its very nature difficult to handle. Anything truly creative results in change, and if there is one thing a well-run bureaucracy or institution or major corporation finds difficult to handle, it is change.

In almost every group nearly everybody at different times and in different ways plays two roles: One is creator, and the other is implementer. This key relationship is often underestimated and mistakenly cast in the light of “boss” and “subordinate.” Hierarchy is inappropriate here. Oftentimes, implementing has to be as creative as the creative act to which it is responding. This is the point at which management and leadership find things most difficult in being open to the influence of others.

My wife's brother happens to be Jim Kaat. For twenty-five years, he was a great major-league pitcher. In the mid-sixties, he had the memorable opportunity of pitching against the famous Sandy Koufax in the World Series.

Once I asked Jim about Koufax's greatness. He explained that Koufax was unusually talented, disciplined, and trained. "In fact," he said, "Koufax was the only major-league pitcher whose fastball could be heard to hum. Opposing batters, instead of being noisily active in their dugout, would sit silently and listen for that fastball to hum. They would then take their turn at the plate already intimidated."

I told Jim how Koufax's opponents could have solved this problem. It would have been a simple solution. I said, "You could have made me his catcher."

You see, every great pitcher needs and outstanding catcher. I am such an unskilled catcher that Koufax would have had to throw the ball more slowly to me, and we could have deprived him of his greatest weapon.

In baseball and business, the needs of the team are best met when we meet the needs of individual persons. By conceiving a vision and pursuing it together, we can solve our problems of effectiveness and productivity, and we may at the same time fundamentally alter the concept of work.

Any concept of work rises from an understanding of the relationship between pitchers and catchers. The following list of rights is for pitchers and catchers alike. These rights are essential if there is to be a new concept of work. It is not a complete list of rights, of course, but these eight are essential.

1. The Right to be Needed. Can I use my gifts? In the long run, this most effectively meets the group need. Our son Chuck was big for his age and, therefore, able to carry a trombone. The grade-school bandleader assigned him to that instrument because the band needed a trombonist and no one else was big enough. The band's need was legitimate. Unfortunately, Chuck had no desire at all to play the trombone. He gave it up shortly and the band lost its trombonist.

The right to be needed, of course, includes a meaningful personal relationship to the group's goals.

2. The Right to Be Involved. Involvement needs to be structured, and includes the privileges of problem ownership and risk. It has a minimum of three elements. While simple in theory, these are difficult to put in place. We need a system of input--leaders must arrange for involvement on everybody's part.

We need a system of response—leaders must make that involvement genuine. A great error is to invite people to be involved and to contribute their ideas and then to exclude them from the evaluation, the decision-making process, and the implementation. 6| We need to take action—together we must translate our interaction into products and services on behalf of our Customers.

This matter of involvement is not to be taken lightly. The process of involvement can cost dearly. The price is that leaders must be genuinely open to the influence of others.

3. The Right to a Covenantal Relationship. When I think about covenantal relationships, I think of them in relation to contractual relationships. Both exist. Both are commitments. Certainly, contractual relationships, whether written or understood, are normal in business and industry. The contractual relationship tends to be legal and is based on reciprocity.

Covenantal relationships fill deep needs, enable work to have meaning and to be fulfilling. They make possible relationships that can manage conflict and change. (See “Intimacy.")

True covenants, however, are risky because they require us to be abandoned to the talents and skills of others, and therefore to be vulnerable. The same risks as one has when falling in love. If you wonder whether this whole idea has a place in corporate life, please ask your nearest poet or philosopher.

4. The Right to Understand. Together, we need to understand our mission. We have the right to understand the strategy and the direction of the group.

Everyone has the right to understand his or her personal career path. We all need to know the opportunities in this group and how we can realize them. Inherent in this is the right to enlarge one's competence through study and new experiences.

We need to understand our competition. At Herman Miller, we give a variety of annual awards for outstanding performance. One of the winners a few years ago, a man highly skilled in designing and building unique equipment and fixtures, decided to use part of his award to travel and see company installations. In the process of visiting a number of our sales offices, he also saw those of various competitors.

This was a new experience for him. He wished he had known the quality and closeness of our competition long ago because he could have worked more effectively.

We need to understand and be "at home" in our working environment—both the human environment and the physical environment. There needs to be a visible order and a "sense of place," so that we may know who we are and where we fit. Our environments should have a human scale, and we have a right to beauty.

We have the right to understand the elements of our contract covering compensation, working conditions, shared benefits, incentive opportunities, expectations, and normal constraints.

Essential to good understanding is that leaders clarify the responsibility of each member of the group. These and other elements of the right to understanding obligate leaders to communicate, to educate, and to evaluate.

5. The Right to Affect One's Own Destiny. Few elements in the work process are as important to personal dignity as the opportunity to influence one's own future. The processes of performance evaluation, promotion, and transfer should always take place with the person's involvement.

6. The Right to Be Accountable. To be accountable, we need to have the opportunity to contribute to the group's goals. We need the opportunity to share in the ownership of the group's problems and also the inherent risk. We need to have our contributions measured according to previously understood and accepted standards of performance, and this transaction needs to take place in an adult-to-adult relationship.

At the heart of being accountable is the matter of caring. In many areas of business, sadly, “to care” is an innovation.

7. The Right to Appeal. We need to build into our group structures a nonthreatening avenue of appeal. The purpose of this is to ensure against any arbitrary leadership that may threaten any of a person's rights we have been discussing. One of the most important responsibilities of leaders is to work hard at offering these rights to those we lead.

8. The Right to Make a Commitment. What exactly is the right to make a commitment? Recently, I was talking with a group of people in Boston whose company had been acquired by a larger company. More recently, their parent company had been acquired by a still larger company. I asked one of them how this process had affected his life. He said, “It makes me hedge my bets. I no longer can make a commitment. I no longer know who I am."

To make a commitment, any employee should be able to answer “yes” to the following question: Is this a place where they will let me do my best? How can leaders expect a commitment from the people they lead, if those people feel thwarted and hindered? And believe me, there are many obstacles constructed by unthinking leaders.

One of the key inhibitors to the right to commitment in cooperations today occurs when, in the perception of those who follow, the leadership is not rational. One of the key responsibilities of leadership is the obligation to be rational.

These are some of my rules for working. If any one of us is to catch someone's fastball, there must be a mitt. The rights of work make a sort of mitt. Without them, even a cater as good as Koufax's great partner Johnny Roseboro might drop the ball.