S2 E106 — How We Brainwashed Curmudgeons

We called them curmudgeons.  They couldn’t see how that could work.  They had no experience in their 20 years, except what they were used to doing.  We had to brainwash them.  And we came to find out they were the most valuable champions for the new way we could find.

“5”  Steve Smith, 30: “When change is in the air, you sense it before anyone else. You notice that something feels different before you know exactly what it is. On high alert, you’ll figure it out soon enough.” Gemini

Hi and welcome to Sunday’s Episode 106 in Season 2 of  “My Pandemic Year Natural Experiment” on this 30th day of August in the summer of 2020.  

“The Tau of Steves: What You Don’t Know Could Fill a Book”

Table of Contents

Season One and Two are a two-year examination of how bits of wisdom changed during the “normal” pre-pandemic and then in this unfolding pandemic year.

Previously in Season Two, the Pandemic Year

S2 E105When Cosmic Leads to Decline, Pair Extremes Intentionally; S2 E104Worst Monday Ever. Very, Very Grim …; S2 E103 Confronting Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt, Resistance and Unrelenting Stress

Related from Season One, the Normal Year

S1 E106 — Attempts to Upset 9 of My Life Stages Apple Cart; S1 E105Will Fortune Smile on Us Later in the Evening?; S1 E104How Yesterday’s Success Triggers Tomorrow’s Failure; S1 E103Innies and Outies and Other Potential Catastrophes


This is a continuation of “Volume Two Manuscript — WorkFit” a work-in-progress.

In previous episodes we described Start Up, Emerging Growth, Rapid Growth, Sustained Growth, Maturity, Decline and now Reinvention stages.

Consequences for Not Mastering Growth Crises

Image Credit: Stephen G. Howard  Copyright 2020

We described a mini-case of a major decline,  Part One, Part Two and Part Three. And, before that we profiled two mini case studies about what it was like working behind the scenes at a mature company in a financial, in a consumer industry and two more in another century-old university system — Part One and Two. Now we turn to a behind the scenes Reinvention mini-case. 

Reinvention Without Decline

Image Credit: Stephen G. Howard  Copyright 2020

Reinvention Part One

23.  Organizational Development – Technology

Needs Assessment

My Plan A dreamed I’d be working for a high-tech company with very bright engineers that worked on bringing products to market in record time.  

When I was recruited to my first large technology company I followed my own advice and negotiated for a preplanned Maui Vacation first, in a timeshare which sat just on some sort of magical weather curtain.  On one side it rained and rained.  On the other it stayed tropically bright and sunny. “Here I am sitting in the living room of our Maui condominium on vacation, after my first 60-days of coming on board,” I wrote.  

Part of my orientation was to gather hard and soft information to cast a long range vision for “Training and Development” for the position I was hired into from Fluor. 

I saw my role as anticipating how the HR function would change to accommodate our plans, and pitch a communications plan for a branding campaign as an attracting highly sought after engineering and software talent. 


Ray acting as 102 Thought Leader needed an 113 Idea Packager.

He introduced me to my HR boss, Dick, told me how Ed, the General Manager and his management team had been working on a strategy that would take the division to the forefront —a model for what the large corporation could become. 

But, I couldn’t cut Ray out of his gig and in return Ray would grease the wheels for the “internal team” to “operationalize and execute”.  Basically, he had the ear of my boss’s boss and could provide “cover” when needed.

So between the lines, my boss represented the old school, a 116 Institutional Traditionalist and a conspiracy was afoot.

Ed represented manufacturing which accounted for 90% of the physical building.  The other 20% was split between engineering and product assurance.  Software engineering worked out of another two-story office in another location about 4 or 5 miles away.

Going in I wanted to focus on strategic issues …

    • How this organization can be fluid and proactive enough to anticipate computer industry changes,
    • the shifting business cycles, and specific changes in broad areas of the US and international economies,
    • to shifting demographics of both customers and employees,
    • social and technological forces (that the Orange County division should respond to driving the state of art) and in a sense become the tail that wags the East Coast dog.

What I wanted to do was to have our division management examine those issues with my facilitation so we’d have a guide for development efforts that Ray and Ed’s team already endorsed.  

Staffing Came Next.  

The year prior to my arrival “training” functioned with a half-time person who would be transitioning to a full-time role with my help.

    • So my immediate goals included maintaining and upgrading the current training offerings for consistency while assessing what else needed to be developed to address unmet “internal operational” issues.  
    • In concert with that I wanted to develop other internal talent for delivering generic classroom and “lower” management level classes. 
    • And then have a successor fill in while Sue, the full time HR representative, develops her own instructional design capabilities.  

Anyway it was a start.  And I was on vacation.  

List of Hard and Soft Needs

I’d fill in more details after returning to the main land.  But, I kept in mind the randomly generated list of hard and soft needs I already collected:

    1. Corporate (in Detroit, Michigan) has no idea how training breaks down today.  SPG-OC (the formal name for our division) doesn’t have a training system in operation.
    2. All the divisions are isolated—not only in the human resources and training functions.
    3. Very little corporate training direction exists aside from printing a catalog of classes and coordinating them.
    4. SDG hasn’t had a professional trainer full time-only model.  The other divisions (Pasadena, BMG, Orange County and Ranch Bernardo) have or will soon have new human resources development folks in position.
    5. The regional meeting showed most of the other divisions are grappling with how to handle career development needs.
    6. Our division doesn’t operate as a high-tech company internally.
    7. PA&S (software developers) specifically believe they need more technology training. Also the group in the City of Industry hasn’t received any in over a year, even though they are customer facing and therefore a priority.
    8. Managers in SDG feel uncomfortable with only a career facilitation class — too much time away from work — no systemic place for them to rely on.
    9. Other divisions in the area (Santa Ana, City of Industry especially, and maybe Lake Forest) feel slighted or not part of “Mission” — in division memos.
    10. 10. Ed and John — manufacturing GM and Software and Engineering VP — have two distinctly different leadership styles.  Ed is ore people supportive.  John is task and time/ results oriented.
    11. SMG (manufacturing) is budget squeezed.  SDG (software and engineering)  has to use up all of their past year’s budget or they won’t get more allocated in the next year.
    12. Not  much hiring is expected as occurred last year — not as much “expansion”.  Many feel a tightening is about to happen.
    13. Software has a technical training coordinator, but engineering hasn’t recognized a need for hardware training.
    14. B-20 operating system doesn’t run PC software, which means off the shelf applications can’t be used for managing human resource, training and development operations. issues and strategy for 1st 90 days and beyond

Those were heady days as we checked off priorities.  

Knew It When He Saw It

Working for a 101 PMBI Breakpoint Inventor was right up my alley.  Ed, the General Manager had a vision for advanced manufacturing in the future.  He subscribed to the “lets-use-our-own-technology” to see what it makes us become.  

So our role was to help Ed communicate in more tangible ways what his vision was so people could begin to participate. This was my first lesson learned from Dave, my communications co-conspirator.  

Ed knew what he wanted if he saw it, but he couldn’t describe it.  The demands on him in the work setting gave the part of his brain no time to bubble up his vision for the division.

Into Nature to Discover the Factory of the Future

So, Dave and I drove him into Trabuco Canyon with the “old California” vibe. 

We drove a few more miles from the winding roads leading to Saddleback Mountain to let nature work its miracle.

    • With a video camera on his shoulder, Dave directed Ed to sit down on a boulder next to a meandering creek and gaze out onto the valley below where our division sat off in the distance.  
    • While he picked up some pebbles to toss into the creek at first I prompted him off camera with open ended questions.
    • I told him not to worry about any kind of logic or succinct description, but just to start painting a picture of what he saw. 
    • After a couple hours, Dave softly said cut.  We had enough to take back to the division’s studio to edit hours into minutes.

He wanted to chunk out unneeded steps in the process, break down manufacturing lines into small groups and cross train everyone.  And he wanted to “pull expertise” from engineers who supported the operations to “up skill” the teams.

This wasn’t a startup and it wasn’t met with open arms by the engineers or the factory supervisors or even the manufacturing teams.

Our Loss is Our Gain

Really at the core the biggest obstacle was how the “rank and file” who were used to being told what, when, and how to “do it” couldn’t grasp his unproven vision of doing things in a new way. 

All they knew was they were losing proven processes for scary new ones.

Instead of keeping the line moving faster and faster, even working overtime and on the weekends, Ed borrowed Japanese techniques by introducing just-in-time focused product lines.

We got called in because the old line manufacturing supervisors resisted as hard as they could.  They never allowed the line to shut down even if a newer solution worked, or if a part wasn’t available.  No Peter. No Paul.

We called them curmudgeons. 

    • They couldn’t see how that could work. 
    • They had no experience in their 20 years, except what they were used to doing. 
    • We had to brainwash them. 

And we came to find out they were the most valuable champions for the new way we could find.

Sorta like AA evangelists.

Dave came up with the idea of blocking off the factory floor section, like the construction tarps you can’t see over on a street undergoing a new building construction.  You could hear stuff going on, you couldn’t see it though.

Dave figured out how to get everyone’s attention.  

We Set Up Contests 

We set up Minimum Viable Product demonstrations on the factory floor and challenged the old timers to compete.  When they couldn’t, they knew it was time to trust where he wanted to take us to the future.

One manufacturing line from the old school way competed with the new way. Seeing is believing.  Or experiencing is believing.  And once they converted, we made them Product Line Managers.

A New Home 4 Miles Away

Our marketing people always wanted a mole in manufacturing. As far as I know they never were successful, but as word got out about our “Factory of the Future” advanced manufacturing facility in Rancho Santa Margarita, Ed and his team insisted on a reservations system.

As a good corporate citizen, Ed knew for every potential enterprise-sized customer who accompanied their sales executive, 90% ordered almost immediately. 

    • We couldn’t keep up the pace, if hordes of sales people popped in with a customer’s representative at the beginning of a sales cycle.
    • We, Dave and our communications team, helped in the design of a walk way balcony on the second level with kiosks at different stations which told the story of what each was about.
    • But, you had to reserve a time, which became more scarce as demand picked up.

Up next:  A wild card merger thrown into the mix.


“4”  Steve Zahn, 51:Even though you are not, strictly speaking, a newcomer to a situation, going in with a beginner’s mind will increase your luck exponentially. Innocent and unbiased reception allows you to see and absorb more.” Scorpio

Boy, is this ever true when you have just landed a new position which feels like a new beginning and a clean slate.  Only you are actually entering a fully functioning culture with its own norms and rituals.  The sooner you realize it the better off you will be.

Random ones that make me want change my sign.

“4” Steve Winwood, 71; Stevie Wonder, 69; Stephen Colbert, 56: “The novice is proud of and wants full recognition for talents and skills. The wise would rather go unlauded, realizing the strategic advantage in being underestimated.” Taurus 

Oh how zen this TauBit is.  I used to be a novice, but agree there’s a strategic advantage to being underestimated.

“5”  Steve Smith, 30: “When change is in the air, you sense it before anyone else. You notice that something feels different before you know exactly what it is. On high alert, you’ll figure it out soon enough.” Gemini

Once you live though a major restructuring while a corporation experiences a series decline, you adopt a healthy paranoia which signals here we go again and here’s what needs to be done.  

“3”  Steve Howey, 42:There is a beautiful new influence coming into your world, one that seems like it would need to be organized for and around, but that is not the case. It doesn’t need to be arranged, only allowed.” Cancer

At this time in the morning, I can’t for the life of me figure out when that will occur, but I can say maybe this is off by one day, because last night was wonderful.

“5”  Steve Carrell, 57; Steve Martin, 74; Steve Wozniak, 69: Learning takes place in several modalities. You move your body to learn. You talk your subject out, listen on it, write about it. Trying to learn using only one modality is like trying to walk on only one leg.” Leo

Wow, I’ll say.  This pandemic year and the adjustments required strain learning modalities almost on a daily basis.

“5”  Steve Greene, 34; Steve Guttenberg, 61:What were the underlying issues that started your journey to change? It may be hard to remember this, but try because it’s worth noting the differences and similarities between then and now.” Virgo

It was a change from a declining organization to what looked like a high technology company from the outside, establishing solutions to a list of problem areas, and then from out of nowhere the call of the unknown was triggered by a surprise merger.

“5”  Steve Aoki, 41: “Rituals are, essentially, habits with a heightened sense of meaning. You have a fantasy about incorporating certain rituals into your life. Start small, by attaching a small action to an already established habit.” Sagittarius

For today, yes.  But more so for what we called peeling away the layers of an onion.  During the merger right after the regulatory quiet period, we were stuck with two onions with very few rituals in common.  Our goal, though was to find where the two cultures began, identify their separate foundational stories and then build a common one for translating elements into a new enterprise.

“5”  Steve Nash, 45:You’re looking out for others. You’ll focus on risk. You’ll dig with excellent questions. What are the unknown unknowns? Which solutions fare better than the alternatives?” Aquarius 

Maybe not for today, but definitely during the task force initiatives for defining and communicating how the merger would play out.

“4”  Steve Jobs, (1955 – 2011): You know your values, and you think often about what you really want. But these things change. The shifts are palpable today. Reassess. You will surprise yourself.” Pisces

Is there ever a bad time not to reassess yourself?  Especially during a merger?

What’s Going On

Literally Bottled and Set Adrift from KnowWhere Atoll 

    • @knowlabs followers of one or more of my 35 digital magazines organically grew from 4906 to 4990.




    • Saw the movie, didn’t realize that one of my favorite authors, Michael Connelly — his detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch book series and Amazon Prime series — also wrote, “The Lincoln Lawyer” which I just finished. Gotta tell you I can’t not see his lead character (Mickey Haller, Bosch’s half brother) as anyone else but Matthew McConaughey. 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Inspired by: Holiday Mathis – Creators Syndicate


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