Now one of the first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental makeup the ox than any other type. In our scheme, we do not ask for the initiative of our men. All we want them is to obey orders we give them, do what we say, and do it quick. ”Frederick Winslow Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management
A global company that had recently experienced some traumatic change hired me to come in and facilitate some change management sessions. I held the first session with their accounting department. In the room were about thirty individuals, including the VP of finance and the accounting department supervisor. I began by asking them to share their thoughts on the recent changes. No one said a thing ”complete silence. I shuffled my feet, looked over nervously at the VP, and asked again. They were all looking at me, but no lips were moving. Finally, the VP spoke up and began to explain the rationale behind the changes and why they were best for the company. The supervisor chimed in and scolded the group for not being supportive of the changes, which, by the way, had included letting go about half of the accounting department. The employees in the room began to look at me with some hostility in their eyes. In that moment, I saw the rankbased culture of that organization, and I realized that I had made a big mistake.
I recovered by calling for a break. During the break, I told the VP and accounting supervisor I would probably get better participation if they left the room. They reluctantly agreed, and I called the session back together without the two leaders. Boy, what an explosion of feelings went off in that room! They first chewed me out for having invited their leaders to attend , but then they unloaded on me all their pent-up frustration about having worked for years in a repressive, rank-based organization. For over two hours, they shared with me the history of their work experience, which I'm certain had not been all bad ”but that's how they were remembering it now.