Making the Horse Drink

An Organization Development consultant asked a question the other day: What can you do if the General Manager is the biggest problem facing an organization?

There's an old saying: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. (I guess I was lucky in the "old sayings department" having had a farmer's daughter for a mother.)

In other words, if the GM is impervious to influence, he is not likely to change, unless he is hit-upside-the-head by the proverbial two-by-four, e.g.

- a significant life-altering event (e.g. a heart attack) that comes along to stop him in his tracks and take stock of his life

- an "act of God" (e.g. hurricane Katrina wiping out a business) that causes the GM to re-build and hopefully re-think

- a higher authority (e.g. the CEO or the Board) stepping in and demanding that the GM account for himself

- a disruptive market force (e.g. a new competitor) eating his lunch

- an employee relations complaint (e.g. sexual harassment) lodged with the HR department or with Legal

None of the above can be orchestrated by an OD consultant, no matter how talented.

However, I think there are some creative intervention strategies that an OD consultant can devise, for instance . . .

1. The Ebenezer Scrooge strategy - Like the "Scared Straight" program of years ago, this approach is intended to put fear into the GM and humble him enough to create some level of receptivity to influence.

This can be used opportunistically when one of the above two-by-fours occurs.

2. The Mutiny on the Bounty strategy - Like the film "Norma Rae," this approach involves enlisting the entire team/office/organization that works for the GM to shut off their machines, stand up, come out of their cubicles and say, "We are not going to take this anymore."

This is particularly high risk. Insubordination always is.

Even when it's the right thing to do.

Just because the emperor has no clothes on does not mean we have to enjoy gazing at his nakedness.

Your thoughts?

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/28/2006


Astha said…
I loved the article. Though I don't think I would venture forth with any of the suggestions :)

I have found that you can key in to the pet-projects of the MD, however Theory X driven, and use them to turn into change agents. In this process you will undoubtedly stumble upon allies who crave transformation in their work environment and work with them to start 'tinkering' with the machinery.

For example, I have seen this technique, turn a 'turnover reduction' drive by the CEO, into an initiator of Employee Involvement schemes.

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