Rules for Radicals
Four rules for aspiring radicals from IBM’s top change agents..
BY ERIC RANSDELL | OCTOBER 31, 1997 – Fast Company
- The less you ask for, the more you can do.
Naysayers can’t kill projects they don’t fund. “Someone would learn about a team and ask, ‘Where does it report?’” Patrick says. “Well, it doesn’t report to anybody. ‘Where’s the budget?’ There isn’t any budget. Nobody could say, ‘Let me review your plan.’ There wasn’t any plan.”
- Just enough is good enough.
Want to achieve extraordinary results? Set unreasonable timetables. “Make the calendar your friend,” Patrick says. “Set a date by which something has to happen and work from there. Don’t wait until your project is perfect. Get it out and see how people react.”
- Nowhere beats somewhere.
“I never put a business-unit name on my card,” Patrick says. “People ask me, ‘What division do you work for?’ It doesn’t matter what division I work for. If IBM wins, everyone wins.”
- Lose a teammate, gain a division.
One of the most common “problems” with change teams is that other parts of the company hire away their best members. That’s a problem change agents should love to have. “I think of it as colonization,” Patrick says. “One of our people was just promoted to run marketing for a major division. Somebody said, ‘We lost Lee.’ We didn’t lose Lee. We gained a whole division.”
- You can’t make a difference without doing things differently.
Gee’s mission is to pick up the pace of life at IBM. That means applying pressure to move faster: “My management tells me, ‘If we’re not getting four protest calls a week, you’re not doing your job.’”
- Pressure from below requires protection from above.
Gee spends a lot of time cultivating senior executives who will defend his approach: “We need air cover. We have people whose job it is to make sure complaints stick to them, so we can continue our work.”
- People who sponsor change need sponsors.
Gee exudes a devil-may-care attitude about his status at IBM. But he understands he’s not alone. “Wherever I go, I am a disciple of John Patrick,” he says. “I don’t work for him anymore, but he’s one of my two key leaders. The other is the person I do work for, Pat Sueltz. They’re outstanding mentors.”
- Want to make change? Get results.
Gee’s team is gaining influence because of what it has achieved. “The first 90 days after we launched the site were crucial,” Gee says. “People came in droves. And they were people IBM was trying to reach, people who wouldn’t have us on their radar screen if it weren’t for alphaWorks. We now have a proven track record.”
- Think fast — then act fast.
One of the toughest adjustments for people from the old world of business is to keep up with the pace of the new world. “I don’t walk the talk,” says Sueltz, “I run the talk. We used to think in Web years — one Web year equals three months in a normal year. Now we think in Java years. We jump a Java year every other month.”
- Fight for change, but pick your battles wisely.
Change agents always meet resistance. The tough question to answer: Which forms of resistance deserve attention? “If the brightness on your screen is always at full intensity,” Sueltz says, “you can’t tell what’s highlighted.”
- Never compromise the truth — but modify your style.
There’s more than one way to tell it like it is. “Sometimes you break glass,” Sueltz says, “sometimes you bend it, sometimes you leave it the way it is and look through it.”
- Get it fast or get out.
“We are surrounded by new technology, a whole new business environment,” Sueltz says. “There’s a revolution going on all around us. Business leaders have to stand up and state very plainly what needs to be done — and do it with great urgency and speed.”
- October/November 1997 issue of Fast Company.