(Note: This piece was first posted in February, 2009, on my Website. As the health care reform bill heads for the House floor, it seems appropriate to reprise it.)
There are two ways to change a culture.
The easy way is the approach taken by guys like “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap, who engineered a lot of change in his career as a serial CEO. You come in big and loud. You bust heads and clean house; and you get rid of everybody who even looks like they might disagree with your approach to running things. From day one, you’re usually feared but rarely respected, and almost always have to bring in a whole new team to rebuild the organization when it’s over. It’s bloody and it’s painful — but it’s quick.
The hard way is the approach taken by the best managers. You inform people up front that change is on the way — that a new set of values and priorities are going to provide direction for the organization going forward. You offer people the opportunity to be part of the change process, and make sure they understand why it’s needed and how it will benefit the whole. Then you empower them to do what needs to be done and encourage them in their efforts, even when they make mistakes. From day one, you’re usually respected but nobody lives in fear, so your good people become better, and your better people become best. It’s far less painful, but it takes focus, patience, discipline, and a lot more time.
Barack Obama was elected to change a culture, and he’s doing it the hard way.
Just as nothing terrifies a tyrant like free people, nothing scares an oligarch like fair play. So the people with the most to lose here are those most resistant to his efforts.
They understand very clearly (because he has told them) that a new set of values and priorities will provide direction for his administration; and they do not like those values any more than they support those priorities, because the result may be that many of them experience reduced power, privilege and/or even wealth.
They will therefore do anything, say anything, and conjure up any obstacle they can to delay, derail or defeat the change process.
This is not about the stimulus bill or the banks bail-out or any of his appointments.
This is about a culture: whether it is to be preserved in the interest of the few, or changed for the benefit of the many.
Barack Obama has chosen a difficult task, and he’s doing it the hard way.