Boyd Clarke, CEO of the tompeters!company and graduate of the Master of Science in Organization Development Program (MSOD), was recently named a Distinguished Alumnus of the George L. Graziadio School of Business and Management. Mr. Clarke addressed the graduates during the August commencement ceremonies and later spoke with Chris Worley, director of the MSOD program, about the nature of leadership and the future of organization development.
GBR: You spend a lot of time thinking and talking about leadership and change, not only within your organization but also with other organizations. In my mind, those two things sometimes seem like flip sides of the same coin. How do you see the relationship between leadership and change?
Clarke: If you look at great business leaders, or if you look at great leaders historically, you find different definitions, but they are always connected to change. Leaders create something new. I don’t think they so much set out to change what exists, as to create something that doesn’t exist. The other common distinction is between management and leadership, which can be very useful, but there are also times when it gets very blurred. If there is a distinction and if we should make a distinction, then it is about leaders creating something, managers don’t necessarily have to do that.
GBR: I like the notion of creation. That it comes out of vision as opposed to seeing things differently than the way there are and having to fuss with the status quo. Do you see the nature of leadership and change as being different now than it was twenty years ago, or five years ago, or one year ago?
Clarke: I think there are some leadership principals that are just fundamental human principals. And that’s kind of true of management as well. Organizations with a vision tend to outperform organizations without one, for example. So I think there are some fundamental principles. However, leaders really have to have a sense of the environment they’re in. And that environment is ever changing.
Today I think the environment is very opportunistic and threatening at the same time. I personally believe that in the next ten years we are going to see more companies fail than ever before. And at the same time we’ll see more new companies succeed than ever before. I read an article in the Los Angeles Times today about the influx of venture capital and the movement toward the new economy and dot-com companies. It has created a feeding frenzy on the one hand, and some people have gotten very rich off of it. On the other hand, the availability of that venture capital has funded a whole bunch of running-in-place companies – relatively odd ideas that got a lot of press in the short run but aren’t really adding value to the economy.
I believe that something in the neighborhood of 90 percent of all white collar jobs are going to change beyond recognition or go away within the next 10 to 15 years. As a result, we are going to have to create new organization models. We’re going to have to totally reinvent the relationship of employee and employer; to totally reinvent the whole concept of customer service.
There are three things that I think are becoming very outmoded concepts. One of them is the concept of quality. I don’t mean that it’s outmoded because it isn’t important. It’s outmoded because everybody has it. Quality is no longer a differentiator. And I think good management is no longer a differentiator. And I think good customer service is no longer a differentiator. Because those are the new baselines. So what do you add on top of that? Well, we’ve got to reinvent the whole relationship of customers, and the really basic matter of customer experience.
GBR: We’re seeing that on the Internet for sure. How do you keep people from clicking away from your website. How do you capture and hold their attention while getting them to find and order what they want? I can’t imagine we’re not going to see some sort of huge transformation in the design of web sites. By the way, where did you get that 90 percent figure? That’s a pretty big number?
Clarke: I’m quoting my partner (Tom Peters). When he first said it I said, “Tom, don’t use that number. That is so ridiculous. You’re going to sound like an idiot.” Of course he listened to me like he normally does and said, “Well, it’s at least 90 percent.” That’s normally what happens when you challenge him.
At first, I didn’t believe it. Then I really started to study the matter. Let’s look at travel agents…insurance agents…stockbrokers. I’ve ended up with a list of about 20 or 30 different industries that have already started dramatic reductions. Many of them are half way to my 90 percent already and we’re only a few years into this thing. At this moment, we are at a point just two-billionths of a second after the Internet big bang. The Internet universe is just starting to expand and we can already list 20 or 30 jobs that have been profoundly impacted. So OD people ought to do very well for the next 10 to 15 years because there are a lot of people out there whose businesses are doing well but they’re struggling to figure out some very complex, difficult issues.
GBR: As you’re talking with people about leadership and change, how much of that discussion do you see as organizational and focused on the structures and strategies that have to be put in place to create something, and how much of it is personal, that is, related to an individual’s sense of self or career goals?
Clarke: That is a great question.
GBR: You mentioned this idea in your graduation comments. I think your quote, in the context of being a good leader, was, “Love always wins.” That’s an interesting comment to make to MBA graduates.
Clarke: Isn’t it though? But, isn’t the vision of an entrepreneur really a love affair with an idea? That’s just one form of it. I find that the best leaders don’t shy away from words like soul and love that are not frequently used in business. One of the best business leaders on the planet today, if we want to look at the elite 10 or 15, has got to be Dave Patrick of Charles Schwab. He uses that kind of language all the time, and means it. This is a guy who cares about the people that he leads.
When someone like you or me gets invited in to help an organization from a strategic or leadership perspective, we know that an important influence on the organization is the leader’s sense of self and roundedness and maturity and passion. Those are issues we work on with an individual privately. We often point out to a leader what they need, and they see it pretty quickly.
GBR: What I see is that it’s just so hard to separate what they’re trying to work on in the organization, and the things they’re struggling with as people. They just seem to find each other for some reason. If I can’t see or work both sides of that fence, I’m only working with half the problem. But I have to have some kind of credibility with a person before I can go down that path. I have to show them that I can help them with a business problem, and that sort of gives me the right to ask them about some of their personal struggles.
Clarke: Well the leaders of today are much more open to discuss their personal struggles because they’re scared to death. You and I both lead organizations and, honestly, it can be frightening. Things are so complex, there are so many opportunities out there, that you’d be a fool not to be terrified. If you’re not… then you don’t know what’s going on.
GBR: Let’s shift over a little from leadership and change to the field of organization development. My sense is that OD, as a field of planned change, is at a crossroads. On the one hand, the field has been incredibly successful because a lot of its interventions and products, such as team-building, climate surveys, conflict management, and things like that, have been adopted by organizations as best practices in management. On the other hand, to some people, OD has the touchy-feely reputation of people holding hands and singing Kumbaya around the fire. What’s your sense of the field’s current state and where it’s headed?
Clarke: You used a word, crossroads, that I think is so true. In the OD community, we’ve gone from being out of sight to being in the boardroom. We’ve gone from being shunned to being invited in. Part of it is because there were a few visionary people who saw the need – and they were right. Managers and leaders need assistance in tackling very complex systems. And organizations are infinitely complex because they’re made up of human beings. But, now we’re in the boardroom and we’ve become respectable. And I think when you become respectable you can lose some of your edge and innovation. That is my fear.
GBR: We may have become a little soft and too politically correct as we’ve become more mainstream.
Clarke: I’m of two minds about this because I’ve always been really ticked off at OD people who bad-mouth management all the time they’re with their clients. It really bugs me. At the same time, that’s part of what helped us grow. We didn’t have kings and queens that we bowed down to. We kind of bowed down to our own way.
GBR: Where’s O.D. headed? Do you think it’s going to fade away as a management term or will it take what it’s got and continue to move forward?
Clarke: Different organizations use different terms. Organizational effectiveness is another way of saying OD. But people who come through programs like yours go into an organization and add value. I was with an executive team yesterday in Phoenix and these are phenomenal business leaders, but they are really struggling with a culture that is profoundly messed up. They’re willing to go lead the change, which obviously they should, but they need somebody to give them a hand.
GBR: How do you feel about Christos Cotsakos’ comment that the people who are trying to manage change are behind, and that the real future is around people who are creating change?
Clarke: I have read Christos’ work and we need to elevate him to minor deity.
GBR: Do you think it was a shot across OD’s bow as organization change people or does it point to a new direction in the way we should be thinking about OD?
Clarke: Either one, and I hope it’s the first. I hope he’s taking a shot, because that gets you to move. Whichever it is, I think he’s dead on. I think we’ve been very arrogant when we talk about managing change. Because my personal belief is that about 70 percent of it happens without us. The world is changing and organizations are going to change to meet new needs. I think it’s pretty arrogant to take credit because the organization changed.
I believe that the most we can hope for is to help guide the change, help lead the change. And doesn’t that make us even more relevant? Because, where do you now get the extra 10 or 15 percent productivity? It’s got to lie in the human resource. Those of us who really look at human systems and their relationship to organizational progress or organizational change – that puts us dead in the middle of what’s important in moving forward. I think we’ll see an explosion in the number of people who become OD practitioners.