A few months ago, my friend Ray Martin, Chief Operating Officer at Camden County Health Services Center told me of a man who has spent his entire adult life working to instill such a belief in work organizations. Ray was attempting to bring him to the center to work with his people. The man's name is Wayne Alderson of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I contacted Wayne to find out more about his work. As we spoke I found a great depth of experience that underpinned his life's work. Wayne sent me a copy of a book about his life called Stronger Than Steel: The Wayne Alderson Story.
The book is a sobering but inspiring look at a life of struggle that prepared Wayne for the work he would later do so effectively. It also detailed a powerful story about how a workplace can be dramatically changed by valuing people. For me, it was one of those books I just couldn't put down.
The importance of this story for those of us in the "organization change business" is that it points to real root causes of change process failure. Many of the decisions we make are driven by our beliefs about people. And if those beliefs include little value for the contributions others can bring, then real participation is probably doomed from the outset.
Wayne Alderson is not a "softy. He is a hard-nosed, practical manager focused on the performance of the organization. The difference is how he goes about getting results. By truly valuing people, which he interprets as demonstrating love, dignity, and respect, a foundation is laid for high-performance. Over the next 21 months, Pittron's turnaround was as dramatic as any in the annals of American industry.
With profits running high, Pittron was sold by its parent company. Even though Pittron became the shining star in the new organization its management style was just too radical for the new company. Alderson was given the opportunity to remove himself from the Bible study group, but politely refused. His refusal to change his management style at Pittron resulted in his termination from the company. The work world in 1974 was not ready, even when the evidence was overwhelming, for valuing people at work.
As I sat at the rear of the conference room at Lucien's Manor in Berlin, New Jersey, I wondered what was on the minds of the eighty people in attendance. Camden County Health Services Center had a history of tension between management and labor. People were carrying old baggage, some for many years. Tony Peters, CEO of the center, rose to welcome the group to this one-day seminar called Value of the Person.
Tony was followed by the center's union leadership, who supported the need for the seminar. I thought of the courage it took the management team and the union leadership to move forward with such a process.
Wayne Alderson had come with his team: his daughter Nancy Jean, his wife Nancy, Sam Piccolo, Gloria Scumaci, and Reid Carpenter of the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation. Throughout the day, the message was consistent. There is a basic truth of life based upon valuing people that is under pinned by three elements: love, dignity, and respect.
We watched the film Miracle of Pittron that chronicled the astonishing events of the 21-month turnaround. Stories told during the day became real faces, and tears flowed as each person confronted the tragedy of a management system that devalues people. That evening a dinner was held for these employees and their spouses as the message of valuing people moved from workplace to home. Several people spoke that evening, but I was most struck by the comments of Rebecca Moore, President of Council 71, AFSCME Local 2307.
Rebecca said that she would be driving a big truck to the front door of the center the next morning (metaphorically) to collect all the baggage that has been around too long. She encouraged everyone to show up in the morning and unload theirs. But Rebecca isn't one to simply tell others what to do, she then courageously made a public apology to another center employee in the audience.
A friend Ray Martin has shared with me his frustrations about the center for many years. Deeply embedded beliefs are hard to change. But there is always a unique point in time in the history of every organization when an opportunity presents itself---business and labor leaders with a vision and desire to change, a catalyst, and a process. Tony Peters and Ray Martin held the vision, their labor leaders have courageously supported it, and Wayne Alderson and his team appeared at the right moment. From what I observed, I have every confidence that their change process will move forward directly and dramatically. People will change and the center will be better.
I think at times that our resistance to change our workplaces toward more human concepts reflects our fear of intimacy. We feel uncomfortable when speaking of love, dignity, and respect. The head and the heart are parts of a beautifully balanced system we call a human. But somewhere in our evolution we separated the two when it came to our work. The heart plays a distant second to the head. But examples such as the Pittron story should, once again, serve to reinforce that for truly high performance to happen, the heart plays a central role. And so the movement continues.
My thanks to Ray Martin, Tony Peters, and Wayne Alderson for allowing me to spend this day of discovery with them and their people. In no small way they are moving us toward a better understanding of how organizations change. And a final thank you to Rebecca Moore, for demonstrating what real courage means in the process of moving forward.