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Leading Change:
A Conversation With
Motorola's Bob Galvin

by Bill Ginnodo

In his 1995 book, Leading Change, James O'Toole, noted authority on leadership and vice president of the Aspen Institute, includes Motorola's Bob Galvin among the modern-day CEOs whom he believes exemplify outstanding leadership in the moral sense. In explaining his reasons for why he believes this, O'Toole cites Galvin's remarkable talent for inspiring others: "Thanks to Galvin's understated leadership, Motorola has probably done the best job of any large U.S. corporation at institutionalizing change. … Motorola became the first large company in America to enable its workers to be leaders themselves. … Motorola ended up with an industrial system under which people are treated with dignity without losing discipline, and power is widely shared without degenerating into anarchy.

"The results of Motorola's system are well-known: perhaps the highest-quality products in American industry; regular   introduction of innovations in semiconductors, pagers and handheld communications; and, of course, high profits."

At 73 years of age, Galvin still puts in full workdays as Motorola's chairman of the executive committee. He spends a lot of time sharing his leadership "secrets" with top corporate groups in industry and government. He has a reputation as a visionary and as someone who is humble, warm, intelligent, insightful, eloquent and gently direct -- all qualities that he exhibited in his recent interview with Commitment-Plus Editor Bill Ginnodo.


QD: At Motorola's biannual Officers Meeting in April l983, you told the top 153 people in the corporation -- most of whom were happy with the company's success -- that Motorola was becoming too bureaucratic and too ponderous. What made you come to that conclusion?

Galvin: Let me put in a brief preamble. There are three classes of activities in the hierarchy of an institution: running the business, managing the corporation and leading the institution. They're equivalent; I don't rank them in any order. Leading means, to us, that a leader is someone who takes us elsewhere.

It struck me that with our 15-percent growth rate and consequent doubling every five years, the corporation was going to be much more difficult to manage if we continued managing it in a hierarchical way. I didn't know what the answer was, but I just opportunistically decided to surface this thing during the course of the meeting to get us going. It was not the result of a study that five or 10 of us had done over a long time, and we didn't have an advisory study by consultants. It was just one of those natural things; it looked like we'd arrived at another plateau of size and complexity, and had better think about changing.

     The reaction was quite mixed, one of puzzlement: "He says we've got to segment the organization and simplify; what did he mean? What's the plan? What do you want me to do?"

But my normal mode is to rarely be prescriptive because I often don't know the prescriptive answers to questions. I introduce the need for renewal and rely on people to recognize that something like that has to happen in their area.


QD: How important was the concept of renewal to your thinking at that time?

Galvin: To me, the great energy of the institution is the energy of renewing. In 1930, 1936, 1940, 1948, 1952, etc., there were major milestones when the corporation did something very significant to renew itself. This was just one more event that contributed to the company's ongoing renewal. I considered it to be a very ordinary next event. It turned out to have a greater elevation, life and vitality than I anticipated.


QD: What happened after the meeting? How much latitude did managers have, and what requirements were placed upon them?

Galvin: It was my intention that our people should have tremendous latitude to dream it up for themselves because they'd then want to work within it. We did the common-sense things of asking them how they were going to do their study and for their recommendations. And there was a set of standards and an evaluation orchestrated by a vice president in human resources, Joe Miraglia.


QD: I understand that Joe provided a lot of the structure and that it was called the Organizational Effectiveness Process.

Galvin: At the time, I didn't anticipate that we'd need such a formality. I was in motion for motion's sake. But Joe, a consultant named Bob Schaffer and others developed the process, which gave my associates something tangible to work with. The degree of informality of my approach wasn't very practical. Joe came to me after taking the organization's temperature and said, "Bob, we've got to give them some structure to work with." But there wasn't so much structure that it was obfuscating.

QD: What do you mean by "in motion for motion's sake"?

Galvin: One of my father's [Motorola founder, Paul Galvin] lessons was to be in motion for motion's sake. That's counterintuitive to the usual approach, which says we'd better stop and consider. My approach was, do you think you need to reorganize? Start it, go do something about it! There will be some muddling around, but you'll figure it out a lot better if you're out doing it rather than sitting around, trying to define it with precision.


QD: So, it was a combination of being in motion and working within some structure. Can you give an example of an organization that "figured it out"?

Galvin: I recall when George Whitehurst from our communications division tacked their organization chart across three walls of our meeting room. It must have been 60 feet long. George said something like, "This is what you were concerned about, Bob. Who can govern this kind of a      business?"

In that division, at that time, we had two-way radios, pagers, cellular telephones -- an aggregation of businesses that were all over the lot. Every human being in the organization was accounted for on that chart. It was possible to look at it and imagine cutting the larger organization into different businesses. What evolved rather promptly was that the pager business was spun off, and then cellular telephone. That was traumatic; they didn't want to give up those businesses after putting so much into them for so long. But they had oriented themselves in that direction; they had to let the amoebae start breaking apart.

We probably made some mistakes in the course of that, but the net of it is, we did something that was very important to the renewal of the corporation. Both the pager and cellular businesses are dynamic and doing very well.

Let me add that I've been referring to general organizational change, that is, running businesses and managing the corporation. But all of us are immensely devoted to the target of having excellent processes that perform well for our customers. Once we'd thought that out, we needed to specify what, exactly, are the steps of the manufacturing and other processes. We had to come at it in an open-ended, amorphous way in order to give people a chance to recast it into a very precise organization that works well for customers.


QD: Did you use a particular approach with people when they resisted change?

Galvin: Yes, but because the company is built on two beliefs -- respect for the      dignity of the individual and uncompromising integrity -- those ideological underpinnings are inescapably the foundation for dealing with differences. If you have trust and respect for each other, you can discuss very candidly whether we should do this or should do that.

Whenever an organization has been going in one vector and the leader wants to go elsewhere, the majority isn't going to want to do that. It's perfectly natural. When it was necessary and I had to take a minority position, most of the time it turned out OK. There are plenty of things to change in an organization; someone has to discover them.


QD: Motorola's values seem to set it apart from a lot of other corporations that manage situationally -- that is, they lay off people during an economic downturn or downsize to increase shareholder dividends. Are values instrumental in such decisions at Motorola?

Galvin: Yes, we write these things down. Our little wallet card [which articulates the supporting beliefs, goals and initiatives, and states everyone's overriding responsibility as total customer satisfaction] contains our set of pivotal values. Other values are that we will renew, and we will found new industries.

Knowing that we might need to have layoffs from time to time, we sought to change public policy. We're big on rewriting the rules. In all of the states that we're located, we've gotten the unemployment laws changed to permit the payment of unemployment compensation on the fifth day of the week, instead of by the week. That allows us to lay off to four-day weeks when we see a potential short-term layoff situation ahead of us. Then the group is sacrificing a small percent, rather than having to lay off, say, 20 percent of the people. Fortunately, we haven't had to use it very much. I think we're the only large company that's done this. We don't let situations dictate to us if we can possibly change the situation.


QD: And from what you've already said, I assume that values often dictated what you did decide to change.

Galvin: Yes. For example, we determined in 1984 that quality should be the first item on every agenda, which punctuated the fact that we were leading from a value system. Of course, quality calls for exact specifications of material or process, but when you need to make the numbers at the end of the month and you don't ship because a product has a minor blemish on the back cover, the message gets out that, hey, they really mean quality now; they do mean perfection. Such things are tangible, but they're value-based. [Motorola won the first Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in l988.]


QD: Getting back to leadership, you've mentioned "listening" a couple of times. What's the core message?

Galvin: It's that if a person is naturally and humbly confident -- not arrogant, not with a presumption of being smarter than you are -- and is comfortable with ambiguity, it's possible to listen for the next neat idea.


QD: You're often described as a "visionary." Do you use some sort of visioning process?

Galvin: A vision is very simple; it's nothing more than an imagined possibility. An institution like Motorola should have hundreds of visions. I'm very big on encouraging that and on taking off some of the shackles. Most high-quality visions are going to turn out, and that renews the institution. All of us can be trained to be more creative, and if we're trained, we can have more imagined possibilities, and we are therefore more visionary. So I say, "Train!"

QD: In the same vein, James O'Toole referred to you as a "leader of leaders." Is that an important concept to you?

Galvin: I think it has been quite significant for our institution. But Bob Galvin isn't our only leader of leaders.

We respect all of the other things people say about leadership -- that you've got to inspire, you've got to cause followership, you've got make a good impression, you've got to represent the company -- but they are givens. The really pivotal thing is to take the institution elsewhere. That's the renewal. That's where the thrust has to be. We won't be what we need to be if we don't do that renewing. Yes, being a leader of leaders is absolutely vital.

We're happy to have a business that's No. 9 -- if that little business can be renewed into a big business. So we have strategies for renewing and for growing, and all of these have a substantial quotient of leadership in them. We may not quite know how to do them yet, but we know where we want to allocate our resources and that we need to be in motion to accomplish some of these grander things.


QD: Are any other leadership considerations important to Motorola in this era of rapid and turbulent change?

Galvin: There will always be more and more change. We just have to be open to it; we have to purposely process ourselves so we can do things more rapidly. We have formal objectives for these things; we say, why can't we improve this 10 times, or that five times? Rapid and large changes are the primary thing we countenance these days -- along with having continuous improvement.

We've got this very major process going, Leadership of Renewal, that's starting with our 450 officers. The guys in the chief's office are asking every one of our officers, what legacies are you leaving and do you hope to leave? A legacy is the result that will prove they did a leadership thing. We don't count that they designed the product, got the order, made the monthly figures, gave a great speech or hired the right person; those are the things you do when running the business and managing the corporation. Again, a leader takes us elsewhere.


QD: Do you have any final words for aspiring leaders?

Galvin: Be selfless; it takes a lot of confidence to be selfless. Be flexible. Try a lot of things.


About the author:

Bill Ginnodo is publisher of Commitment-Plus newsletter and researcher/editor of the recently published book, The Power of Empowerment: What the Experts Say and 16 Actionable Case Studies.


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