Famous/historical examples of very good or very bad management (esp management of change/transition)

Background: I’ve got a job interview next week (internal promotion opportunity), part of which requires me to give a short presentation on change management. I pretty much know what I want to say about it, except that I need some notable examples of good and bad change/transition management that I can analyse and present in summary.

NB: I’m not asking for help or advice on what to say (so this isn’t like one of those ‘please do my work for me’ requests, and I clarified and obtained permission for this before posting) - I just need a few pointers at some choice examples of the topic to get me started.

They really need to be documented either in history or news media, so I can research them further myself - Any suggestions?

Meant to add - the bad ones don’t have to be catastrophic - just inept and wasteful would be fine. Likewise, the good ones don’t necessarily have to be magnificent - just effective.

Pick up the book “How the Mighty Fall”. It’s by the same guy that wrote “Good to Great” and “Built to Last”. Great book, and it’s quite short.

Go to the “This American Life” website and download “NUMMI” It is about a auto assembly plant that was a partnership between GM & Toyota. It describes the transition of the plant from the worst in America to the most effective plant GM had. And the complete failure of GM to translate what they learned to the organization as a whole.

It’s an hour but well worth the listen. This blogger has a summary.

I loved the book “Big Blues,” which explains how IBM and Microsoft reacted to the popularity of the personal computer.

Simply put, IBM’s management shot itself in the foot, yielding a complete victory to Bill Gates.

Absolutely fascinating.

Herman Hauptwas an engineer and railroad manager during a time of enormous transition (the US Civil War). He performed feats of organization that greatly aided the military in this new-fangled railroad war. Foremost among them was building huge railroad bridges with untrained farmboys in record time.

I read farmboys as fanboys, and thought, “This Haupt guy must have been really impressive.”

Two extremes on how (not) to deal with changing people from working on pen and paper to working with computers (SAP):

most of the factories I’ve seen go through that train people on “SAP basics” and then on “SAP specifics” and that’s it. This often leads to things like “Nava, go to Manchester, the Production Manager can’t make heads nor tails of SAP” and then “oh, he’s doing fine; I have him, two of the Foremen and the Maintenance Manager doodling on Paint and they’re going to make Valentines for their wives. They’ve all been able to beat Minesweeper at least once this morning.” Said Managers were being expected to use SAP and extract stuff to Excel and run pivot tables and whatnot without ever having grabbed a computer mouse before.

But I worked in one factory where, although people had actually been expected to use computers previously (there were several AS400), the managers knew that not everybody did and that some otherwise-good workers were terrified of doing anything in the computer and “breaking the factory”. After some extremely-unofficial meetings over coffee and run-ins at a cafeteria that shall remain un-named, an Introduction to Windows and MSOffice for Workers in the Chemical Sector was offered by a local union’s “academia” (they offer courses both for employed and unemployed workers), in a town with only one Chemical factory. The factory managers pointed out that it was a Wonderful Chance for their workers, what with the upcoming change and all; they also said that it would be treated as Company Training for anybody who signed up, with actual assisted hours (as reported by the academia) counting as worked hours. This was reinforced by the Worker’s Representatives and the Foremen in individual meetings (one of the Foremen and one of the WRs are the kind of guys who look like they’ve been built rather than born; they’re very good at looming and at making it clear that You Shall Go To That Course Or Else (I will tell your wife. And your mom too.)).

You should’a seen the look on Punko’s face when he was showing off this ad for “puppies given away - the mother is a good hunter” he’d made in Excel. Just three weeks before, he didn’t dare touch the computer physically, for fear of breaking it (or maybe the factory). The next time the factory bought new computers and put the old ones up for sale cheap, he bought one!

I actually talked about this a little bit in a recent job interview! Specifically, I talked about the empowerment of workers on the factory line. Part of the story was that Toyota had a bell that anyone could ring to stop the assembly line, so that problems could be fixed as they happened. At GM, they didn’t trust the workers so they resisted the bell, and when they were overruled, began disciplining workers if they rang it. They assumed that the workers would want to use it to shirk their tasks.

I talked about how I’d seen similar things happen in process improvement. So many times, management doesn’t trust its workers to know or care about their jobs; they babysit, rather than manage. It’s counterproductive. I’ve seen this happen when we tried to implement Lean Six Sigma at a previous workplace; management simply couldn’t accept that there were people at lower levels who were talented enough to make valuable suggestions. It was a peculiar mindset, that the person actually working a process every day couldn’t possibly know how to improve it – this has to come from managers who are only passingly familiar with it.

Steve Jobs. Mr. Jobs is nuts. Ego the living planet. But. SOMEHOW, he is an incredibly effective manager. Destroys the people under him, but everyone knows that. He left? Apple fell apart. He came back? Well… look at it now.

It’s the Reality Distortion Field. (Seriously, that’s what it’s called.) Nothing he does should work, but it does. But I don’t think anyone can imitate him, without doing it their own way.

“Apollo: Race to the Moon” gives some pretty good examples of management styles that were right and wrong during the space race. They may be a big granular for what you’re looking for.

Alexander the Great - very good.

(The following is apocryphal history and I hope someone who actually knows what he or she is talking about will be along shortly.)

When Big Alex conquered an area he told the regional governors they could stay, and keep a higher proportion of the taxes they collected for the king (now that it’s Alex). He also lowered the tax rates. The populace paid less in taxes, and the governors kept more money - a windfall for both, and he bought the loyalty of both instantly. If his enemies re-conquered any territory they would have had a heck of a time putting things back on the old path.

My favorite AtG story is, if true, the Best Policy Decision of All History[sup]TM[/sup].

When Al conquered an area, he did not insist they get rid of their local and traditional gods, but rather they add a bust of him along side all the local gods. Co-opt the local religion, don’t destroy it and bring up resentments.

But then Alexander conquered the land of the Jews. Jews had this unusual no-graven-idols thing going on. Had Alexander insisted on having a statue of himself in the Jewish temples, he would have started a revolt.

Supposedly someone who understood the situation got to AtG and explained it to him. Then offered him an alternative - a certain percentage of the boys born to the Jewish priest class would be named for Alexander. Since Jews traditionally name children after their ancestors[sup]1[/sup], the name of Alexander would continue for generations - a greater tribute than a mere statue.

AtG agreed to this, and to the present day, Alexander is a very common name for Jewish boys.

Alexander the Great decided to adapt an existing policy to changed circumstances. That policy has continued to serve its purpose, without any changes or further adaptations, for 2,300 years.

Two thousand three hundred years!!

Most policies don’t last 2,300 hours, but this one has outlasted several empires. It is the Best Policiy Decision in History.

Now that’s adapting to change!

[sup]1[/sup] Among modern Jews who name their kids after relatives, European Jews tend to name their children only after deceased relatives, but Asian and African Jews tend to name their children only after living relatives. Each group traditionally considered the other policy “bad luck”. People are silly sometimes.

Similarly, Kodak’s spread-cheeks-insert-thumb response to the emerging field of digital photography. (Is there a book on this? A good article?)