I’ve never been on the executive staff although I have ridden with my company president in his helicopter; I have been on a first name basis with more than one president of Intel, and I feel like I have exercised a great deal of influence driving the importance of employee learning into the strategies of various corporations and government agencies. However, I have never seen anyone do this better than Ray Jackson.
Ray also did not sit on the board or the executive staff, just the opposite. Moved from the field as a senior consultant in a Public Sector Information Services organization to a minor position as an assistant dean in the corporate university, Ray had directors, vice presidents, and company board members angling to sit next to him, in his office, at the cafeteria, and at many a hotel bar as he traveled the world.
Organizational Transformers Recruited
In the late-1990s, Ray worked at Unisys Corporation. Unisys had been at the forefront of business computing when computing was large scale, gymnasium size large. Unisys had trouble making the leap to mini-computers, personal computers, and then services.
To help guide a turnaround, Unisys lured Larry Weinbach away from his CEO position in one of the big accounting firms. There, Weinbach had quadrupled revenues, from $2.3B to $11B and was ready for a new challenge.
Weinbach inherited a Unisys with a command-and-control corporate culture where rank and seniority ruled, a cultural history where parts of the company were literally rooted in the Industrial Age. Secretaries still made coffee, and when they dared speak, it was in hushed tones, at least while they were in the presence of “the great ones,” who ruled the empire.
Open Source Learning
Ray Jackson was a visionary in a new world. While the directorate at Unisys was still talking about a knowledge economy, Jackson brought Weinbach an early taste of the open source revolution in the learning space, complete with ideas that writer Don Tapscott has called the “roar of collaborative culture” and “emergence and serendipitous innovation.” Jackson saw collaborative and conversational learning as part of a powerful transformative process – instead of waiting for change, people realized they could be the change.
After Jackson had worked out the kinks in his first classroom event, CEO Weinbach attended one of the classes. “On the way out to his car,” Jackson reports, “he grabs me by the arm and says we have to get as many people through this program as possible, come by my office tomorrow and let's talk.”
Anyone Can Edit
Jackson and Weinbach realized that to revitalize a moribund workforce they had to motivate everyone, whether they were designing services for the Government of Sweden or plugging chips into circuit boards at a factory outside Detroit. The Unisys University Leadership School was not just for the chosen few, and working with a committee of senior executives, they decided on an approach that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales might have sanctioned. They decided to create a corporate culture where everyone could be a leader, and that like Wikipedia “anyone can edit.”
Instead of developing 25 leaders, Jackson worked tirelessly leading the Leadership School to begin developing dozens, then hundreds, and eventually thousands around the world, working them through an original curriculum designed specifically to support the Unisys transformation, in all businesses, at all levels, in all geographies, veteran and rookie managers alike.
“I Am the Change, I Want to See”
They used one of several five-day programs as a process to begin transforming the company. The process began mundanely enough in the classroom, but the conversational learning Jackson championed soon had participants riveted. By the 3rd or 4th night, attendees reported they were being changed by the experience.
They began integrating it beyond their work and into their families and communities. They reported that they felt more energetic and that they were accomplishing more. For the first time in 20 or more years, they were feeling like their work was important. Classmates stayed in touch, and alumni from different programs found common ground to work together. Jackson’s unique approach to learning created a profoundly personal experience, but in a shared context – individual relevance in collective power.
A Tsunami of Changed Leaders
This led to wave after wave of executives attending and embracing Ray Jackson’s concept of leadership, until several thousand executives from all levels of Unisys became converts to Jackson’s collaborative, vision charged leadership style. When the leadership community called for the CEO staff to go through the same five-day program as they did, Weinbach agreed. In an unprecedented move, the Unisys Executive Committee spent five days with Jackson, learning the same insights in the same way as the thousands before them. The feedback from that session was impressive and it sent a strong message to the rest of the company.
The Recession Takes Its Toll
This catharsis was ultimately a victim to falling values in the stock market and transitions in leadership. Despite success at a personal level, executive enthusiasm only motivates shareholders for a brief time. And after several years, it was time for Weinbach and several others to retire, and in a move typical in US corporations, the remaining allies were strongly encouraged to resign as well, leaving the Unisys revolution without a strong sustaining leadership base.
The problem that Ray Jackson and Larry Weinbach solved was this: They created, for the first time in a major corporation, a way to liberate the workforce to be individually responsible for change, while accelerating leadership learning throughout the organization.
The Ray Jackson story reveals if your goal is to drive strategic change and create an organization with embedded and on-going learning, the aspiration to be invited to the table is not the strongest move you can make. Instead, use your energy to:
- Make outstanding contributions.
- Serve all levels of the population.
- Become a connector: rookie managers to other rookies, rookies to senior managers; seniors with other seniors, and
- Invite everyone to your table.
For More Information:
Mick Mortlock’s Website Biography
Wikinomics – Don Tapscott, Anthony Williams
Wikipedia – Jimmy Wales
A Seat at the Table – Marc Miller
Business Week on Ray Jackson
Categories: Celebrity Bloggers | Government