The Role of Employees in Transformation

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” 

– Peter F. Drucker

The leadership of any business cannot possibly know the ins and outs of every task, every job, every process in the organization. Yet, when it comes time to change, reinvent or restructure even part of the organization, leaders often take a top-down approach replete with flawed hidden assumptions.

And you will have to reinvent your business.

Ten years from now, 70% of the Fortune 1000 will be gone. And although the average lifecycle of a business in the 20th century peaked at 70 years, that number is now down to 7 years. On average, businesses need to reinvent themselves every 7 years or they will likely disappear.

Let that soak in… 7 years.


“One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.” 

– Jeff Bezos

For reinvention, there must be invention. And usually not just the small, incremental stuff but large, transformative stuff. It’s part of what makes transformation tough to do.

But excluding your employees makes it tougher. Exponentially.

Did you know that when it’s announced that a manufacturing plant is going to close, performance in the plant often goes up? Very often, significantly.


“Insight comes naturally to everyone.”

The Situation: Unionized blue-collar workers doing highly repetitive tasks in a manufacturing facility in southern Illinois. Average education: less than a high school diploma, some couldn’t read. Their work had been meticulously studied by highly trained, college-educated industrial engineers. Time and motion studies had tracked and optimized every movement. Piece count standards were set to achieve production requirements as efficiently as deemed possible by a host of bright white collar management employees.

The Objective: The governing union contract paid a bonus on every piece beyond the work standards set by the industrial engineers. The workers’ objective was to beat the standard so they could choose: a) to make some bonus income by surpassing the standard piece count production requirements, or b) step off the line and and spend the remainder of their shift in the employee cafeteria sipping coffee and shooting the breeze.

The Strategy: Come up with an innovative way to perform the work, meet the quality standards, and achieve a bonus or relax in the cafeteria.

The Result: Workers finished 8 hours of standard work, established by experts and built into the employment contract, in approximately 6.5 hours.

Somewhere in their practical strategy process, employees had an insight. Despite their lack of formal education, training or mandate, employees came up with significantly better ways to do the work than the highly skilled, trained job “experts”.


“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” 

– Theodore Levitt

The old models of transforming a business using “experts” and a top-down approach don’t work very well. The average failure rate of major transformation initiatives is over 75%.

So why do we keep doing it the same way over and over?

Maybe it’s time to transform transformation. Maybe it’s time for a new approach.