Why did I keep his “Fear Not” article?
This Nortel VP’s presentations were all about change: “Change: Seize the Opportunity” and “Harnessing the Change.” The department he inherited in late 1997 had already adapted to changing market dynamics by innovating: How to do business with new service provider players and enhance business with existing customers, while also looking at addressing the emerging IP over SONET opportunity.
Instead of working on the next project to support customer needs, this new “manager,” instead, held off-site meetings to talk about issues, conducted mass celebrations for an expanding team he sought to manage, brought in consultants to address supposed dysfunctions, and discredited Nortel’s competitors while touting the company’s superiority in optical transport, all while he started to take personal credit for a number of successes me and other colleagues had in closing new business with the sales team.
He must’ve been listening to the “Change or Die” experts, who touted, as Jim Collins wrote, “The reason to get better is that bad things will happen to you if you don’t. Is that kind of fear a good motivator? Not for long.”
And not for me, either.
Nortel was just too big in 1998 and there were too many employees (hangers on and bureaucrats) in the optical transport organization that were not qualified to be in marketing, let alone in technical sales. Many of these “newbies” lacked the work ethic to execute on what needed to be done. Coupled with these issues, a cheesy program introduced by the Vice-President awarded “Transport bucks” to employees to be redeemed for trinkets. It was arbitrary and insulting. Need I say more?
Underlying this façade was the fear motivator, which, as Collins articulates, effectively tells employees, “Change or die. Innovate or self-destruct. Eat lunch or be lunch.” Employees begin to think, “It’s not that I really want to reinvent and perfect my work; it’s just that in this world, only the paranoid survive.” You can no longer prioritize changes that are needed for improving the customer experience.
Many Nortel employees headed for the exit, me included. I soon received a breath of fresh air by moving to wine country in northern California in the summer of 1998 and accepting a job with an upstart startup company specializing in optical transport.
Wonderful. There were no more speeches about “change-or-else.” Instead, Cerent’s leaders focused on “the inspiring payoff of achievement – the pure, reenergizing glee that comes from, simply creating something new and doing something better.”
I love this quote by Collins. I’ve always kept it close.
P.S.: Stock options are more rewarding than "transport bucks."