#213 from R&D Innovator Volume 5, Number 4          April 1996

FORUM—from our readers

How Not to Promote Enthusiasm for the Organization

I am a program manager of a small company that was purchased 18 months ago by a huge multinational conglomerate.  Most of us were initially apprehensive as to how this new arrangement was going to turn out. 

The conglomerate had a hands-off policy when it came to dealing with us.  I sent monthly progress reports to its executives and also gave a presentation once at headquarters.  People seemed interested as they asked good questions during my presentation.  Once in a while I receive memos requesting more information based on my reports.  Our nervousness about the new arrangement was settling down and I, at least, enjoyed being part of a group with enormous resources--besides money--that was easy to tap into.  For instance, their analytical groups were quite accessible and of the highest quality.  We now had a more skilled staff managing our intellectual property.

A month ago we had an announced visit from several of the corporate executives, including a technical vice president.  I was to present the program's progress, which was on schedule and on budget.  So I wasn't especially nervous about the visit as I already had made this type of presentation previously.

While I was reporting our work progress, there were a few questions that I easily answered.  The technical vice president, however, said nothing during my talk.  When I finished it, he came up with a collection of reasons why our strategy was bound to fail.  By the way, he was routinely copied on my monthly reports and never made any kind of comment--good or bad--to me.  He seemed to be posturing to the other executives who were present.  His technical field is only peripheral to the program, and his reasoning wasn't sound.

I responded to his concerns, but he countered with comments such as, "I know it won't work, and experts in your field agree with me."  When I asked him who these experts were, he shook off the question with, “Just some people who are knowledgeable about your area.”  His anger increased with every argument I made, and I became increasingly flustered.  No one came to my defense.  But there was no one else technically competent to discuss the issues raised by the conglomerate's technical vice president.

After it was clear that I couldn't--or was unable to--win the debate, the senior conglomerate executive stated that my program should be shut down and that my group and I be assigned other projects.  I was dumbfounded.  I believe that my supervisor, who attended the meeting, was also taken aback.  This was a total surprise.  It was a decision not based on logic.

After many nights awake mulling about my inability to get the points across, I think I've made sense of the event.  I believe that the conglomerate executives decided to cancel my program prior to that visit.  Perhaps their financial analysis led to that decision, or perhaps the company, owned by the conglomerate, to which my program would have been valuable, was to be sold off.  And maybe they didn't want to give their reasoning to anyone in my small company.  So I was made their scapegoat.

Perhaps the conglomerate executives feel good about achieving what they wanted.  Perhaps they are congratulating themselves about how clever they were.  Perhaps they are not at all concerned about the feelings of people in my small company.   

And you wonder why there's a problem in getting people to consider themselves part of the corporate “team.”


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