Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Red Hat" and its "Culture of Discussion"

Jim Whitehurst
President of Red Hat
Photo by Librado Romero
The New York Times

I read some great advice yesterday, relayed to me in the New York Times via Adam Bryant from the "president and chief executive of Red Hat" (provider of Linux and other open-source technology), Jim Whitehurst, who learned it God knows where, so I don't know the originator, but the advice is:
[F]or any business there are three levels of leadership. One is getting somebody to do what you want them to do. The second is getting people to think what you want them to think; then you don't have to tell them what to do because they will figure it out . . . . [The third and] best is getting people to believe what you want them to believe, and if people really fundamentally believe what you want them to believe, they will walk through walls. They will do anything.

How to accomplish this, of course, is the hard part. Perhaps the other advice from Mr. Whitehurst -- given in Mr. Bryant's interview, "The Memo List: Where Everyone Has an Opinion" (March 10, 2012) -- can offer insight. Here's a possibility:
Our employees have always expected this: tell me why we're doing what we're doing, and allow me at least a voice in the decision process. Now a voice doesn't mean decision rights. It doesn't mean you have any say in the answer. But at least you have a vehicle for an opinion to be heard.

This discussion procedure will likely get employees as far as doing what you want them to do, and perhaps as far as thinking what you want them to think, but maybe not as far as believing what you want them to believe. But it's still a good idea to have an internal forum for discussion of issues, and Red Hat does this through its Memo List, which Mr. Whitehurst explains:
We have about 4,000 employees, but on average you'll see a couple hundred posts a day . . . . Memo List is about the business. And I go through it every single day. I would say probably three-quarters of the people are on it every day, either reading or posting.

Such an online, internal forum might not be applicable to every organization, but some compromise will always need to be found between hierarchical decision-making and democratic discussion, especially these days, as Mr. Whitehurst explains:
[W]e're on the bleeding edge of what so many companies are going to face because of this whole millennial generation coming up. It just does not like this idea of hierarchy.

There you have it. The world is changing as technology flattens out various processes. People expect to express themselves and be lisitened to. Organizations must adapt . . . or fail.

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At 6:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, H. Jeffery Hodges, you might have expected me to comment on this post. Here is a quote from the founder of my company, which I personally heard him utter on more than one occasion, and is attributed to him as early as the 1970's -– “Listen to your workers; they’re our best idea generators. Encourage our associates to question things that they don’t understand or speak up with new idea’s to improve our processes."

We have an Open Door policy where anyone at any level can walk in and share their opinions, ideas, and even frustrations with anyone at any other level without fear of reprisals. We conduct Grass Roots meeting constantly to ensure all feel they have the opportunity to share their ideas. These are conducted at every store, DC, and office complex through the world.

In addition, we have added in the "social media" forums over time, and these are used extensively at all levels as well.

All this to say while Mr. Whitehurst's ideas are not new or even revolutionary, they are extremely hard to implement unless the company was founded on those principles and has made it a core piece of their DNA.

On a side note - Klaasmeyer's article about Crystal Bridges is interesting, but her comments regarding the museum's founder's source of wealth and how that weath was obtained, is sorely misconstrued. I was surprised and disappointed in how she used un-proven biases and rhetoric, especially knowing where she is from.

Sorry for the long post - Jay

At 6:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the long comment, Jay, and certainly no need to apologize!

To be fair to Mr. Whitehurst, he didn't claim to have thought up those three points (i.e., doing, thinking, believing), he said that they were the most helpful advice (or similar words) that he'd ever received.

As for Klaasmeyer, she's not unlike most of us, I suppose, believing what people tell us and accepting the biases of the times even when we apply critical thinking in our areas of expertise.

Why don't you post a comment on that entry?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just never got around to it as I was very busy at the time. Knowing she is from Conway, and knowing the fact of our store there created hundreds of jobs and sparked numerous additional businesses, including restaurants and other retail stores, to open around our store just struck me as her not researching the actual facts versus re-spouting propaganda. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and if my company is in the wrong, I would be one of the first to say so. There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of articles detailing the advantages and disadvantages of having our company open a store in communities large and small. While we do make it hard for smaller stores to compete, the overall benefit to the community with additional jobs, larger tax revenue, infrastructure improvements, and continuous donations to causes within the community are things that, I believe, far out-weigh the negatives.


At 3:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I've too little versed in economics to have a strong opinion, but I wonder if most of those who detest Wal-Mart know any more than I do.

My impression over the years has been that most people take on the political opinions of those around them, more to conform than as a result of thinking things through, and that includes leftist critiques of big businesses.

Jeffery Hodges

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