6 Steps From Infighting to Teamwork
Rodney Brown gives 6 steps to take an organization from internal tribes to a dynamic, cohesive team.
Rod is a creative thought leader, people-lover and unabashed optimist who believes we’re more alike than not and can find common ground with those we perceive as different from us.
He has over 30 years of executive experience creating breakthrough strategies and inspiring teams to greatness in corporations and nonprofit organizations. Prior to founding S/BES, Rod was vice president of Family Services at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. Rod also founded and ran a highly successful tech services enterprise, after spending 25 years working for well-known Fortune 500 tech companies. Rod’s diverse background has provided him with unique insight into large and small organizational cultures.
Rod currently focuses on implementing sustainable workplace inclusion and eradicating institutionalized racism and other “isms” through a groundbreaking model that has been praised by clients, organizations, employees, and industry experts.
LinkedIn: Rodney Brown
Listen to the podcast here:
Read Along as Karla and Rodney Discuss Surviving in This Volatile World
Karla Nelson: And welcome to The People Catalysts’ Podcast, Rod Brown.
Rodney Brown: Good morning?
Karla Nelson: Good morning sir. It’s so nice to have you on the show.
Rodney Brown: I’m excited to be here with you.
Karla Nelson: Yeah. Well, after our first introduction we have a friend in common, Rod and I had the most incredible conversation around not only diversity and inclusion, but this work focus solution that Rodney has developed over the past. Well, you can share that story in a little bit, but first let’s start out Rod, what has been your journey in this really interesting work that you’re doing, in a very interesting approach to how you’re solving it? Which I think makes so much sense, because the object of the exercise in business is to get something done, right? So, having a work orientated approach and a kinesthetic approach, is a really really cool fascinating thing. So, if you could share a little bit about your story that’d be great.
Rodney Brown: Yeah. The entrepreneurial story goes very quickly and in depth. I always say I started out even as a young kid, being an entrepreneur from shining shoes, and mowing lawns, and all of that. But professionally where it really took off for me is, I’ve always looked at business as a tool and a methodology for improving society. And that’s why I wanted to be a businessman. And plus, at the time when businesspeople wore suits, they were always wearing suits and they looked great, and I said, “Man, they look good. I want to be this businessperson.” So, I got into business, into the corporate arena, and got into the tech industry during the real early years and saw how that went. Then joined a company that had a similar vision that I had, and that is, bringing social responsibility and business together.
Rodney Brown: He was way ahead of his time, a gentleman by the name of William Norris, who founded Control Data. So that’s going way back, but they were one of the biggest mainframe computers during that era. So, I left there, and went to another big corporation. But before that, I started my own consulting business back then, helping small businesses and taking several of them national. And some of them are still doing very well today, and they’re national companies.
And then from that I went back into the corporate world because I wanted to learn about technology. And I also wanted to learn about process. And at that time, this was back in the days when Xerox was a blue chip organization, and they’d lost all their market share to the Japanese, and the Japanese had enough vision to incorporate Edward Deming’s principles of quality in Six Sigma. And of course, they dominated the industry, but Xerox took those same principles and regained their market share back to 60%. So, everyone wanted to hear how Xerox did it. And so, I joined them because number one, their process, I wanted to them to say what this process was. And number two…
Karla Nelson: Yeah, because Edward’s Deming, 94% of failure is process failure, not people failure. So, I loved all that.
Rodney Brown: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And also, Xerox was a leader in this whole diversity thing, and they had the highest ranking African-American leader at that time, his name is Barry Rand. And before Barry Rand, there were not any high ranking in Fortune 500, senior executive. So, I thought here’s a company I can go, and if I do really great work, they’re going to reward me for my performance. So, I thought I’d go there and learn, and then come back into the entrepreneurial world, but I stayed there for 10 years. And what I learned there was quite a bit. It was a culture that yes was focused on diversity, but it also was a culture that became so internally focused, that they lost sight of the marketplace. And of course, the rise of Apple, and the rise of Microsoft and all those products, were really generated out of Palo Alto research center.
And we could not bring the organization together in a cohesive way, to really take advantage of the next wave of technology. Big articles were written about it in Harvard business review that Paul Allaire did, called the crisis of opportunity, and then we’ll forget that article. And he tried really hard, and we even brought some of Louis Gerstner’s proteges over, to try to get the company moving in that direction. But that’s where I learned that culture can really, I guess Drucker said, culture can eat strategy for lunch, right? Taken an old phrase. But it also taught me about what went wrong, and what could have been different, and what our companies need to do to really not fall into that trap. Because we see Microsoft now a little bit tripping over themselves. We see Google beginning to start to trip over themselves, and even Apple.
Yeah, they’re making money, they’ve got these market positions. But their biggest fear is what happens in these big organizations, and they become so big, and they become internal, they become bureaucratic and they lose their competitive advantage. And so how do you do that? How do you try to maintain them? And so that’s the work that I’m doing, and how I got into it, and in terms of my entrepreneurial peace. And so, I left there, went into the software industry, and found Valley, with PeopleSoft and Oracle. Then left there, started my own technology company again, and learned quite a few lessons along the way about how business is done behind closed doors. And when you start talking about billion-dollar opportunities and putting deals together, you really get to see the true nature of some people that don’t know how to respond to opportunity. And unfortunately, those things can get in the way, and they can kill a deal.
Then I went into the nonprofit cause, here’s this guy that loves business, but at the same time wants to see it do well in society. So I went into nonprofit, went to one of the largest organizations there, and realized, Hey, this is another industry, it’s another business, and the focus is more on the organizational success than the community success. And so, all of that left me dismayed about the whole structure, or how businesses and nonprofits, and how we’re just so focused internally at the expense of the societal good, hence forth VUCA counts. But anyway, that was my journey. And let me just pause there and…
Karla Nelson: Well, you touched on something great. I love what you say about the nonprofit and for-profit, for a long time I’ve always said that, nonprofits need to look a little bit more like for-profits, and for-profits need to look a little bit more like nonprofits because, there has to be a balance. You have to be sustainable, but then you also want to make a difference. And so, you have to balance those two things, I think it’s really important and gets lost on both sides. And you, you touched on a word that I want you to expand on that we hear, but maybe not everybody understands exactly what it is, or the components. Can you share a little bit about what you just stated there with VUCA?
Rodney Brown: Yeah. VUCA is a term that originated in the military, or a military force. And it really came out of this, and general Stanley McChrystal, really writes on this subject very good in his book Team of Teams. But it’s really about the challenge that the military was having, with dealing with a new enemy, and a new structure that was driven by technology. And so, the old hierarchical methods of which, of course the military is the example of a hierarchy right? Very few people are aware of that, the military has changed from a hierarchical structure, to what they call and develop, what’s called a shape shifting organization structure. And what they learned when they were going after Al-Qaeda, and you see how many years, and there’s still remnants of it going on. Over 20 years of fighting that war, was nothing like the prior Wars of Vietnam, or the war of world war two or one, where these things you had a hierarchical structure, and they were pretty much matched.
Here was a very clever structure that the amount of military power, the amount of military might, all of the Kings horses, and all the King’s men, could not conquer this ragtag group of organization. That at least that’s how they viewed them, and so every time they thought they had one, another one would pop up somewhere. So, they got on a whiteboard, and they started drawing, and trying to figure out what’s the structure here. And what they’ve learned is that there’s no hierarchy, it’s shapes and it’s shifts based upon the circumstances. So how do you fight that? So, they had to learn how to fight that. So that was the time where VUCA came up, and it stands for volatile of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. And that is the environment of which we’re operating in today.
Karla Nelson: Well, and I love that it’s an example from the military, because if there was one organization that not only had to adjust from the hierarchical application, because technology makes that even more challenging. You’ve got so many more components, that you’re trying to deal with, and it’s changing more and more every day. Can you share the components of VUCA as well?
Rodney Brown: Yeah. And this is my own approach that I see. But when you say, “What is VUCA? Give me some examples of that,” and on the quadrants that I’ve developed, but one is technology. And underneath that technology of course includes AI, which I can talk about a little later, but that’s really changing the fundamental way of the way we do everything. And it’s changing human valuations of human labor. So that’s one, secondly, is the wage wealth gap that’s occurring. And again, that’s driven by technology. So as you can drive money with the stock market, and all of these things that are being performed because of the algorithms, or if you’re in the right position and you have cash, you can make a lot of money without having to put any investment into main street. And so people say, when you see the wealth that, on the debates last night, I think they threw a number out that, the top 1% has made another 300 to $400 billion just in a four month of COVID. Right?
So how, how was that possible? It was possible because they’re invested in the financial markets. And the financial markets are financial instruments that are making money on top of it. Actually, the financial markets are making two to three times what they could make in main street. So when you have an incentive, for people with money to put it into the financial markets instead of main street, unfortunately, most people are going to go where they’re going to get their highest return. And so that becomes a policy issue that we’re not going to get into that, but neither politician is talking about how to address, or what’s really driving them. So that creates a huge wealth gap. So that’s one piece of it. The other piece that’s creating this huge wealth gap is the amount of displacement that is occurring, and it’s going to occur at a greater pace.
And that is using AI. Because AI is replacing a lot of physicians, and it’s not only going to be a blue collar positions, but it’s going to be cognitive positions, it’s going to be legal position, it’s going to be a certain medical positions. And so that changes the whole skills and the whole dynamic, right? McKinsey was throwing out some numbers anywhere from 400 to 800 million. I think they’ve toned that down to about three 50 as the latest numbers I saw. And that’s a global number, but still that’s a lot of people out of work. So, what are you going to do about that? So, I wish people would talk about that. But that’s creating, and technology is driving the economic value of human labor. So that’s a big issue. Noah Harari has written extensive, and eloquently on the subject of what we’re going to do with the useless society, if we don’t address some of these things. So that’s the second part of it.
The third part of it is what I call the societal or the DEI. And the DEI is what’s creating, some people call this the geopolitical nationalism that’s taking place, not only in our own country, but around the world. Whether you look at Russia, whether you look at what’s happening in China, if you look at what’s happening in Brazil, and you look at these leaders, and the type of leadership that’s taking place right now, it’s based on a sort of nationalism approach. And so, what’s driving that? What’s driving that is the two areas that I talked about earlier, which are the real issues have created this vacuum, right? And this vacuum, unfortunately, a lot of politicians have jumped in there and use the F word, and the F word is fear.
And so, the fear then is based on people. So, you got to find an enemy, who are the people? Is it the immigrants crossing the lines? Or it’s the people in these foreign countries? So, we got to have an enemy, right? That the take the focus off of, where the real wealth and benefit is, and again, that’s at the devaluation of human labor. And so that’s creating an interesting social dynamic. So, I call that the societal perspective of it, and that’s something that we have to address. And then the fourth piece is what’s called the environment. And for example, what’s happening in the environment, and that includes the biological things such as COVID-19, but we’re getting all kinds of information. Nature is telling us that we’re abusing the planet. And so, whether you believe science or not, and I tend to lean with science, but you also have to triangulate and value, and really look at what’s happened.
And what is happening is, the climate is changing. That’s a fact, nobody can argue that. You can argue all day about, where else at the carbon? Is it the amount of livestock and food? All of those are great debates, but while you’re debating that, it’s still getting worse. So, you got to address it. And so, this whole VUCA environment of those four components, is what drove me in a sense, “We’ve got to have a way of bringing people together and having conversations.” In a way that are fact-based, and lead to solutions. And that are unifying, and not allowing this vacuum to be filled with the fear that politicians are driving, to benefit their own personal constituencies, and some cases themselves.
Karla Nelson: Yeah. And there are so many overlays that you could actually apply to military, to just policy conversation, and the same thing that happens internally in organizations. And they all affect each other.
Rodney Brown: Absolutely. They’re Interdependent, and they’re intertwined. And technology weaves through all of them, and we could use technology as a great solution provider which you can, and I spend, or it can be our biggest nightmare. And so, we need some parameters around that, and we need to come together as a human planet to say, what are the parameters of humanity? And what is the value of that? Those are the big questions. And I wish someone would talk about it in leadership roles.
Karla Nelson: Yeah. Well, let’s shift there to your, we’ve spent a little bit of time on that in another call. That’s why we’re so intrigued to have you on the podcast here, is those six steps that you talk about, which again it’s not that once you go through one step that you’re done, right?
Rodney Brown: Right. It’s a continuous loop. It’s a continuous loop.
Karla Nelson: So can you share a little bit about that solution based, six components that you focus out that you move, again as a loop fluidly through, so you could understand where you’re at, and where your next step needs to be?
Rodney Brown: More than happy to. And so the journey that I’ve been on as I shared with you earlier, this is an accumulation of not only my journey as an executive, and working in organizations, and sitting in workshops, and working with consultants, and seeing hundreds of millions of dollars spent with organizations like Accenture, and not seeing an organization change. So, I’ve been through all of that and all the research. So, when I’m sharing with you is not only a personal experience, but also has been researched and validated in terms of the things, and I’m going to share here. And the first thing that we do, is we have what’s called a workplace engagement continuum, which really establishes where an organization is at. The beginning of that, there’s five steps in that before we get to the sixth. But it takes an organization that starts at the tribal level, and then goes to a dynamic level.
And within that, we talk about tribalism, and how tribalism can be a positive, but when tribalism becomes a negative, it becomes in the next stage, what we call the reactive state. Where people’s mindsets from the tribalism, they try to impose that on whichever new group, a new market, a new company, and they come with their own mentality, and they’re not seeking what I call an equal value exchange. Which means when I greet another person, or another market from somewhere else, I’m seeking my mindset. My culture is to understand what are the good things of this culture, and whether there are good things, and how do we make each other better? That’s not the way the market plays, that’s not the way what happens in organization, what happens is, one group tries to dominate another. And that’s where the term supremacy comes from, is when you don’t have an equal value exchange. So, we can see where organizations are at there.
And then we move to other phase three there, and that is what’s called the benefit stage, or the organic stage of where the organization really sees and appreciates the benefits of diversity. And I’m not just talking identity diversity, which is important, and extremely important, because there’s been policies, and government regulations, and there’s still behaviors, and there’s still ghost in these systems that still perpetuate it. Although legally, they don’t exist like they did before, and the laws have been changed, and people will argue about that.
But if you get into these arguments left or right, or whatever side you’re looking at, the one pain point that they both agree on, is that there are historical ramifications of systemic isms here. And so those organizations that understand that are in what I call the benefit stage, and they’re doing things to really bring people in. But it’s usually at the identity, and it’s usually because they got pressured, or there was some reaction that caused them to say, “Okay, we better get more people in.” For example, let’s take Nike, Nike saw and sees the benefit of having a divorce workforce, and having diversity, and seeing what’s going on with this black lives movement.
And I’m not talking about the black lives organization. Cause there’s a lot of things that I don’t agree with, with that, the organizational context. But I do agree with what the movement is about, and that is recognizing what’s taking place there. And Nike got out in front of it. And what happened is when they brought in Colin Kaepernick, and they said, “Okay, we’re going to promote, we see what you’re doing, you’re going to be proud of our brand,” what happened? And what happened is that people internally said, well, whoa, wait a minute, you’re not taking care of business inside here. And so, I don’t know why you’re going out, and purporting that you’re this company that’s progressive, and doing these things.
And this is typical in these organizations when they move from a reactive stage, and then they move into what they say is a benefit without dealing with some of the culture. So, then they need to move to what I call this organic, or the humane state. And this is the point where the company recognizes the whole individual, and they incorporate the whole individual. And It’s what I call, getting the individual to do the 24/8. And this 24/8 term that I use is, you get the whole person for the eight hours that they’re there to work. And boy, wouldn’t you love to get that? But it’s creating that environment, because you create an environment where people feel recognized, they feel valued, and then tangentially rewarded with that.
Karla Nelson: Yeah. And I love that piece too, because we do that same thing at the people catalysts’, with putting people in the part of the work that they do well. That one thing creates and shifts the culture as far as value, because so many times, we see people are held in their smallness instead of their magnificence. And so, it’s so critical and important to get to that, as you said, 24/8. So, okay. Go ahead.
Rodney Brown: And then the final one on this assessment that we do, is what was called a dynamic stage, and that’s where majority of conscious oriented organizations are trying to get to. And simply the dynamic stage is having a structure of humanity with high performance within that organization, right? With the agility and resilience, some of the buzzwords at the consultant organizations are using and, the new literature, and the new training is all around them. And what we’re trying to do is, reinforce humanity, and have high performance people in that organization, it becomes dynamic, right? That people are excited to doing things. They’re not fearful about what they’re saying and the retribution they’re going to have or walking on eggshells. If I say this, if I do that, no they’re focused on the work.
And that’s where a lot of the programs, and these initiatives that are well-meaning by very good, and educated, and brilliant consultants were misses. And if it doesn’t focus on the work, and it just focuses on the program, guess what? You’re not going to change the culture. You can change the individual, but understand that the individual, he’s working within a system, or he or she is working within a system. That system is going to overwhelm any individual changes that they have. So, what that ends up happening is one or two things, they got the training, but they’re back to business as usual, or they ended up leaving.
Karla Nelson: Yeah. And that doesn’t bode well on either side. I love that. I love that. So, what you just said there, the humanitarianism and high-performance, and then you become dynamic. Oh my gosh. So awesome. I continue to learn so much from you Rod, and where can our listeners and viewers find some information? I know you’ve on your website, you’ve got an amazing about 18-minute video where you were interviewed, but where can people hear more?
Rodney Brown: Well, probably when I get the book out next week, not next week, but next year it’ll probably be mid-June or July, and I’m on all the Instagrams, I’m on LinkedIn, all of that. Yeah. So, I’ve really been involved with the client work, and the writing of the book, and the software thing I was telling you about. So, I haven’t really been out on the speaking circuit as much, but I plan to change that next year. So…
Karla Nelson: Well, that’s very exciting Rod. Thank you so much for sharing your brilliance and insight. We really enjoyed, I always enjoy hearing what you have to say.
Rodney Brown: Yeah. Well, thank you. It’s been a joy, and really enjoy your program, enjoyed your energy, enjoyed the getting to know you, and hope that we can continue to do some things together in the future.
Karla Nelson: Absolutely.