Almost every change management professional talks about “management buy-in.” But actually, the most interesting and powerful business process improvements occur without the involvement of leadership.
There’s a long history of dramatic changes that are done in relative secrecy. Perhaps the most famous are the “skunksworks” projects from Lockheed Martin. An article from an issue of of Code One Magazine told the story:
During early 1943, as a result of prescient jet engine design work by chief engineer Hall Hibbard and conducted by Lockheed’s Nate Price and the then little-known Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, the Army Air Force’s H. H. “Hap” Arnold drafted Lockheed to design and build a jet fighter to counter the rapid technology advances then taking place in Nazi Germany. On 17 June 1943, the Air Force formally approved what was to become Lockheed’s first jet aircraft-the US Air Force’s XP-80. That day is considered the birth date of the Skunk Works.
The security surrounding the project and the expeditious manner in which the aircraft was to be designed and built meant that most of the bureaucratic norms for new aircraft design and manufacture could be circumvented. Hibbard, Johnson, Willis Hawkins, Art Viereck, Donald Palmer, and a team that eventually totaled 128 went to work immediately constructing a jet fighter. The schedule was severe. The jet-powered aircraft was to make its first flight within 180 days after the project started.
The deadline was met. On 8 January 1944, Lockheed’s Milo Burcham piloted the XP-80 (nicknamed Lulu Belle) into the air for the first time at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards AFB) about seventy miles northeast of Los Angeles.
In all of the technical language about aircraft designs, there are three important facts:
- The “Air Force formally approved” the plan to build this plane to “counter…rapid technology advances in Nazi Germany”
- Jets had never been built at Lockheed before
- “Most of the bureaucratic norms for new aircraft design and manufacture could be circumvented”
The irony of this situation should be apparent. We all know that large companies have complicated procedures that enable them to complete large projects. The skunkworks story, however, seems to imply something different. If you want to succeed in a mission-critical endeavor in record time, forget the official policy and ignore management.
Sometimes, the most interesting process improvements are the ones made without any official approval or by conforming to the rules. That doesn’t mean you should always flaunt authority. Rather, the reality is that positive change is often most effective when we do it on a small scale. The most revolutionary ideas, after all, often come from the bottom.
At AccelaWork, we love helping companies and non-profits to become more productive, more efficient, more effective and more satisfied. We encourage everyone to recognize that management buy-in is often a myth. After all, why should you need to convince someone to allow you to make choices to improve the quality of your own work?
Sound interesting? Find out more. Contact our consultants today!