ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum


January 1998

Articles

Have Faith In Your Future
Popcorn Discusses Consumer Trends, Effects on Business

Success Comes From Breaking New Ground - Not Plowing The Old

Taking It To The Public
Business Community Works With School Leaders to Turn a District Around

A Marriage Of Convenience
Unions, Management Team Up to Counter Takeover, Redesign Organization

The Baldrige Award: Winning Isn't Everything, Improving Is

Cutting Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face



Columns

Caring About Place
by Peter Block

People Powered Organization
by Cathy Kramer


Features

Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Pageturners
Book Review

 

Have Faith In Your Future (continued)

NFC: You foresee companies continuing to be smaller in size. Why is that?
Popcorn:
It's really my cashing out trend. People are very turned off by big corporations. They feel they were right-sized and downsized out of existence and there's very little loyalty to the big model. It's also icon toppling. We want a little bit of the feeling of being independent and entrepreneurial. We want to express our own ideas. There's no reason to go through the 15 or 20-year process to a high title. What we want is the satisfaction of seeing our ideas at play, which often means breaking away from big companies, starting smaller companies, being entrepreneurial.
Women are opening up new businesses at twice the rate of men. And they're employing more people than the Fortune 500 combined. They've been able to break out of the corporation faster because they were so disheartened by it. Now husbands are following wives home and we're seeing an incredible, unbelievable upsurgence of new small businesses.
Some of it's connected to the 'techknows' and the 'technots,' because they have a very interesting symbiotic relationship. So we, the 'technots,' appreciate that we need the 'techknows' to make our ideas come forward. The 'techknows' really understand the future of technology and interactiveness, but that needs a human side, a touchy side. I think we're going to see some very interesting yin and yang around those two entities, in every business and beyond business in the culture.

NFC: Certainly large companies can create an environment to succeed just as small companies can be equally oppressive.
Popcorn:
It depends. As the head of a small company you are the mainstay, it's hard to hide. You do invite more interaction in a small company. A small company feels more like a cocoon and it operates usually less hierarchically. It's very tough to have a military unit, which I think is a very stupid old construct in a small company. In a large company it's very easy to default to that, though again I don't feel it's a productive way of running business.

NFC: Right, but large companies could find other constructs.
Popcorn:
Yes, but you have to stick with it. You just can't go in and pay lip service and train and then never spend the money on implementing training.

NFC: At your organization, Brainreserve, do you work with a team of employees?
Popcorn:
Our staff is about 28 people. Some of who are flex-timers. We really do believe in the virtual office. We're based in New York and we deal mainly with the Fortune 500, at a pretty high marketing/strategic level.

NFC: What have been the challenges for you? Tom Peters says that, "employee problems begin with employee number two."
Popcorn:
That's very good.

NFC: What have been the challenges for you as your company has grown?
Popcorn:
I think, personally, the challenges have been truly creating a collaborative environment for the best ideas and recognizing that with this new knowledge-worker there needs to be a tremendous amount of freedom and a lot of support. For example, if you can't get in because a child-care worker has not shown up, the question is, not that you can't get in, but how can you get in. So, we'll either set up childcare here or have right on hand an immediate support system. I have sent some of our support people out to people's homes to watch the kids so I can get the worker in. It's just being extremely supportive and immediate about the support. It's not lip service.
I also think part of the key to our success is that this is not a particularly nine to five place. It gets up early and it goes to bed late. I want our staff to be collaborative and to be feeling that Brainreserve is not the work they go to, Brainreserve is a part of their life. I like it when people bring in children and they talk about the next generation working here, and kids talk about that too. I think that it's very wonderful to have almost a procreation mentality here.

NFC: What has been the biggest disappointment as you've gone down this path?
Popcorn:
It's not a disappointment exactly.

NFC: Or the hardest.
Popcorn:
I have to be patient with the fact that I think a lot of people haven't caught up with us yet. I hear a lot of, "Why can't I stick to the path? Why do I have to change? That is large corporations. Look, I'm going to retire in five years, can't I just wait this out and not implement future trends and future changes into my business right now?" That I always find very saddening because you can't. It's hard to put off the future. I mean the future's coming whether you like it or not. And I think that's the saddest thing. People are so worked over by so many situations where they feel helpless that they just don't want to catch up with the changes.

NFC: Do you think that maybe some of your success is offering a reassurance by codifying what the future might hold?
Popcorn:
Yes, that's what I try to do. And let me say that I try to take peoples' hands and gently take them into the future. You can't bash somebody over the head with it. It's too scary. It's understanding how to transcend from this moment to five years out. And also not to have the rearview mirror mentality of looking behind and saying it's always going to stay the same. The way we work is to chart out a consumer landscape ten years out in the future, or more, and we figure out big changes and we kind of back it up to 1998 or 1997. We explain to companies what they have to do now to meet that consumer ten years out in a successful way. That's been very interesting for many companies, because they realize some of the changes are so obvious to make - right this minute.

NFC: In "Clicking: 16 Trends to Future Fit Your Life, Your Work, and Your Business," you describe the trend of 'anchoring' - a return to customs of the past and spiritual values. How do you see this played out in organizations?
Popcorn:
I think that trend has a lot of impact for AQP because both quality and participation are little pieces of anchoring - looking to other cultural roots, to well-believed beliefs that have worked for a long time and then applying them into future areas. That's what anchoring's about - looking back to our spiritual sides and then helping make our ways to the future, which as I said can be kind of scary territory.

NFC: How do you do that in organizations that are largely dehumanized?
Popcorn:
Well, I think egonomics, which is a trend that talks about customization - this new concept of a menu of benefits. People should go deeper than that. Where would you like your company contributing its time and dollars? What about volunteerism? What are we doing to really understand our employees and how they arrive in the morning, where they came from, what was going on at home? All that used to be considered 'none of our business,' now is the future of our business, if we start to customize our understanding of each employee. I think that's how you start to humanize companies that want to stay in very strict silos.

NFC: If we follow that thought of meeting whatever needs the employee brings in the door, the implications for organizations are rather dramatic.
Popcorn:
They are dramatic. And employees really do cast their vote in your favor by the quality of the time they give you. So I think it is a tremendous solid payback when you recognize them and inspire them. They will recognize you and inspire you. I'm a very big believer in that. I don't mean to overstate this, but I think underneath that entrepreneurial burst is the fact that women are opening up businesses. They've managed families for so long that they now manage businesses in a more familial, less hierarchical fashion. And that really seems to be a very good connection to how the 2000s are going to be run.

NFC: And they'll still be able to make money.
Popcorn:
Yes. I don't think you lose profit in this. I think it's important to recognize that profit is one way of measuring success, but it's not the only way. I think that's what is changing.

NFC: What might be some other ways to measure success?
Popcorn:
I would say lack of employee turnover. I think meaning something in a cultural way in your community, maybe in the larger work community. What does your business stand for? What is your belief system? I think having an impact beyond your business category is another way of measuring big success.

NFC: What's your most recent junk book that you read, or latest film?
Popcorn:
Oh, I hate to tell you, but I will. I loved "Seven Years in Tibet." You see that's anchoring
right there. That was a very interesting juxtaposition between what is truth and what is value. But I have to tell you, I did read "The Royals." I was a little sorry.

January '98 News for a Change | Email Editor

 



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