Up the Organization - Notes

Originally written in 1970 these notes are from an updated edition published in 1980.

Robert (Bob) Townsend was the CEO of Avis, the sub-title of the book how to stop stifling people and strangling profits was a plea to corporate America and its senior managers.

Townsend describes the book as a ‘survival manual for successful corporate guerrillas.’

James O’Toole a research professor at the University of Southern California, described Townsend as the first true modern corporate leader – ‘one who manifests vision, integrity and courage in a consistent pattern of behaviour that inspires trust, motivation and responsibility on the part of followers, who in turn become leaders themselves.’

A very short summary of his approach, ‘no reserved parking spaces, no org charts, no job descriptions, no short term pandering to Wall St, no company planes, no golf club memberships. On the positive side stock options for everybody, honesty as the best policy, reinvestment for the long haul, rewards for performance, commitment to product quality, true delegation, encouragement of healthy dissent and above all the virtue of putting customers first’.

Bob was adamant that you cannot ‘manage’ people they have to be led, he was also adamant that leaders can’t motivate anyone; only create the conditions where individuals can motivate themselves.

Have to subordinate yourself to those you lead. ‘You have to become a manager who carries water for his people.’

Most important currency of leaders is time – invest time in your people.

All decisions should be made as low as possible in the organization. The charge of the Light Brigade was ordered by an Officer who wasn’t there looking at the territory.’

Delegation – too few delegate authority in important maters but this is critical as it helps people to grow.

Boards of Directors / managers can share a nervous impulse, ‘they keep pulling up the flowers to see how the roots are growing’.

If you don’t do it excellently, don’t do it at all. Because if it’s not excellent it won’t be profitable or fun and you’re not in business for fun or profit what the hell are you doing here?

One of the most important tasks of a manager is to eliminate his people’s excuses for failure.  To do that you have to be out there with them so they tell you about the problems only you can solve and you can ask what you can do to help.

‘Rewarding outstanding performance is important. More neglected is the equally important need to make sure that underachievers don’t get rewarded. This is more painful so doesn’t get done very often’.

Hubris – ‘Mangers tend to make their biggest mistakes in things they’ve previously done best’. We get cocky when things are going well.

‘Work can be approached obliquely as well as directly. This is why people should be allowed to work out their own office hours and vacation patterns. Everybody will have a different system for building up a head of steam.’

‘True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not the enrichment of the leaders. In combat Officers eat last.’

‘Too many lead only in the sense that a carved wooden figurehead leads the ship.’

‘The best managers think of themselves as playing coaches. They should be first on the field in the morning and the last to leave at night.’

Management consultants. ‘The effective ones are the one-man shows. The institutional ones are disastrous. They waste time, cost money, demoralize and distract people, your best people and don’t solve problems. They are people who borrow your watch to tell you what the time is and then walk off with it.’

‘Marketing in the fullest sense of the word, is the name of the game. So it had better be handled by the boss and his line.’

Mistakes. ‘Admit your own mistakes openly, maybe even joyfully.’

Organizational charts – they have their uses but draw them in pencil, never formalize, circulate or print them.

‘Provide the climate and the right nourishment and let the people grow themselves. They’ll amaze you.’

The Appendix includes a good 10 question ‘rate your boss as a leader’ questionnaire.