The Corporate Spark

Thank you to Social Capital Blog and @peterwmcmahon for bringing Frank Koller’s first book to our attention.  I am looking forward to giving a read.

Here is the Wall Street Journal’s review of Spark. How Old-Fashioned Values Drive a Twenty-First Century Corporation:Lessons from Lincoln Electric’s Unique Guaranteed Employment Program.

The Social Capital Blog and WSJ reviews focus on the issue of guaranteed employment because that is the tack that Koller has taken with the book.  But guaranteed employment is just one of James Lincoln’s four organizational pillars that remain in place to this day.

The others were a management advisory board made up of employee representatives; wages based on piecework, so that the quality and quantity of individual workers’ output can be monitored; and annual performance-based bonuses.

Here is the quote from Lincoln that inspired Koller to explore this story:

“The only way we’ll have any kind of widespread job security in today’s business environment is if we change our thinking as to what makes good management.

Instead of praising corporations that downsize, we need to look at their actions as admissions of failure.

We don’t need layoffs – we need creativity.”

It is easy enough to see why Koller has headed in the direction of job security and guaranteed employment, but I wonder if he zeros in on the wrong point.

It seems to me that Lincoln took his strategy to develop trust with workers.  The most important elements of the quote in my opinion are not the reference to job security but the call for a “change in thinking” and recognition that trust is a critical prerequisite to the organizational creativity needed to maintain sustainable competitive success.

In other words …

We must manage to optimize our enterprises for social capital to thrive in

the new economic model.

I am not interested in reading Koller out of nostalgia for “Old Fashion Values”.  I find it easier to relate to James Lincoln as a visionary, ahead of his time … which explains why so few have followed his example.

My interest in reading Koller’s Spark comes from the opportunity to learn more about experiments in maximizing corporate social capital.

On the other hand, if we need to look at Lincoln as a throw back to mystic better times to sell entrenched aging management, I am all in.

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