Good intentions about collaboration and teamwork are great, but they must be matched with solid business results. That’s the lesson I take away from reading Business Week’s article about Paul Pressler’s Fall From The Gap.
Pressler sought to instill a culture of collaboration that, unfortunately, met with less than stellar results. Certainly Pressler’s cultural change initiatives were not the only factors in the Gap’s decade-long decline, but it may have contributed.
It was Gap’s longstanding corporate culture that caught Pressler’s attention early on. At the time, the no-nonsense corporate mantra was “Own it, do it, get it done.” But Pressler thought this ethos didn’t sufficiently promote collaboration. He set out to promote a new environment built around the slogan “Purpose, Values, and Behaviors.” Among the catchphrases were bromides such as: “Explore, Create, and Exceed Together.” Pamphlets promoting communication and teamwork landed on employees’ desks. Posters and banners trumpeting the bland new slogans went up around headquarters.
In the beginning, “people were very receptive” to the effort, says Alan J. Barocas, the company’s former senior vice-president for real estate. “It was embraced.” But eye-rolling started as the initiative began consuming a lot of time. Former employees say they had to sit through countless meetings, workshops, and role-playing seminars where Pressler and his hr executives discussed the new culture. Many staffers felt they were wasting their time in get-togethers that didn’t address the crucial matter of creating and marketing clothes. “hr was out of control,” says a former insider.
Pressler’s collaboration initiatives may have met with a different fate if retail sales had improved instead of continuing to fall throughout his tenure. Guiding an organizational culture toward greater collaboration, teamwork and openness has been a hallmark of success for many leaders, such as Whole Foods Market’s CEO John Mackey. However, the same initiatives can be viewed as time-wasting distractions from core business objectives when they are not accompanied by positive results.
I like that the Gap’s board gave Pressler several years to achieve results at the retail giant, because a dose of patience is often needed when trying to reverse negative trends. Unfortunately, the article indicates that a series of seemingly bad operational decisions doomed Pressler’s efforts.
What’s the lesson for the rest of us? I believe it is that team leaders and managers should develop both cultural and operational strategies jointly, ensuring that each supports and reinforces the other.
Easier said than done, I know, but imperative nonetheless.
What are your thoughts?