The ROC’s

I led a transformational change process that changed my life forever. Fifteen teams were located in offices through the Primary Market Area of the Star Tribune newspaper. Each team had a secretary. The secretaries came to be called ROC’S: regional office coordinators.

We created role groups around specific elements of work. We hoped the groups would be the structure we could use to institutionalize learning around selected topics, develop strategies, and create action plans. For example, we had a group for employee safety, one for employee satisfaction, one for customer satisfaction, and one for the administration of team budgets. Each team member was on a role group. Role group membership rotated each six months. We challenged the groups to establish a learning objective in their subject area, and to then put something new in place from what they learned. Each role group did a presentation to management each six months to share their experience and accomplishments.

Some of the groups did better than others. Those that set their own objectives did better than those whose team leader set the objective. Some topics seemed easier to manage than others. For example, employees could get their hands around safety; customer satisfaction seemed harder for them to impact in a strategic way.

The first presentations to management were just okay. What else should we have expected? The groups had struggled with process issues, goal-setting, and how to carry out their plans. But they all put forth effort, and a start had been made.

The ROCs made up a role group. Their job was to work together on systems development and office procedures. I attended their first presentation. They were enthusiastic and wanted to know what they could do to continue learning and how they could increase their involvement. I encouraged them to read Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline. I offered to provide some consulting help as they tried to apply the concepts of the disciplines, especially systems thinking and personal mastery.

Six months later, we were invited to the next regional office coordinator role group presentation. When I arrived at the conference room, I noticed it was decorated. The walls and ceiling had stars pasted on them—references to the future and to visions.

At the conclusion of their presentation, I, along with everyone else, was speechless. They had scripted their presentation around vision, systems thinking, personal mastery, and creating your own future. They had transformed the concepts into reality. They described their goal-setting process, how they divided up the work, and the results they achieved. They talked of reengineering work processes they managed and the savings this generated (without the help of consultants). They were alive, energized, and enthusiastic. They took responsibility for their own learning. Their presentation was a moment of “what could be.”

One thing I learned during this transformation was that front-line folks were often awfully smart—sometimes smarter than vice presidents—and the fear of such smart people can lead to resistance to employee involvement by senior managers.

Excerpted from my e-book, Value Driven Leadership: A Story of Personal and Organizational Transformation available at

Don’t Hurt the People


Nearby lay the wounded General Sickel, who had refused to be taken from the field before his turn and had watched the poignant scene from the shadows, “General,” he said, smiling benignly on his commanding officer, “You have the soul of a lion and the heart of the woman.”  In the Hands of Providence: Joshua Chamberlain & The American Civil War by Alice Rains Trulock


The business unit I led had moved to self-managed work teams. The workers were represented by the Newspaper Guild at the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis, MN. We had been meeting with the Guild for several weeks in an attempt to resolve several longstanding issues. This negotiation would allow us to move forward in our redesign and culture change efforts rather than waiting a year or two for the contract to expire.

Discussions were not going well. The union that represented the Circulation district managers also represented the Newsroom reporters, and they had an adversarial relationship with their management. Through bargaining the publisher hoped to gain commitment from the reporters for a newsroom reorganization, and the reporters were trying to make up for a wage freeze.

We believed we could come to an agreement with the district managers. We wanted to break away from the newsroom and negotiate our own contract. We decided to try. The vice-president of Labor Relations and I would meet with the head of the union and Dave, the union leader from our business unit. We hoped to reach an agreement with the union, and then try to get the larger union membership to approve those agreements.

We met and talked; the strategy might work. The executive secretary of The Newspaper Guild and the vice-president of Labor Relations sent Dave and me away to work out the details.

Dave was a rotund man in his late forties. There is nothing phony about him; what you saw is what you got. Slow to anger, when upset his face turned beet red, and he tells you what he thinks in no uncertain terms. Dave gives his all for the people he represented. The two of us fought over the years and had developed a mutual respect. I liked Dave.

We went to my office. We reviewed the components of a settlement, which would include the unions support in a job redesign process, which could change the job of the district manager.

Dave was very concerned about this possibility. He looked at me, and with love for his people in his voice and tears in his eyes said, “Please don’t hurt the people. Don’t destroy the work they do.” My heart went out to him. To me, his deep emotion and concern for his people were the essence of leadership. Dave was getting the best deal he could for those he represented and plead with me to be just.

The negotiations fell apart eventually, but the love in this leader’s heart for the people he represented will stay with me for a long time. In the years ahead, I would meet many union leaders in different industries. I never met one who didn’t care deeply for the people they represented. I wish I could say the same about the executives from top to bottom who I would meet.

I was told that when I left the company someone asked Dave to access my time as leader. “Well,” he said, “The job is better when he left than when he came.”

A few years later, the “job” and this union group would be destroyed.

Excerpted from my e-book, Value Drive Leadership: A Story of Personal and Organizational Transformation available at

Team 7

When we created our teams in the Star Tribune’s Circulation department field organization, we tailored our efforts to fit the union environment, and the culture of the organization. We reduced the number of supervisors and moved those who remained to a centralized office where they worked as a team. We changed all incentive plans to be team-based instead of individual and competitive. We created team roles. We began to shift work from the top of the organization down through the layers of management and staff and empowered district managers to make decisions about their work. Teams established work schedules. Teams assumed some budget management authority.

District Managers felt a great deal of ownership for the districts they alone were responsible for. They felt afraid to give up their districts and work solely as a team responsible for the larger area. We decided not to force this change—it would not work if we mandated the shift. The union would fight us, and the people would be angry and resistant. To be a true team, we felt we had to eliminate the individual districts that set up artificial competition for resources. Eliminating districts also seemed to be the most efficient way to utilize the time and talents of the staff. We let teams know that we would like a team to experiment and give up district boundaries. Team Seven came forward.

A couple of months later, the team leader, May Worker, came to me with a plan she and the team had devised to eliminate district boundaries. I rejected the plan and sent May back to change it. The plan did not fit my concept of how the work should be organized.

A few months later, I asked Steve Marine—May’s boss—how the plan was coming. He said fine. I told him to be sure that the team and May followed my instructions. I did not know that Steve had met with the team and heard their presentation on how they wanted to do the redesign. Their plan was different than what I had directed. They knew that I expected my instructions to be followed and would be angry that they weren’t; Steve was afraid to tell me. I was busy, and a couple of months passed.

One day, I asked Steve what was going on. He told me the truth. I got angry. I chewed him out—along with May Worker and Diane Olson. I told Steve to get a meeting scheduled with Team Seven. I would be the bad guy and tell them that they could not do the redesign the way they wanted.

We met at Team Seven’s office. All of the team leaders and union leaders were there. We listened to Team Seven for one and a half hours. They had written a mission/vision statement for the team. They explained their job redesign and how it would work. The team figured out how they would handle workload issues. They talked about how the redesign would affect the people who worked for them and how issues would be handled. Team 7 talked about their weekly team meeting and how they handled conflict.

One team member courageously told a story of how the team was upset with him and confronted him. The team members went to May for advice on how to talk to him. May volunteered to talk to the man for them. They said no, they wanted to handle the situation. They just wanted May’s advice on how to confront their teammate. The man spoke of what he learned from this experience.

I asked many questions and the team had good answers for all of them. Their pride in their work was evident in their voices. Their commitment was powerful. We were moved by what we saw and heard.

I said, “I have to eat some crow. I told you that you had this wrong. You defied me. That took courage. You did what you believed in and you were right.” I felt proud of the team, May, and Steve. I learned much that day about listening to those closest to the work.

Excerpted from my e-book: Value Driven Leadership: A Story of Personal & Organizational Transformation available at