When I was about 20, I was at Guernsey airport waiting for a flight to England to resume studies at Cambridge University. A small paperback book on the twirly book rack caught my eye. It was called “Up The Organization” and written by Robert Townsend who had been the CEO of Avis when the “We’re Second, We Try Harder” slogan started. It describes ways to lead a corporation to make it more fun for the people who work there. I bought it.
Here’s what’s odd about this. Apart from some vacation jobs with a couple of large companies, I had no real experience of the corporate world. I certainly didn’t have any deep-rooted sense that anything was ‘wrong’ with them. Despite this I bought a book with the theme of improving organizations. More specifically, “a way to humanize business” as it says on the dust cover. Strange to be attracted to something so outside my experience. And yet I read it cover to cover and re-read it. It seemed to resonate to an inner sense of purpose that I was unaware of.
I went on to complete my studies and became an engineer. Building things, not organizations. Not distracted at all by any goings-on at head office. “Up the Organization” stayed on the bookshelf.
Nevertheless, decades later, the seed germinated. And here I am with this phrase as the underlying purpose for our consultancy: to make organizations more productive whilst making them more fit for human habitation.
Robert Townsend wrote his book in 1970. Sadly, everything he says in it is truer now than then. It’s time we did something about it.