The Rummler Legacy

Author: Alan Ramias

Imagine a table.  (A big table.)  Around that table are sitting the many, many people who were influenced by the work of Geary Rummler.  They are talking about how they first encountered Geary’s work, how it affected their own thinking, perhaps how they met Geary or had the opportunity to collaborate with him.


These days, Geary is probably known to “the masses” as a process guru.  His book, Improving Performance, co-written with Alan Brache and published in 1990, did help ignite the tremendous interest in process modeling, improvement and management that was one of the biggest business trends (or fads, if you wish) during the Clinton years.  But Geary started his career some twenty years before that.  If you think about it in terms of the types of people he influenced, in addition to those who would label themselves as performance consultants or process professionals these are some of the characters you would find seated around that big table:


Trainers aching to make a difference.  A great many of the people who attended workshops, read articles, or went to conferences where Geary was a contributor were from training departments.  And it was originally from him they got the understanding that to make a real contribution to organizational achievement, they had to affect performance.  They got their notions about this from Geary, along with their courage and some practical insights about how to accomplish it.  And many did, some on a small scale and some large (like Motorola University).


Quality Control/Assurance/Compliance types.  The Japanese manufacturing juggernaut that took down numerous American industries in the 1970’s and ‘80’s triggered a belated expansion in the role of Quality as a significant function in many corporations.  Heads of Quality suddenly found themselves at leadership meetings and expected to make a contribution far beyond providing defect reports.  A good number of them used the process improvement approach from the Rummler-Brache Group that for some years was about the only game in town for how to do real process improvement.


OD Consultants.  Hard to say what OD is, exactly.  It’s sort of a coaching role in some places, or a facilitation resource, or sometimes a hotbed of faddish ideas about self-realization, empowerment, yada, yada.  But in some organizations, OD has had a real role in systemic organizational improvement.  OD types more interested in doing stuff than in talking about stuff or facilitating the talking-about-stuff, found ideas, comfort, and again courage, in Geary’s ideas about organizations-as-systems and the Anatomy of Performance.


TQM/Six Sigma/Lean Six Sigma/Lean/Kaizen.  Some people know that Six Sigma, the program originating at Motorola and spreading thus to many other organizations, was an amalgam of Rummler’s process improvement methodology and Motorola’s home-grown version of TQM/Lean/Kaizen.  Some practitioners don’t much care about the origins of the tools and methods they employ, but those who do can recognize Rummler’s hand in this field.


HR Leaders.   The standard—perhaps jaded, certainly limited—view of HR is that it is a collection of functional areas loosely having something to do with employees, or “human capital” in today’s strangely non-human jargon.  But there are certain HR leaders who see their functional organization in systemic terms, as binding together a set of capabilities vital to corporate mission accomplishment.  Some of them were Geary’s clients, doggedly pursuing a means for profoundly contributing to their organizations.


Educators.  A number of university professors had collegial connections to Geary.  He exchanged ideas, debated with them, invited them to join his various commercial endeavors—and several did, off and on usually.  He was recognized as a contributor to a body of knowledge about organizational behavior and a scientific approach to organizational improvement even though he made his contributions via business applications rather than by conducting science experiments.


Business Analysts, Business Architects, and other IT Professionals.  Geary’s final years at PDL coincided with a growing interest in process and performance inside some IT organizations. Geary spoke at a number of conferences populated largely by IT audiences and while he never claimed much expertise in technology himself, Geary was able to articulate to them their potential role in driving organizational performance as the quality community once did.


The Aspiring Masses.  Geary affected a lot of people when they were early in their careers in whatever their field, as they were casting about for how to succeed in business or make something of themselves.  If you ran into him at a conference or other public event, you could go right up and talk to him.  You did not have to be a friend of his, or a collaborator, or a co-worker or employee, necessarily.  You just had to be interested, and he would talk with you as long as you wanted.  Sometimes he was so willing to share what he was doing that it alarmed those of us in business with him (“He’s giving away our secret sauce!”) but that never seemed to bother him.  Perhaps because he saw his work as being as much about the advancement of a science as it was the running of a business, he shared openly.  He was the ultimate collaborator.


So, those are the folks around the table.  And we’re going to attempt to turn it into something real—albeit virtual—by setting up a LinkedIn discussion group for anyone interested in the Rummler Legacy.  We’ll keep you posted.