This year’s winner is John Shook for his marvelous and lively recounting of the history of one of the most successful large-scale, directed organizational changes in recent times. Shook is an industrial anthropologist who played an active role in the change effort and provides both a memoir and crisp set of guidelines in “How to Change a Culture: Lessons from NUMMI.” The change effort he describes is the famous GM-Toyota partnership at New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI). It turned a spectacularly underperforming, downright dysfunctional auto plant in Fremont, California, into a model manufacturing operation using the same workers. The turnaround is most frequently attributed to the power of the famed “Toyota production and management systems” (the prototype of lean manufacturing), but Shook carefully narrates a rather different story highlighting the slow and somewhat piecemeal cultural change efforts that occurred at NUMMI. Shook emphasizes not corporate mandates aimed at changing minds but the implementation of work processes that shifted decision rights in the company and changed behavior: “Start by changing what people do rather than how they think.”
This is a classic organizational change effort following precepts put forth by Richard Beckhard some 40 years ago. The focus is on company-employee relationships and the trust (or lack thereof) that accompanies such ties. Beckhard’s signature focus in the change efforts he studied was on how trust is generated and maintained across segments, both vertical and horizontal. Although NUMMI closed its doors in 2010, it had nearly a 25-year run as one of America’s most successful manufacturing plants. John Shook’s account of the reasons behind such success should be required reading for anyone concerned with planned organizational change and just how culture — in its various guises — plays such an important role in these efforts.
One of the founders and architects of the field of organizational development, Prof. Richard Beckhard was a member of the MIT Sloan School of Management faculty for more than 20 years. A longtime friend of MIT Sloan Management Review, Beckhard was known for his efforts to help organizations function in a more humane and high-performing manner and to empower people to be agents of change.
His books include Organizational Development Strategies and Models; Organizational Transitions: Managing Complex Change; Changing the Essence: The Art of Creating and Leading Fundamental Change in Organizations; and his autobiography, Agent of Change: My Life, My Practice.
The prize was established in 1984 by the faculty of the MIT Sloan School of Business upon Professor Beckhard’s retirement and renamed the Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize after his death on December 28, 1999.
This year’s panel included three distinguished members of the MIT Sloan School of Management faculty: Schussel Family Professor and Chair of the MIT Sloan Management Review Erik Brynjolfsson, senior lecturer in Information Technology Cyrus Gibson and Erwin H. Schell Professor of Management John Van Maanen.