Archive for August, 2010

Berry Gordy Was Right

Monday, August 9th, 2010

            What does the founder of a fifty-year legend known as Motown Records have to do with developing a Tricycle Leadership™ style? In a word, everything!  Beginning in a small boxlike two-story house in Detroit Michigan, Berry Gordy created an empire that dominated the recording industry in the sixties and the seventies, fueled extensively by his unique leadership style.

In Tom Brokow’s best selling book, Boom Brokow explained his key to management success. ‘Every Friday, at the peak of Motown’s popularity and success, Gordy would hold a meeting with everyone on his assembly line of hits – the songwriters, producers, and promoters – in order to review what they were going to do next.  He says, “There was a Motown philosophy: There are no stupid ideas, nobody could be embarrassed. Everybody spoke up. We didn’t let politics get in the way. It was about the best idea.”

That is the ultimate key to developing innovation and creativity, you must keep an open mind, you must be willing to listen to new and what might at first seem silly ideas, then ultimately filter them down to those that have a real chance of success.  Barry Gordy’s approach was systematized, i.e. it happened every Friday, and that is the key, it cannot be hit or miss it must be regular for consistency.

The Friday meeting of Motown has made an impression on most writers of the history of the company.  Gerald Posner, in Motown, Music, Money, Sex and Power says, ‘Berry set three ironclad rules for the meetings. First, no producer could vote on his own record; next, Gordy could overrule a majority vote; and finally, anyone who was more than five minutes late was locked out. The last rule was particularly important, since many of the artistic types who populated Motown’s hallways paid little attention to punctuality. Usually, however, after a few lockouts they became much better at managing their time.’

Posner went on to explain, ‘What made the Friday meetings so productive was that Gordy encouraged people to be honest and blunt. He promised there would be no reprisals for anything said, and it was a pledge he never went back on over the years. No one recalls anyone being punished because of something said at those meetings. And when people realized they were truly free to say what every they thought, frank expression became not just a right but rather a duty.  No one was free from criticism, and Gordy often let the attack.’

If there is any negative to his approach, it appears to be the personal attacks as a manager.  His attitude, because he was an entrepreneur, not a corporate manager was that ‘what ever went on affected his money ‘ so he may have been a little too close to the decisions. As Posner explained, ‘While words could sometimes become heated, those unique product evaluation meetings were key to Motown’s growth. The company’s strength was that it was small and nimble, able to respond to changes in the marketplace, and not encumbered with a burdensome bureaucracy that stifled creativity. Instead, thing “outside the box,” a later corporate maxim, seemed natural to early Motown workers. And there was also a spirit based on their high risk venture, a feeling that they had little to lose and much to gain.’

This 1960’s version of Tricycle Leadership™ included all the components for success, viz. fostering creativity and innovation, allowing employees to take a risk, and ultimately requiring accountability. Utilizing these three steps is foundational to creating collaborative and innovative leadership teams.