CKGSB, one of China's major business schools, has run an interview with me regarding Haier's reinvention experiences (along with a short video). This interview gave me an opportunity to reflect on what we have really learned about revinvention from the Haier experience that might be generalized to other organizations.

 

If I follow the flow the interview, the first lesson that comes to mind is how important strong, self-confident and even charismatic leadership can be in a change management situation. As a result, I continue to reflect on Jim Collin's lessons from Built to Last, when he told us that told us charismatic leaders are not important. I no longer think that that’s true. Look at Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Or Meg Whitman at Hewlett Packard. All of these people are strong. They are all top-down. They’re all self-confident. And, in a sort of geeky fashion, they're all incredibly charismatic. It’s that combination of strength and self-confidence that allows them to accept ideas from below. The thing we learned from Haier is that if you don’t have strong self-confident leaders at the top, you can never unleash the voices from below, because an unconfident leader is suspicious, threatened by people from below.

A second learning is that Haier is consciously and deliberately about agility, but it's agility in the service of a very explicit value-proposition of being able to give the customer whatever they want, when they want it, no matter where they are located and at an affordable price. The precision of this value-proposition [the way it is worded for their business model] enables them to go beyond the rhetoric of "agility" and be quite specific about what will be required organizationally and what managerial choices must be made. This is a big advantage!

Haier's reliance upon self-organizing small autonomous work units, that are close to the action, provides a great illustration of how such dynamics enable a normally complex organization to accomplish so much more. No one looking closely at Haier should ever doubt the potential of small and autonomous in describing work. In the interview, I characterized Haier as a venture capitalist overseeing many start-ups within a large complex organization. I think that that is an interesting way to think about what it might take to encourage more innovation in a large organization, and how it is possible to bring a "Silicon-Valley-type culture" into what would otherwise be a  bureaucratic environment.

Finally, as I think broadly about the Haier experience, what strikes me as a huge achievement is that they have made change an acceptable part of daily worklife. Rather than to be feared and avoided, change has become a familiar part of everyday Haier. This gives them so many advantages when the next need for change inevitably arrives.