"Companies have got to learn to eat change for breakfast." Tom Peters
The CEO and the Monk describes the unlikely partnership of a savvy CEO and a former monk who led their company to the top even while embracing a higher set of business standards. It examines KeySpan's success from the perspective of Robert Catell and Kenny Moore, who have formed an unusual but potent relationship that has enabled the company's rise from a small local utility monopoly to one of the nation's largest and fastest-growing energy providers. It has done so by adopting the values of the community it serves and espousing a management philosophy that brought caring and a sense of soul into the workplace. The results not only improved the bottom line, but forged a corporate culture with meaning.
Robert B. Catell is the CEO of KeySpan, one of the nation's largest energy providers. He is one of the most highly respected business leaders in New York.
Kenny Moore is a former monk who left the religious life for a successful career in human resources. He is currently Corporate Ombudsman at KeySpan.
Glenn Rifkin is a veteran business journalist who has written extensively for the New York Times and co-authored many groundbreaking business books, including Radical Marketing, The CEO Chronicles, and The Ultimate Entrepreneur.
tompeters.com asks Kenny Moore (the monk) ...
What is this book about?
KM: It's a small story of one company's experience. It's not meant to be the type of book that says here are the answers, here are the seven steps that you should follow; it's a story about a 100-year-old company that grew up in Brooklyn and became a Fortune 500. Featuring a driven CEO, Bob Catell, who brought the company from a staid utility into the deregulated energy industry, who hooks up with this former monk who he finds working in the company.
I don't know a lot about business, obviously, but I know something about people. I know something about passion. I know something about rituals and ceremonies that could possibly be used to engage employees in change initiatives, and for various reasons we hook up, and this is the story of us working together.
Could you give me a brief synopsis of your background and how you ended up at what was then Brooklyn Union Gas?
KM: I grew up in New York City. When I graduated from high school I went away to a monastery. Rather serious lifestyle. Spent 15 years there, was ordained a priest, worked with them, and then reached a point in the early eighties where I came to the realization that it was no longer working. I think Tennessee Williams said there's a time for departure even when there's no clear destination in sight. I left. Came back to New York. I thought I was living in poverty when I was in the monastery. I came back to New York and lived with my widowed mother in a one-bedroom apartment that was worse than the monastery. So I said, obviously I need to get a job.
I began networking. Actually, there are a lot of former priests who have left [holy orders] and are working in business. I was fortunate enough to meet an executive here at what was then Brooklyn Union Gas. He spoke with me and then he said, "Obviously you're a talented person. Even though you have no business experience, you've worked for one of the largest international not-for-profit corporations in the world. I think we can find a place for you in corporate America."
He hired me in the human resources department. The first year and a half I was here I was very Joe Corporate. Designed and implemented the company's first formal performance appraisal program, with all the anchors and performance management measures and all that stuff, and tied it in with the compensation program.
Then I was diagnosed with incurable cancer at its most advanced stages. It's the same cancer that killed Paul Tsongas. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. There's no cure for it, but the National Cancer Institute outside Washington, D.C., was doing research on it.
So I went to my boss. I said, I have cancer. I'm going for experimental treatment. They say it will take a year. Aggressive chemotherapy followed by full body radiation. No guarantee. I said I don't know whether I'll be able to come to work or what the situation will be.
He said to me, we like you, Kenny. Go take care of yourself. We'll cover for you. If you can come to work, you come. If you can't, don't worry. I think that's the day I fell in love with the company.
That was the Vice President of Human Resources. His name was Tom DiMartino. I spent the next year going through that stuff. Then I came back. It was bad enough I had 15 years in the monastery. Now I had a near-death experience under my belt. I was also newly married. So I was no longer interested in climbing the corporate ladder. Because my doctors had made it clear to me I could be dead tomorrow.
I thought I had to leave my spirituality and my values and my way of looking at life in the monastery, that I had to leave all that behind when I came to business. I said, what would happen if I didn't leave it behind?
Do you think that it was surviving the terminal cancer that made you think that, or were you tending to think that way anyway?
KM: I think initially when I came to business, because I had no experience, I didn't know, so the only thing I knew was the monastery, and I said I don't think that's going to be what they're hiring me for. So I put that on hold and just engaged in the process of doing work. Now, of course, I think I bring who I am to that.
But you must have come into corporate America really feeling like an outsider and you know these outsider stories, often one route is trying to outdo the insiders at their own game. Did you feel compelled to be overly corporate at the beginning?
KM: No. I tried to be diligent but I had a severe learning curve, because I was largely ignorant of the gas and electric business.
As are most of us.
KM: Well, I had some skills in terms of dealing with people and education and training and motivation. And we worked with some very good consultants. When I was teaching, I had to stay one chapter ahead of the kids sometimes. Same thing was going on here.
Well, you do write in the book that "the best thing I did for my business career was to forget about having one." Can you elaborate on that?
KM: I think when I came back from the cancer treatment and I gave up trying to climb the corporate ladder, I became more available to become who I was. Speak my mind. Have a greater sense of humor. And work on the corporate good. You wouldn't think that would be a recipe for a CEO to notice you. But I started working with him on implementing an incentive compensation program for his senior managers. His executive team. I had to sit with these guys and define goals. To which they'd be evaluated, and if they met the goals, they'd get money and if they missed the goals they'd lose money. They don't like that.
I began working with these people, and that began my relationship with Bob Catell. He was then President of the company, and would actually go on to become CEO. He was in the process of working with his executive team. I would sit with these people and they would bitch and moan, partly about him, but I think anybody at that level who aspires to the top position in the organization always think they have better ideas, and I chalked a lot of it up to that.
But some of what they complained about actually sounded accurate. Periodically I'd sit down with Catell and update him on the process and ask for his input. One day I said to him, I know what you're trying to do up here, and I'm assisting as best I can. But as I talk with your leadership team there are actually some things surfacing in my private conversations with them, things that you do that actually get in the way, that kind of circumvent what you're trying to create here.
He looked at me with these steely eyes and said, what do you mean? So I said, well, for example, some of the people feel that you start a meeting by giving your opinion on the discussion and then people are reluctant to disagree with you. You might want to consider holding onto your opinion until the discussion takes place. This way you don't influence people.
Or you want to invite input and you want different opinions, but sometimes you don't respond well to it or you take exception to it, which communicates that you're really not interested in people having different opinions than yours. That compromises your effectiveness, especially at your level.
He looked at me and said, what else? So I went on, I thought he was very interested. I reached the point where I finished, and there was this awkward silence. Personally, I'm comfortable with silence. CEO types tend not to be.
He said, you know, this is very interesting. I understand what you're saying, and there's actually some value in hearing this because some of the things you've said I actually had suspicions about. Some of the things it would be worthwhile for me to be aware of, especially now as the world is changing quite dramatically for us. It might be worthwhile for us to regularly meet. I called this a "take it for what it's worth" session. Meaning that it was just my opinion and what I said wasn't necessarily anything that would be acted on.
We began scheduling these regular "take it for what it's worth" sessions, which have gone on for more than a decade. I went home that night. My wife also works for the company. She's has an MBA. She said how did your day go? I said, it actually went better than I planned. I had a meeting with Catell and I told him how he's pissing people off and his contribution to the problem. She looked at me and says, are you out of your mind? You don't do stuff like that in corporate America. They'll fire you. I got you through cancer, she said. I don't need you getting killed at the workplace. Just keep your mouth shut and do what they tell you. That's how it goes, Kenny. I said, well, actually he was interested in what I had to say. So I had this bizarre conversation.
One viewpoint of people who become CEOs is that they're not terribly introspective. But Bob was willing to listen, to think about these things. I think he understands also that when you get to that level much of the information that gets to you is filtered. It's usually filtered favorably. Anything that might be politically or personally sensitive, people are reluctant to come forth with it.
Yes, you were in effect a breath of fresh air for him or a breath of real news.
KM: I spend most of my time dealing with employees. Two-thirds of our employees are union. I also had the ability to say, here's how it's being interpreted on the street. Here's what the employees think about this, and it would probably be worthwhile for you to get off this executive floor and meet face to face with these people. You don't expect to be lied to by a priest. You trust these people and you hope they have the common good at heart. With the passage of time people get to see what your true motivations are. Whether you're in it for myopic self-serving reasons or if there's something larger going on.
You've put yourself in an odd position where you would have these regular meetings with the CEO and tell him what was going on and then you were also out talking to whomever, the union workers, anybody at any level within the company. It seems to me they would be thinking that, well, this Kenny Moore guy is a spy and he's going to be ratting us out regularly to the CEO. But was it the fact that you'd been a priest that perhaps gave you a little bit of a honeymoon with people? That they were willing to wait and see just because of your background?
KM: It's possible, but what I think is probably more compelling is the fact that people have a chance to see me day in and day out and watch how I respond and how I use the information, and did I use it in a way that got people in trouble, or did I use it in a way that helped move the business forward?
The other observant people who I think are big players in the corporate world are secretaries. They're the gatekeepers and, I think, at some level they know when you come to see an executive whether you're there selling your own agenda or whether there's something larger going on.
Actually one of the present secretaries said to me, the only reason they haven't fired you, Kenny, is they fear divine retribution. There may be some truth in that. And the fact that I had almost died, and then returned ...
It's clear that a lot of your value comes from not taking yourself too seriously, not taking others too seriously, and then Bob Catell himself even writes at one point that he doesn't take himself too seriously.
Can you shed any light on why so many people in the business world take themselves so seriously?
KM: When I went to the monastery, one of the first classes I had to take was in the Bible. The old monk who was teaching it said, in the old testament, Samson slew the Philistines using the jawbone of an ass. Imagine what God could do with a complete ass.
Now I like that. It was one of the first times I felt at home. I said, oh, I could do that. George Bernard Shaw said that if you're going to tell the truth you'd better make them laugh. Otherwise they'll kill you. A sense of humor helps. Especially in a charged environment. Business has become more and more charged, more and more serious, and there are serious aspects to it. I understand seriousness. I've almost died a few times. Not that I'm without seriousness, but my whole life can't encompass that. And there's a growing amount of stuff out there about the need to improvise as things are changing quickly. We even had an improvisational comedian, a guy named Izzy Gesell, come in and work with the top 500 people of our organization.
When things are changing quickly and you don't have certainty but you still have to act, how do you do that? Well, part of it requires discipline. We have more than enough discipline in this company, what with all the engineers and accountants. What we don't have is the playfulness side. We need to practice, though, to work at this less serious component. I think the fact that I could be playful with Catell in public and that he didn't take exception to it, but that he engaged in it, helped send a message that, we are business, and we are moving forward, and we have serious challenges before us, folks, but we can't lose sight of our humanity.
I think Catell never uses the word spirituality in dealing with me or any of this stuff. He does use the word humanity. As far as I'm concerned, what's inherently human is also sacred. So we're both working on the same stuff, just from different vantage points.
I use the word passion. I'm impressed by the passion I see in our employees. It's not because we pay them well, even though we do. These people go above and beyond repeatedly, because they care, they have a sense of professional commitment. They're good human beings. That message doesn't get out to the press enough. They usually find the dirtbags. That's not been my experience. Although business has done enough on its own recently to tarnish its image.
When deregulation hit the utility industry, Catell realized that the old Brooklyn Union Gas Company had to become a new entity, an energy company. The sense was that the old company had to die in order for the new one to be born and as part of that transition you had the idea to have a corporate funeral. Could you talk about why you did that and how it worked and what value that had for the people and the company.
KM: To give you a little bit of background. Since I entered the business world with zero experience, I had a lot to learn. People like Tom Peters at that time were providing the language that corporate America could use to legitimize some of the work I do.
I had also read some of the work of William Bridges. Bill had this book out on transitions. He said a transition doesn't really start with a beginning, it starts with an ending. And you've got to acknowledge that. The people go into this neutral zone where the old rules are not in effect any more and the new rules haven't been created. It's kind of ambiguous but it could be very creative as well. Then you go on to a beginning.
I was working with Catell about this incentive compensation program. I was hosting a meeting with Bob and the rest of the senior team to define the goals, and we took a break in the middle of the meeting. We had recently, for the first time in the company's history, because of deregulation, offered an early retirement program. We had a large number of employees retiring, and that was new for us.
What usually happened when someone retired was that invitations went out to all the executives and they went to a party. But now there were 150 people retiring and these guys are getting invites for 150 different parties. Nobody wants to go to 150 retirement parties. They suggested we have one corporate party for all these retirees. As executives we could go, we could thank them and then our responsibilities would be complete.
So I'm listening to this. Then they looked at me and said, Kenny, we'd like you to organize the retirement party. Well, when you're low man on the totem pole in a room full of executives, it's thanks a lot, okay. But then I upped the ante. I said that the people you should be having the party for are the people who are staying. From everything I read, and I don't know a lot, this is the group that's going into the future. If I'm going to have a drink with anybody, I'm going to have a drink with them. You should think about doing something for those people who are going to be staying behind—the ones you're going to be relying on.
These engineers and accountants looked at me like I had two heads. They said, gee, that's very interesting, Kenny, you can leave now. Go back and start putting together that corporate party.
I came back to the office and I cursed them, but there was a shift in me that day. I thought, I don't think they understand what I'm talking about. Because I don't think they have any experience around situations like this. Neither do I, but it made more sense to me as an outsider. Maybe I could help them see what it looks like.
I decided I was going to host a bon voyage party. Based on the William Bridges ideas about transitions. I went to Catell's secretary and I said, listen I want to host this event. Is he free for an hour or two? She said what date? So we looked at dates and we got his calendar. Then she said, do you want the other executives to go? I said, yeah, but I don't know how to get them there.
She says, oh, no problem. I'll put it on their calendar and just say it's a meeting with Catell and Kenny Moore about goals. And they'll all show up. As I said earlier, secretaries are great.
I booked one of our large training rooms downstairs, which holds about 100 people. I had a dozen executives coming, and Catell. I invited a handful of management employees and then a host of union employees. Because I wanted it to be like a journey, when they came into the room it was empty except for the three corners, which I had decorated around endings, neutral zones, and beginnings. And there were 60 chairs spread around the floor.
I said, take a seat and we'll start. The executives are looking around, thinking, what am I doing here with these other employees. I started. You know there's a lot of changes going on for us as a company. For the first time as a company, we've got a large number of employees retiring at the same time. As we move forward, it's helpful to come together as a community. We think change starts with a beginning, but it really starts with an ending. What I'm going to do is take you through what the experience of change is going to look like here at Brooklyn Union.
These people look at me like: What? I said, now pick up your chairs, because it's a journey I want you to travel. Pick up your chairs and come with me down to this first corner. In this first corner I had tombstones on the wall. We have a display window in the front of our corporate office, and we have seasonal displays around gas and electricity and stuff, so this was from the Halloween display.
I had a table that had a funeral urn on it, and I had ordered a large funeral wreath, with a stand. It read, "In Loving Memory." I had a cassette tape of Gregorian chant; I have a lot of those still. The music starts playing. I take out my priestly stole, I put it on, and said, Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to bid a fond farewell to the Brooklyn Union of the past.
The CFO turns to the executive next to him and says, am I at the right meeting? I continue on. As you know, the world is changing. For us to change, you can't say hello until you say goodbye. It's important for us to say goodbye to the past. To inter it with dignity because we stand on the shoulders of our predecessors. It's not that it's bad, but it's just no longer the way we're going to be doing business. It would be helpful for all of us to state what is over for us. I said, I'll write it on these index cards. I'm going to put them in a funeral urn. Why don't you now tell me what's over for us as a company.
Faces are looking at me like what the hell's going on? Then one of these managers leaves. I just waited. The tension mounts. Then one union employee says, you mean like lifetime employment? I said, that's right. That's over for us. I wrote it on the card and dropped it in. Somebody says lack of competition. We used to have no competition as a monopoly. I think we're going to have competition. Right. Wrote that on it and put it in. After a while people started catching on. I wrote some more cards and I put them in the funeral urn and I said, okay, we're going to now lay this to rest with dignity. I took out some water and blessed it. I blessed the crowd. I felt like the pope.
I said, in a few minutes we're going to go now to the next corner, which is that in-between time, but before we go there, we are not leaving everything behind. There are actually some things we have to take with us that have been critical to our success as a company. I have a steamer truck here and I'd like you to tell me what we need to take with us. I think this actually made sense to them a little now.
Someone said, "Well, we'd want to keep our sense of commitment to the local community." I said, right, local community, that's good. Someone else said, "Our interest in technology, I think we've been an innovative company." So I also wrote that on the card, threw it in the trunk, and I said, okay, now pick up your chairs and let's go to the second phase.
Everybody is following along with their chairs at this point?
KM: Right, because it's a real journey and you need to physically feel that. I get to the next section, which is this neutral zone. I had, from our Columbus Day display, the Santa Maria on the wall. I said, you know, it's like being on the high seas. You leave the security of port. You haven't arrived at the new destination, so it's this in-between time. It could be creative. So if you've ever been on a cruise, since we have this liner theme, I said, you know one of the first things you do once you get out is they make you go up on the deck and you go through this evacuation exercise. You practice putting on your life jacket. I grabbed this engineer from the front and I put this uninflated life jacket on him. I said, during this time of transition, when things are changing, we don't have security and certainty, and it's ambiguous, what would we need to do to keep ourselves afloat. Tell me, I don't have a big budget here. Write it on the index card and I'm going to paste it on his life vest.
Somebody says—now they're into it!—oh-oh, we're going to need a sense of humor. Right. Enduring change and stress is going to require a sense of humor. Commitment to customer, eye on the bottom line. Whatever they said I put it on his life jacket. Another thing I wanted to just share with them is, we talk about change and we think we can just mandate it. That's bull. Change is about invitation. And invitation gets its power from the right of refusal. It's about choice. Corporate America doesn't like choice. They like to make believe they do.
I wanted to do a little exercise on choice. That employees have choice about change and that there are different values out there. Are you familiar with Let's Make a Deal?
KM: I led them through a version of Let's Make a Deal. I grabbed this accountant from the front. I gave her a $20 bill. I said, you can keep the money, or you can have what's in the envelope that's here in my hand, or you can have what's in the box. Pointing at the others, I said, you're supposed to help this woman make the decision.
I feel like Monty Hall. People started yelling, Keep the money, keep the money. You don't know what's in the box. Other people said, no, take the box, it's bigger. It was chaotic, but there was a sense of playfulness about it.
She says, I'm an accountant. I'm going to keep the money. I said, okay, before you get the money, let's see what you gave up. I opened the box and in the box was a corner office. I said, oh, you could have had a corner office with a view and big furniture. Because some people are motivated by that. You want the money, fine. Let's see what was in the envelope that you gave up. We opened the envelope and it said meaningful work.
I said, yeah, but you got money. You may not get meaningful work. I said, a lot of people in corporate America do that. But it was just an exercise to say there are different motivators, and you can't force people and people ultimately make decisions. And it could be fun, too.
I said, okay time's running out, pick up your chair. We've got to go to the third and final section of the room. And there I had, from our Valentine Day display, a stork with a baby in its beak. This represented the beginning. I had ordered a sheet cake that said Congratulations on the birth of your baby. I wanted to have champagne for the toast, but we have a non-drinking, non-alcohol policy here.
They take the fun out of everything.
KM: At least in the monastery I could drink. In corporate America they don't even let you drink. I had this non-alcoholic cider instead. I said, this is an opportunity for us. This is a time of change when we're actually engaged in the future, making it a reality. I'm going to give you this flip chart paper and a box of crayons and I want you to break up into groups of 10 and go to different areas of the room and I want you to draw out for me on the flip chart paper your vision of the future, what it looks like to you.
Now there's union and management and executives in all these different teams. They're drawing pictures of the sun and rainbows. The group that had the chief engineer, he was arguing, he was telling them what the future is going to look like, and they were arguing back that they didn't want that future. I just thought it was great.
So I said, okay, let's bring your flip charts back, let's go randomly around the room. What's your picture and what does it mean and they explained them all. Now let's pass out the cake and the cider, I said, because we're going to have a toast. That's what births are about. There's no degree of certainty that the child is going to live but it's our collective commitment to the future, that's why we come together. That's why we have a drink, we raise a toast, and we share the cake.
I said, if you worked for me, this is what I would do for you to help my staff move into the future. I said, you know, at the ending section over there, one of the guys said what was over was the future job market for white males. I wrote it down, I didn't take exception with it. I said, if you worked for me I'd want to talk with you more about that because I'm not sure that's true. But I said, so this is what I would do, because this is where we're heading. It's helpful to talk about that and engage people in an active way rather than a passive way around this.
I asked, how did this feel for you? What did you think of this? One of the union guys said, I didn't like it, especially when you were talking about the future. He says, you know, I've been at the company 30 years and I don't think I'm going to be doing the same work, and I don't like that. In fact, it's a threat to me. Well, it's not far from the truth, maybe.
Another woman said, I kind of liked it. I really didn't understand how deregulation was going to play out and what our role is, and it kind of made me enthusiastic, because I thought that it could have greater possibilities for me.
Then Catell the CEO stood up and spoke: "These are the kinds of things we need to do more of. I really appreciate Kenny doing this here today because we are going into deregulation and we are bringing part of our past but we can't bring everything. There's going to be challenges there with no sense of certainty, but I believe that's where the future is and that's where we're going to grow and compete."
Then he turns to me and says he wants me to present this at the next monthly leadership conference in the auditorium. I said, ooh, all right, fine. Then he ended and he thanked people and people left. As they were leaving, the CFO came over to me. He said, "I've got two things to say to you. First, you've got some set of balls. Second, I don't know anybody else who could have pulled this off." I thought that was interesting, because some other people said, gee, that was really dangerous, or it took a lot of bravery to do that.
Maybe I was naive. Maybe after you've had a near-death experience doing something like that is not a big threat to you. I didn't see it that way. I just thought it would be interesting. I mean, what have you got to lose. It was an interesting way of applying the business principle of William Bridges. I actually had a chance to meet Bill and share that story with him. He said, oh, I like that a lot.
I think it's brilliant.
KM: So then we did it for a group of 500 people. Did that change the corporate culture? No. It did, though, do several things. I think it became a symbolic moment in the organization, especially when Catell introduced it. It was important that he said, this is the kind of stuff we need to do. This is the kind of stuff I support. Another thing that happened was, once we did that for that large audience, it then spawned another corporate initiative, which was company-wide. They called it back to the future. We brought employees in for a full day program. They spent the morning looking at the company's past, the present, and then the future, and then they spent the afternoon in the auditorium talking with executives and having questions asked, and, sometimes complaining, but getting a greater first hand understanding of the whole situation.
So that's the story of the corporate funeral. Actually people still remember it.
It's interesting that people thought it was so dangerous. That seems to say a lot about corporate America. What's wonderful about it is it's extremely innovative and you spent about $40.00 doing this.
KM: The most expensive piece was the floral arrangement.
Right, but everything else you just found in closets.
KM: A shoestring. You make it up.
In the book you relate how, after 9/11, you told your CEO to just listen to people. Because he's an engineer, and because he's a guy, you knew that he would feel the need to give everyone answers. You said, just listen. And he did that and that was a huge lesson for him. Why is that such a huge lesson for us to learn and why was he receptive to it?
KM: Several things surface with the act. I think there's an unwritten law in corporate America that whoever speaks the most and the loudest wins. There is very little comfort level with silence, with introspection. We also believe in business that we have to have an answer, and that is true. Especially the lower you are in the organizations, if you have answers, if you solve problems, you get promoted. But the work of an executive is not about problems, it's about something I call predicaments. The imponderables. The dilemmas. What I like about problems is at the end of the day they get solved. Predicaments don't get solved that easily.
You've got to grow the business, increase sales, reduce costs, lower the work force, improve morale, and increase the numbers of females and minorities in senior management. That's not a problem, that's a predicament. You understand that taking two steps forward is going to get you one step back. At the end of the day you don't get closure. You're still left with your ass hanging out there.
Executives hate that. That's not their competency. That's not why they got promoted at least. They got promoted for fixing problems and they did it well, which is also why they like to go back and micromanage. That's their strength. But what's required of them is to deal with the predicaments in business, and that requires some reflection, some comfort level with ambiguity and uncertainty. Some interior compassing. What are your values? What are we trying to create? And where are we moving, collectively?
The theological word, by the way, for predicament, is mystery. I know something about mystery. That's how I help them. It's not about reacting, which is kind of a knee-jerk executive, right? I've got to come up with the answers. They raise the problem. They got that information wrong, let me correct them.
They've got to understand that this is not about them. They don't have to fix everything. That's hard for them. Very hard. But actually people don't listen. Our employees won't listen to you until they first get to unload. So you have to let them say their mind. Listen in a non-judgmental way, and once they're through speaking, only then are they willing to listen to you. I keep telling the executives, if you want to be an effective communicator, shut up!
It's counterintuitive for them. Oh, no, I've got this whole executive speech I'm supposed to give, they say. Yeah, well, let go of it, because it's not about you. I think there's something Biblical about that, too.
You also told Bob Catell at this time that his greatest gift at that moment was to remain publicly visible before the employees. Which reminds me of Mayor Giuliani, who was this much-despised person until 9/11, when he showed up and stayed and ended up becoming Time magazine's Man of the Year. But how did you know that? That the CEO just needed to show up?
KM: Because for me, what September 11th represented was not a problem, it was a mystery. It's the mystery of evil. As a priest I get confronted with that all the time. Like when somebody walks into my office and says my daughter just died of leukemia. What do you have to say to that? You don't say anything. But you can be present for that person.
Corporate America thinks it's about sharing our strengths. I think, moments like that, it's about sharing our humanity, sharing our weaknesses. I don't need your strength at that moment. I don't need a bloody answer. In fact, if you try to give me an answer I'll resent you for it. But it's coming out of our own personal poverty. I don't have any answers and yet I care. That's about being present to people in the face of horror, misery, and loss.
I like the word understanding. It's what we offer at moments like that. The word actually tells you what you need to do. You need to stand under a person. It's almost like a bridge. Stand under. You support them. Let go of your need to give answers. Don't say I know how you feel; you have no idea how they feel. But I care for you enough to be here, to be here with you with nothing to say outside of my presence. And oddly enough, it's more than enough for people. They appreciate it. It's powerful.
You have a lessons learned section at the end of the book. One of them is to increase your tolerance for opinions that drive you wacky. We have a Cool Friend, Bob Sutton, who wrote a book called Weird Ideas that Work. I'm reminded of one of his eleven and a half ideas, which is "hire people who drive you crazy."
Even though you're not thinking in terms of increasing innovation, I'm thinking that perhaps those ideals you hold would actually help stimulate innovation at a large company like KeySpan.
KM: We're all dying to be creative. I show up at these events, and people say, nobody's going to respond, Kenny, because they're not artists like you, they don't come from rituals and ceremonies. But I tell you, engineers and accountants do fine. They do. Now I know it's awkward, I know it's scary, I know there's like an hour of silence, but they quickly step to the fore. There's a great need for creativity.
I just finished reading The Deviant's Advantage, by Watts Wacker. It's a good book. Corporate America hates deviants. But they need them. Because they're the key to innovation and growth.
I think part of my gift is that I've been able to provide that forum but not scare the crap out of them. Maybe that's because I'm a priest, maybe it's because I'm a male or I come from another corporate setting, which is the church. But what I represent and what I'm trying to bring about are just different ways of approaching what they're trying to do.
But it's not as if I created this or Catell created this. It's within a much larger environment. I responded to it. I got away with it. So I did it more.
Thank you very much.
Web site: www.keyspanenergy.com