I have always been a big fan of Andy Grove and of Intel’s constructive
confrontation approach. But, as with all effective management practices, the use of this approach may be difficult to sustain in practice and over
time. A former Intel insider, Logan Shrine, wrote me this morning about
his book about the demise of the Intel culture (written with Bob Coleman) called
Faith”. Logan's comments, prompted by my positive
comments about Grove and constructive confrontation in my book, are pretty interesting:
Logan's comments, prompted by my positive comments about Grove and constructive confrontation in my book, are pretty interesting:
“Intel has what's called "constructive confrontation"
that was instituted as part of the Intel culture under Andy Grove. As an
ex-Intel employee who had worked there under Andy Grove and also under the two
subsequent CEO's (Barrett and Otellini), I can tell you unequivocally that
constructive confrontation was a license for assholes to be assholes and
express themselves (one most likely thinks of engineering
stereotypes). It wasn't there to police them, but to give people
carte blanche to express those behaviors. There is and has never been
(during my tenure) any consequences for managers who are assholes at the
company. As someone who worked at other Fortune 500 companies before
joining Intel, I can say without question that Intel's culture is dysfunctional
and anomalous to what's considered acceptable behavior in any other corporation
that has any semblance of a human resources structure.
Now, you are probably thinking that I'm a bitter ex-Intel employee. I'm not. In fact, I'd like to attest that what made Intel's culture operationally perform was when everyone was treated equally under constructive confrontation and people exercised their right to constructively confront other people when they witnessed a clear violation of Intel values. Although I would not condone Intel's form of this behavior at any other company, it worked at Intel when the culture was egalitarian in its enforcement of the practice. What changed in the culture (I talk about this in my book, "Losing Faith: How the Grove Survivors Led the Decline of Intel's Corporate Culture") is when the managerial ranks put themselves "above" the values and practices of the culture - in effect, considered themselves "entitled." Once this occurred, there was an obvious and visible change in the hiring practices to bring people in who wouldn't "question" management or the behaviors that were in antithesis of the published values. Managers didn't confront other managers, subordinates didn't question their managers (even when some of their decisions didn't make sense or were self-serving instead of benefiting the company), and people became confused and disillusioned. This led to breakdowns in process and project execution and subsequent declines in operational efficiency and performance.
This sounds like a most interesting book, and Intel is a company that I’ve always followed closely and been fascinated by, I just ordered a copy.
In addition, I want to emphasize (whether they are doing it right at Intel or
not), a large body of research shows that groups are more effective when they
fight in atmosphere of mutual respect – with performance that trumps groups
that don’t fighting over ideas, or worse
yet, engage in vicious personal conflict -- something I talk a lot about in Weird Ideas That Work. If Logan is right, it
appears that Intel is swerving toward less constructive conflict, and that the
culture is losing its edge in other ways. But I would be curious to hear about Intel from other knowledgeable insiders,
former insiders, and anyone else who knows Intel well their reactions to Logan’s note and his book (if you have read
it, of course).