Escape from the Red Zone

Peter Naylor and Claire Crittenden have a revolutionary approach for confronting the business world's last taboo: emotion.

The restaurant could be in any suburb of any mid-size city in America. Lauren could be just about any successful businesswoman in any company. She's doing well in her career: in her mid-30s, she's already an assistant vice president at one of the largest banks in the world. She's on the fast track.

It's a track she feels is headed straight off a cliff.

Every day she comes to work she enters a world of fear and anger. Discussing it over lunch, she's careful not to remove her dark glasses. She feels as if she were identified as someone willing to talk openly about her work conditions, she'd be disciplined, perhaps fired. Her workplace feels like a weird paradoxical juxtaposition of paranoia and family closeness — half the time it's an episode of "The X-Files," half the time it's "Ozzie and Harriett."

"My boss came back from a Tom Peters seminar," she says. "A motivational session. Very upbeat. He thought he was going to get us all pumped. He took Peters's remarks out of context and put them up on the overhead: 'We're all going to be replaced by workers in India.' 'We're all going to die by our own hands or at the hands of our competition.'"

She tries to smile. "This was his idea of motivation," she says. "Every day I feel like a miserable failure. I work 60-hour weeks. I get no praise. When I told my boss how I felt, he said, 'What are you talking about? You exceed my expectations. I couldn't be happier. You'll be making more money than you ever dreamed of.' When I told my husband about it, he said, 'He doesn't realize how big you dream.' I don't get it. It just doesn't add up. My husband says, 'Your life is so good. Why do you feel so bad?'"

Nothing in her daily life offers her relief from the pain of work. Vacations aren't relaxing. While she's gone, the wolves begin to move out of the shadows. Corporate rivals sniff out any irregularities in her department. At her health club, she imagines pushing the free weights into her boss's face. The emotions are so powerful, they scare.

But recently Lauren signed up for a program created by Peter Naylor and Claire Crittenden in Rochester, New York that she hopes will help her make lasting changes at work. She's in the process of testing some of their ideas on her job. One thing is certain: whatever success she may have with the program, it's going to take a long time. She knows that she'll be confronting the last taboo in American business: emotion in the workplace.

Peter Naylor is no Stephen Covey — there's no million-seller where he lays out his management theories. Claire Crittenden is no Tom Peters — there's no series of seminars or speaking tours where she exhorts adoring audiences to improve their performance. They're no Peter Senge — there's no university-based think-tank where they conduct their research. You won't find them on the covers of business magazines identifying them as mass-market change gurus with an easy-to-apply business cure-all.

Over the past 20 years, Naylor and Crittenden have worked earnestly and steadfastly to forge an approach to change that is genuine, authentic, and radical. Where most change programs offer reams of advice, their system steers into the heart of darkness in American business — emotions. They embrace the issue that they know is virtually anathema within American business. They expose their own vulnerabilities in the seminars they hold. And they work slowly and painstakingly to spread their message virtually one person at a time.

Today Naylor and Crittenden are still flying below the radar screen of big-time change programs. Yet when you talk with them, the conclusion is inescapable: whether or not you choose to try their approach — even if it just provokes your own thinking — this program is revolutionary, a catalyst that could change the way all of us work, making organizations more successful places and the people in them happier and more fulfilled individuals.

The program, called Natural Validation and Planning Systems, or NAVAPS, is a distinctive, powerful, and difficult-to-implement approach to organizational change that recognizes the most fundamental force in daily work — and the most overlooked: human emotion. Human emotion, says Naylor, drives both success and failure in business. He talks about emotion a lot — even though he knows it's a taboo subject in business. Numbers are hard, reliable. Emotions are soft, elusive.

"People do not want to hear what we have to tell them," Naylor says. "It goes against everything people actually do in managing people, regardless of what they say they believe."

Naylor and Crittenden are equal partners in the company and have contributed equal parts to the whole. When they give a seminar they take the stage for equal amounts of time. Crittenden emphasizes the practical application of the techniques. Naylor diagrams the theoretical underpinnings of the program. Some people warm up to Naylor; others prefer Crittenden. In a world of change agents and motivational gurus trailed by support staffs, the Naylor-Crittenden partnership is a working research and development lab for the system itself. In their program they stress cooperation and teamwork instead of domination and subservience. They also happen to live it in the operation of the business.

The program is built on a set of assumptions about the unchanging emotional mechanics that drive all productive work. People are motivated by either "red" emotions — anger, fear, greed — or "green" emotions — genuine enthusiasm and confidence. Either sort of fuel gets results. Yet one set of emotions gets results as it slowly destroys people; the other can actually improve people's quality of life.

All organizations in the contemporary world manipulate emotion, warp it, force it into the red zone, hindering productivity and destroying people as a matter of daily business. Naylor and Crittenden say that all contemporary organizations are sick. A few, and only a few, are struggling to get well.

Most managers don't want to hear this sort of thing. Any talk about feelings smacks of therapy and leg-warmers from the human resources department. Most business operates on the assumption that it doesn't matter how people feel about their jobs, as long as they get the work done without going postal.

"But what happens?" Crittenden asks. "You may make lots of money. But in the long run productivity falls off. Quality suffers. People don't show up for work. They drink. And those are the successful ones. The failures don't have that luxury. They get downsized. We have a way of managing emotion. A way to help people pay attention to it without letting it take control. And that's the whole key. People can't just go around doing what they feel like doing. And yet how they feel about the job is almost all that matters. If you don't understand that, it's like trying to build a car without understanding internal combustion. Emotions and feelings make the whole thing work."

Their alternative model for organizational life and the politics of emotion has simple ground rules: No flattery. No advice. No criticism. No motivation whatsoever. No telling people how to do their jobs — outside of a genuine training environment. Never. At all. Period.

"Flattery, advice, criticism, and motivation rob workers of their freedom and ignore the essential emotional current that runs through encounters between manager and subordinate," Naylor says. Nine times out of ten, that emotional current is red: a Molotov cocktail of anger and fear, grounded in feelings of subjugation.

The logic goes something like this: The person on the receiving end of flattery or advice or criticism feels manipulated. The person giving advice assumes the worker can't do the job alone. Criticism presumes failure and weakness. Motivation fires up workers, but turns them into obedient machines. Flattery is manipulation, unless the flatterer turns the gesture into a true compliment by making it absolutely specific — in which case it emphasizes the achievement without creating a dependency on the praise. As a consequence of these techniques, workers feel obligated, compelled to take action — they feel as if they have to do something.

"You can get things done through 'have to'," notes Crittenden, "but people get revenge. It just takes different forms — sick time, missed deadlines, absenteeism."

Most management, in other words, triggers what Naylor and Crittenden call a person's Red Box: the most primitive survival, fight-or-flight reflexes hardwired into the deepest and oldest layers of the brain. Most people work, not because they're genuinely willing to work, but because they're afraid not to. Management as it's now practiced is one of the most primitive forms of human behavior.

Naylor is standing in a windowless conference room. Facing him are three dozen facilities managers at one of the largest cancer center in the world, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson, in Houston, Texas. The cancer center is part of the Texas Medical Center, which is virtually a small city unto itself, employing 50,000 people with annual revenues of $8 billion. Everything about Naylor is unexceptional: medium height, gray suit, white shirt, conservative tie. He has the face of an older soap opera character actor. It's his message that burns.

"You aren't going to want to hear this," Naylor begins, addressing the stone-faced Texas managers. "Organizations today are like the Flat Earth Society. We're telling you the world is round. You'd think people would be so happy to hear this. The world is round! This idea will expand your horizons!" he says and then grows quiet. "But how do people respond?"

"With fear," someone says from the back of the room.

Crittenden — tanned, dark hair streaked with gray — nods her head from where she's sitting. William Daigneau, the head of facilities management at the center, has flown Naylor and Crittenden to Houston after using their system with his top staff for more than a year. Now he wants to spread their system to all of the managers in his division.

"As a male macho executive, what am I not supposed to feel?" Naylor asks.

"Fear!"

Yet fear is what keeps everyone moving. That's the central paradox of modern management.

When it's Crittenden's turn in front of the group she asks them to think of words that might activate an employee's Red Box. They call them out, and she lists them on a tablet. There's laughter of recognition at some of them: Loser. Moron. Idiot. Failure. Need to. Have to. Must. Now. Or else. You have no choice. We need to talk. You didn't. Deadline. And by the way. Lazy. No. It's your future. Procrastination. How often do I have to tell you? Hello? Babe. Honey. Your negligence in this matter. Bitch. Has to be. My expectation. You did what? You said what? Huh? Oh no.

"These words will flip the switch all right," she says.

"You don't want to flip his switch," somebody says, pointing to a younger man at one of the round tables.

"I flip his every day," another manager says, laughing. There are a few other nervous laughs around the room.

The younger man doesn't react, doesn't smile. The older manager isn't laughing now, either. His face turns red. Houston, we have a problem.

The problem, Crittenden tells them, isn't emotion. Emotion is just the indicator. The problem is that in business everyone pretends that emotion isn't the root of everything that gets done. "Emotions can turn from green to red without being destructive," she explains, "as long as you don't suppress them or refuse to manage them. Phonied-up positive thinking is the last thing you need. Trying to solve the problem by forcing changes in your emotions is like putting your thumb on a thermometer to warm up a room. Red emotions aren't the problem. What causes the red emotions is what destroys people."

Contemporary management, in practice, is almost totally dependent on the Red Box: Without it, along with the animal impulses of fear and greed that it inspires, external motivational techniques wouldn't work. Yet the Red Box is ultimately self-defeating: it pushes and pulls the worker in two opposite directions. You work out of fear and, simultaneously, resist the urge to work, also out of fear, knowing the process always ends with shortfall and criticism. Every success will still feel like a failure.

Naylor is 62 now. More than 30 years ago he was an engineer at Ingersoll-Rand working in a variety of roles, at one point as an air-compressor salesman. He worked his way up into staff responsibilities, bought a 17-room house and had a beautiful wife, three intelligent daughters, and a country club membership. The problems were all below the surface: he kept his own liter of gin in the freezer.

In the early '70s, he met someone at a trade show who told him about a program called The Dynamics of Personal Leadership — a multiweek seminar involving a set of tapes and a handbook designed to teach principles of self-motivation, time management, and goalsetting. He signed up. After implementing the system on his own, he quit his job and became a distributor of the program.

Several years later, he teamed up with Crittenden, who'd run her own small businesses — health food, graphics and printing, and wholesale exercise equipment. Together, they've expanded the fundamental program — moving around upstate New York and finally settling in Rochester — to the point where their seminars are almost totally distinct from the original handbook and tapes.

The mechanics of the program are deceptively simple: work between managers and subordinates boils down to "design" and "validation." Together the manager and the managed design the future of the organization, writing down goals and the mutual benefits they seek to achieve. Once goals are identified, management leaves it entirely up to the subordinates to choose the actions that will achieve them — with no meddling. Managers only validate achievements with written, physical recognition of actual outcomes — on paper — while ignoring shortcomings, no matter how dramatic. Then the design process starts again. Not planning and evaluating. Design, validation, design, validation, in an endless cycle.

What sounds mechanical, however, in fact has an esoteric intellectual and philosophical heritage. In part the program draws from Douglas McGregor's 1960 book "The Human Side of Enterprise," which first identified two schools of thought about human motivation: Theory X and Theory Y. Theory X assumes people are inherently lazy or incompetent and need to be motivated through incentives and threats, the stick and the carrot. Theory Y assumes people will show initiative if given the chance and are motivated by the desire for achievement and self-actualization. Self-actualization is another clue to the program's roots. It also draws from the human potential movement of the 1960s, with its emphasis on personal growth, self-realization, and the untapped capabilities inherent in all people — suggesting a spiritual dimension that people seek in their work.

To unblock this human potential, Naylor and Crittenden seek to short-circuit the Red Box by changing the focus of management: they look at the product of behavior, not the action itself. The trick is to convert behavior into tangible, physical "products." For example, it could be a chart of the number of times a worker does virtually anything — clean an air vent, calibrate a tool, install a memory card, write a word — that gets posted in a prominent place. The chart becomes a product that the person can build on and then take pride in.

Crittenden tells the story of a public employee who, in the '70s, was assigned to paint fire hydrants every day in Elmira, New York. The man's supervisor came to Crittenden complaining that the man took an entire day to paint one fire hydrant. Crittenden told the supervisor: "Here's what you do. At the end of the day ask him to submit a three-by-five inch index card to you with nothing on it but the number of fire hydrants he painted. And no matter how many hydrants he paints, even if it's only half a hydrant, always say the same thing: 'That's fantastic. See you tomorrow.' And post the cards where he can see them."

Within a week the number on the index card went up to 5, then 7, then 12, then 14. Eventually the worker was taking a truck and buckets of paint home at night so he could head straight from his driveway to the nearest unpainted fire hydrant.

"No criticism. No advice. No telling him how to do it. Just paying attention and validation."

It's a searingly hot, humid Texas day outside, but it's comfortable in the upper deck at the Houston Astrodome. In a suite of box seats reserved for the Naylor seminar group, William Daigneau, associate vice president and chief facilities officer at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson, is talking about his work. At 50, with thinning blond hair, Daigneau resembles Bob Newhart, amiable and at ease, but without the stammer.

Daigneau glances down at the game without really paying attention to it — it's a slow one — as he explains why he brought Naylor and Crittenden to Houston: "It's a way to get excellent output and yet not go through the trauma of coldcocking people all the time. I'm getting equal or better results with less trauma and discord. I don't have to be mean. The quality of life is much better. In my two years here, I've gotten every vice-president and the president himself to look upon the facilities organization as a well-run, high-producing operation."

For Daigneau, Naylor's message is intensely personal. He first got started in the program when he worked in Rochester — and for all intents and purposes, it saved his life.

"I decided I wasn't going to do what I was doing anymore. I've gotten outstanding reviews at every job I've ever had. My office is full of stuff: plaques, every award you can imagine. But there was always this feeling in the pit of my stomach when I conducted a performance review. I never knew when I'd have to fire another person. The way to avoid the pain of that was to stay away from the people who worked for me — to keep them at a distance. I thought it was the right thing to do. So living with Bill became the problem: for me and everyone else. I didn't want to go into work. You do something mean and nasty and somebody would say, 'Good job, Bill.' Good job, feel bad. I said, 'I'm not going to use this system anymore. I want to make hard choices but not have to look at the bones behind me.' This system has showed me a way to do that."

Even before bringing Naylor down to spread the word Daigneau has been waging his own guerrilla war within M.D. Anderson. The performance evaluations at the medical center are supposed to award each person up to 300 points. Daigneau prefers not to use the point system at all. "The award of points is totally subjective and not tied to the measure of any sort of product," he explains. "You're rated on productivity, but there's no definition of what your product actually is. When we tried to change the word 'service' to 'product', they said, 'It's too commercial-sounding. This is a state-funded institution.'" If pressed, Daigneau simply awards everyone a perfect score of 300 points — and then relies on his own design and validation sheets.

Daigneau simply installed his own system on top of the existing one, like new software in the trial stages. Now he's creating written products: the maintenance record of equipment in the operating room, the repairs performed on the electrical system, the elevator inspection record. It's still a battle, but he's using Naylor and Crittenden's tools on a consistent basis within his own group. "The problem with the state system is that it was impossible not to focus on shortfall," he explains. "The bigger problem with implementing this stuff is that nobody believes you can do it without losing control. In a way, that's true. You do lose control. But you get greater results."

Halfway though the second day of the Houston seminar, the conference room feels electrified, the light seems softer and brighter, as if there's a completely different sort of energy in the room. Everyone's listening with interest, coming up with appropriate responses.

"You aren't dealing with rational processes in the workplace," Crittenden says. "You can't just increase the positive in terms of what you say to people. It can't be done inside the mind. The Red Box will win. We've got to get what we call validation out into the physical universe. On paper."

Daigneau stands up: "If I see a physical record of what I have accomplished, there's physical evidence that I can get things done that I can't deny. That physical evidence has a real impact."

They talk about short-term tools for handling the discord that arises when people start to use the system — the rise in resistance they'll experience as it gets implemented. Everyone's taking notes. Naylor leans over, just before he gets up for his turn to speak again and says: "It's never been like this. These people are totally in synch with this."

Naylor talks about the need to clarify the meaning of simple, common words: "Don't even use the word 'goal.' It's totally muddled. It means so many things, it's so connected with failure, it's become unusable. We do appropriate, ethical design. We produce ethically. And we validate. It's as simple as that. The irony is, to get more satisfaction and fulfillment, we have to go through more difficulty. It involves pain. Isn't it difficult to confront these issues? Wasn't it hard yesterday? Somebody once said we all want to get to the Promised Land but nobody wants to cross the desert in between."

The seminar is coming to a close.

Naylor says to the group: "People are tired of getting beaten up. People are tired of autocratic control and negating styles: What's happening to the people side of the business? What are the best workers doing?"

"Building products for somebody else," someone says.

"That's right. The good ones are saying, 'I don't need this anymore. I'll become an Amway distributor, babe.' The pursuit of the Almighty Dollar isn't worth it. It's the best people who are leaving. The worst don't leave because they fear failure. They stay, and they get even. It's called NIGYYSOB: Now I've Got You You Son of a Bitch. It's called poor quality. It's called cost overrun. It's called absenteeism."

Naylor pauses, then continues: "Why do we give advice? Why do you take it? Because we don't believe, deep down, that we can come up with the answer. Why are managers happy to give advice?"

"So they can control you," someone says.

"Somebody inside us knows it won't work. We're devastating ourselves and others. The problem is, people don't want to be responsible. But when you give advice, who now has the responsibility? Anyone here ever heard of empowerment? If you do this over a period of time — design and validation — people will be transformed."

When the seminar concludes, Daigneau comes over and gives Naylor a quick hug. Naylor looks shocked. This never happens.

"If I'd planned it all out, it couldn't have worked any better," Daigneau says.

Lauren's back at the same restaurant, but it's a few months later. She's applied some of Naylor and Crittenden's principles to her job at the bank. And the dark glasses are gone.

"My life has gotten less chaotic," she says. "I'm not a To Do machine as much. I'm designing what we do, I produce it, and I validate it. My productivity has shot up. Things are coming more naturally for us."

She started designing outcomes for staff meetings. Working with her staff, they created a clear description of the product they want from their meetings, and they listed in advance all the characteristics of the meetings. She says the meetings are much more effective now and a lot shorter.

"I really do care about the people who work for me: I want them to get something out of their jobs. I don't want to use them. I want something beyond the paycheck to be there," she says. "We're heading more in that direction. Yet it hasn't changed everything. Some things may never change."

It's a delicate balance, trying to weigh the advantages of staying at the bank and struggling to create change when she knows she could get hired elsewhere. But she's smart enough to know it wouldn't be any different in a new job.

"I focus on the benefits. It's funny. Sometimes it happens by accident. I could feel depressed and be interviewing a guy who wants to work for me, and I'll say good things to the guy about the job. And it's true. I realize things are pretty good. I might be having a really shitty day. I hate my boss. I hate my people. Then I interview this guy and talk about all the benefits of working at the bank, which I do believe are true, and suddenly I'm thinking, 'I guess that is how I feel about my job.' Just talking about the good stuff makes you realize how you really feel. So why can't my boss focus on the good stuff?"

She knows that may be too much to ask. Still, even there things are changing. Partly because of her raving about the program, her boss signed up to take it. Her hopes have lifted a notch, both for her organization and for herself.

"I'm becoming my old self again. The self I had before I came to work here and lost it."

David Dorsey (dedorsey@aol.com) is the author of "The Force" (Random House, 1994).

Peter Naylor PeterNa@aol.com
Integrative Performance Technologies, Inc.
311 Alexander Street
Rochester, NY 14604
716-546-5650

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