Tonight at the ISPI conference in Orlando, I attended a tribute to Geary Rummler, who recently died after a long and distinguished career in the “Performance-Improvement Field.”

I didn’t know Geary, so I didn’t know how I would react or how long I would stay. I brought my laptop to do emails while I listened. I sat in the back of the cavernous ballroom.

I became transfixed as speaker after speaker who had worked closely with Geary talked about his work and the contributions he made to the field.

The following is my stream of consciousness note-taking with some later annotations. Not worthy of a tribute, but perhaps enough to help me remember some of Geary’s work—and perhaps enough to encourage YOU to take a look at his books and writings.

Notes and Annotations

Entrepreneurial experimentation. Science and sweat. Learning through trial and error.
Creating one-week program on programmed instruction. Didn’t have time to tell, to present objectives, etc. Showed them, had them practice. Curiosity, interested in what did NOT work, not just what DID work. Pre-Testing then Programmed Instruction then Maintenance of Behavior. Annotation: Even way back in the 1960’s and 1970’s someone was thinking about maintaining performance after training, and we are still struggling to get most of the field to do this.

After the initial workshop was developed and deployed, then Management of Behavior Change Workshop. Then General Systems theory workshop. Started small and specific—built up to systems.
During 1960’s Geary and colleagues wouldn’t do training without a thorough front-end needs analysis. 

Annotation: Hmmm. With today’s pressures, many are eschewing FEA.

Geary rebuffed a man who insulted one of his woman colleagues by telling him, “Shut up, she knows more than you do.”

Praxis (a Geary company) had a mission (we didn’t earn that much money speaker said)—to make the world a better place by improving the place where people worked. Annotation:

One of Geary’s former colleagues sang a song in tribute (a tear-inducing moment).

Geary was an engineer. Geary worked with Tom Gilbert. Helped plan Motorola University. Did coaching of functional managers of manufacturing curriculum. One of nice things about Geary is that as a consultant as he learned—he would even tell about the mistakes he made.

Quote from Geary (paraphrased): “Beware of false prophets, the HR people, who would rank and rate you, but don’t really understand the organization.”

Article: “You want performance, not just training.”

Did Situation analysis. Asked these questions: (1) What is happening now? (2) What should be happening?, THEN Define desired outputs. “As-is” “To-Be”

This all become six-sigma, etc. Annotation: Several people said Geary’s work became basis for the Six-Sigma movement, TQM, etc.

Geary said: You’ve got a lot of white space on the org chart you need to manage.

Annotation: People like Geary and his colleagues have been doing very valuable stuff for years (For example, they got cycle time from 17 weeks to 5 days), but why hasn’t this spread? Why hasn’t this performance-based approach gradually knocked-out the dominant training-based approach?

Rummler stuff got repackaged into 6-sigma stuff. Motorola bought license from Geary Rummler’s stuff into 6-sigma and TQM.

Geary’s true legacy: Changed the lens we all look through, moving from training to performance improvement.

Provided a common language:
White space, disconnects, organization as a system, cross-functional processes.

Geary Rummler: Managing the whitespace:

Performance Design Lab (Came out of retirement and started/joined this company).
Geary retired, but had to come back and knew the world didn’t get it and had to get back in the game, forming Performance Design Lab in 2000, where they were focusing on performance management systems (maintaining  improvement after the performance improvement).

Serious Performance Consulting. A Geary Book.

Geary always had to have a vehicle for packaging  his insights into his workshops and his books in ways that would make sense for people.

A speaker said, “He believed that it could be possible to create a prosperous society by construction a good system that will hold successful organizations and generate superior results.”

Two places that Geary touched, who seem to want to use Geary’s work to improve the world. Performance Improvement Institute in Cd. Obregon. Sonora Inst of Tehcnol and norwest of Mexico.

Geary Quote: “We cannot continue working the way we are expecting to get different results.”
Speaker quote (paraphrased): “Geary would share his materials more than anyone I know, I think because he was a learner, he wanted us all to know enough so that he could  discuss with us and we could learn together.”

Drinking alcohol and developing relationships with good discussions was a recurring theme. Many stories about drinks being drunk.

“If you put a good performer in a bad system the system wins every time.” Quote from Geary Rummler.

One speaker, quieted by tears, haltingly spoke about imagining Geary becoming a star in the sky…

Annotation: I really didn’t know that much about Geary’s work, but now I am motivated to learn more. Also, I’m glad I went because it gave me nice perspective on the field, even knowing that this “history” was filtered through the lens of tribute protocol.

Bottom line: I was touched and I’m motivated to learn more. Thanks to ISPI for providing this, for all the speakers (who I apologize for failing to capture their names), and for all the people who came to Orlando especially for the tribute.

Here are two of Geary's most popular books: