Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Organizational Hikes

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Among the activities we undertook as part of our summer vacation in the Adirondacks was to hike up Azure Mountain. Azure Mountain was not our first choice as we had selected another hike, but as we approached that trail head a black bear ran in front of us and my wife and daughter would go no further. We turned around and looked for a hike with a little more civilization attached to it, so if we got mauled by a black bear on the hike there would be people around to help (hopefully us and not the bear) or at least watch. When I saw the bear, I began trying to remember the defense you were supposed to undertake with black bears. Were you supposed to run from them, hold your ground or begin to put up a fight? Wait, wait give me a minute, it will come to me. Where is an internet connection when you need it? 

As these things go, Azure Mountain is not a huge mountain at 2518 feet in elevation. The guide book described its 1000 foot vertical rise over 1 mile as unrelentingly steep, but in the next paragraph called it “a good family hike”, so off we went, myself, my wife and daughter and our 8-month old Labrador, Jessie.

At the beginning of the trail there was a substantial pile of rocks, mostly fist sized but some larger and some smaller. Attached to a tree next to the pile of rocks was a note. I am going to paraphrase the message since I had nothing to write notes upon (so much for being prepared for my hike). “Dear Hikers”, it began, “we have an erosion problem at the top of the mountain and if you would be so good as to grab a couple of rocks and take them to the top we would be grateful.” Well I felt pretty good, the air was pretty cool, I had a pack on my back with water and food, and in that state of mind I placed 3 averaged-sized rocks into my over-shirt pockets to play my part in erosion control and began the climb. My young daughter and dog were scampering around eager to run ahead, but I knew my 50-year old legs and lungs were no match for theirs and so I began more slowly. I had an altimeter on my wrist watch and every so often I would take a reading on how far we had come and more importantly how much further we had to go.

The first 100 feet of rise were easy, but I should probably have loosened up my leg muscles a bit as I could feel a little tightness. After about an hour with some scrambling over rocks and roots we made it to the 500 foot level and I needed a break to grab some water and to catch my breath. The puppy and daughter were still going strong, impatient at my plodding pace. At 700 feet I stopped again, wondering about the crushing feeling I was getting in my chest, checking my left arm for any tingling sensations, finally realizing it was the rocks (which had grown to boulders) in my shirt pockets pressing against me that was causing the pain. At 800 feet I stopped once more, grabbed some more water, this time wondering if the altimeter was broken for surely by now I must be at the top. The day had warmed somewhat and sweat was pouring down my back between my shirt layers and my pack. We had yet to see another hiker on the trail, but luckily no bears either. Another 100 feet up and I decided to peel off a layer as I was sweating a great deal now. When I did that I immediately got chilled as the next layer down was wet with sweat, onward we went.

About 30 feet or so from the top we broke free of the tree-line and could see the restored fire tower located on the very peak of the mountain. Off to one side of the peak was a terraced ledge that provided good seating for really spectacular views of a sweep of the Adirondack range. The kind of view which no picture can ever really convey the feeling generated. The air was so clear we were likely seeing 60-70 miles, perhaps further into the distance. The effort expended in getting to the top of the mountain in an instant became worthwhile. After 2 hours of climbing, I was huffing and puffing, but felt a little better when the dog collapsed under the fire tower in the shade to rest. My wife and daughter decided to climb the 5-story fire tower to get even better views. I decided to wait with the dog.   

Right next to the fire tower was another pretty massive pile of rocks, mostly fist sized but some smaller and some larger. There was no note next to this pile, but I imagined a sign that simply said “Thanks”. I dropped my 3 rocks onto the pile and my wife and daughter dropped theirs. All told our contribution to the rock pile was pretty insignificant. The pile of rocks did not look any bigger once we had deposited our haul, the erosion did not immediately stop when we dropped our load, but I have to tell you it felt good to contribute to the overall effort.

I had a CEO once tell me that about 200 people out of his 100,000 employees were needed to generate the profits and success of the firm that only 200 of them really counted. I would have to respectfully disagree. If I give him the benefit of the doubt, that he did not allow his organization to bloat needlessly, I think he would have found that if the 99,800 who he did not think really contributed disappeared that his organization would cease to function. He could likely re-engineer his organization to function with fewer people, creating a different organization, but by and large people, no matter how small their contribution may appear in the overall scheme of things do contribute, do count and will make a difference. When the efforts of all those people are added up watch out, the bear will roar and roar loudly.

Perhaps this is a worthwhile notion to contemplate as more and more people are laid off and organizations continually try to do more with fewer and fewer resources. I get the feeling that the organization that can successfully harness the contributions and efforts of all of its people, not simply treating them as pawns in a chess game, casting some aside while moving others around the board, will be the one that makes it to the top of the mountain, and prevent the erosion of its market share from the competition.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 4, 2009 at 7:31 pm

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