Make the ‘Change to Strange’ Change to Strange: Create a Great Organization by Building a Strange Workforce

By Daniel M. Cable

Many organizations claim that their people are their competitive advantage. And yet most organizations build workforces that really are not very different from their competitors. In fact, companies deliberately benchmark their people practices to the industry average. Not surprisingly, there is nothing particularly distinctive about most organizations’ workforces, nothing particularly noteworthy from a customer standpoint.

If your competitive advantage depends on your people being able to create something valuable and distinctive, then your workforce can’t be normal. To get extraordinary results, you have to build a workforce that is extraordinary in a way that customers care about. To build a great organization, you need to build a strange workforce. Success will not come from being like your competition. You need your organization to be out of the ordinary, unusual, and striking.

With an end-to-end framework for architecting people and business systems that help you break from the pack, Change to Strange: Create a Great Organization by Building a Strange Workforce by Daniel M. Cable will teach you how to measure and manage the extent to which your workforce is helping you make an extraordinary success story come true.

The author, Daniel M. Cable, is Sarah Graham Kenan Distinguished Scholar and Professor of Management at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. His consulting and teaching focus on aligning a wide spectrum of human systems with company strategy. Cable cites the Home Depot as an example of an early adopter of a strange workforce only to turn normal and lose its competitive advantage.


When Strange Turns Normal Excerpt from Change to Strange: Create a Great Organization by Building a Strange Workforce, “Chapter 1: Be Strange. Be Very Strange.”

Home Depot established a competitive advantage by creating a strange workforce. How was the workforce strange? Home Depot hired building contractors and put them in the aisles to help customers with home improvement problems.

For example, Home Depot associates might show customers the right kind of wire needed to run a three-way circuit so that they can walk in one door, turn on the light, then use another switch to turn out the light at another door. They might even sketch the customer a diagram of how the wiring should be run (a PhD does not help me understand this, but I still have the hand-drawn diagram from the Home Depot associate to this day). Or a Home Depot associate might show you which diamond blade works best on a grinder to cut stone (the expensive thin ones are worth it) and talk to you about how to use the grinder (score the stone with the grain about 1⁄4” and then smack it with a hammer and cold chisel). And they might even suggest which thick gloves you should wear.

Helping customers buy the right products and teaching them how to use the products is valuable to consumers because it saves them time (like trips back to the store), prevents costly and dangerous errors, and creates a sense of familiarity and trust with the store. These “contractor grade” associates gave Home Depot a competitive advantage, meaning  that people like me would drive a little farther and give this store money because we experienced something different about the store and liked it.

This was a winning practice until Home Depot tried growing at the pace of a new store every week in the midst of a large house-building boom. It became difficult to find enough contractor-grade trades people to put in the aisles. As a consequence, today it is hard for customers to find associates in Home Depot stores who actually have worked in the trades and can solve building problems.


Shine a Light on the Dark Places in Your Business
The Self Destructive Habits of Good Companies… And How to Break Them
By Jagdish N. Sheth

GM. Ford. AT&T. Sears. Firestone.Krispy Kreme. Digital. Kodak. Once, they were riding high, the exemplars of business excellence. Then, disaster. Is your company headed for the same fate? How do you know? How do you change course? The Self Destructive Habits of Good Companies… And How to Break Them by Jagdish N. Sheth has some insights.

Shine a light on the dark places in your business and uncover your self-destructive habits: blinders, culture conflicts, and corporate denial; competitive myopia; focus on volume, not profits. Root them out. Then, instill the good habits your business needs: the habits of sustainable profitability and market leadership. This book shows you how in detail, from start to finish.

Why do so many good companies engage in self-destructive behavior? Sheth identifies seven dangerous habits even well-run companies fall victim to and helps you diagnose and break these habits before they destroy you. Through case studies from some  of yesterday’s most widely praised corporate icons, you’ll learn how companies slip into “addiction” and slide off the rails, why some never turn around, and how others achieve powerful turnarounds, moving on to unprecedented levels of success.

Jagdish N. Sheth is a world-recognized authority on global competition, strategic thinking, and customer relationship management. Sheth is Charles H. Kellstadt Chair of Marketing Strategy in the Goizueta Business School at Emory University. He has served as a distinguished faculty member at the University of Southern California, the University of Illinois, Columbia University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Sheth has published more than two dozen books and hundreds of research papers in different areas of marketing and business strategy; many are considered classics in their fields. His previous book, Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose (Wharton School Publishing), was co-authored with Rajendra Sisodia and David Wolfe.


The Warning Signs of Arrogance Excerpt from The Self Destructive Habits of Good Companies, “Chapter 3. Arrogance: Pride Before the Fall”

As with the personal habits that insidiously settle upon us, sometimes we’re the last to see—or admit to—the behaviors that can prove our undoing. To learn whether your organization might be suffering from arrogance, look for the following signs.

You Stop Listening
…to customers, employees, investors, consumer advocates, the government.You stop listening to the outside world. You ignore or laugh at others. You believeyou’ve seen it all before.

You Flaunt It
…in travel, office space, perks, retreats. You like to show off your corporate jets and art collections. Or, like Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco, you throw your wife a $2 million birthday party—complete with scantily clad models in Roman togas—on the Italian island of Sardinia.

You Browbeat Others
You encourage and even offer incentives to your managers to browbeat employees, customers, and investors. When analysts give your company unfavorable reports, you think you can go to their bosses and have them rebuked or reprimanded. Your company acts like a bully.

You’re High-Handed
You abuse governance rules and procedures in the belief that they don’t pertain to you, that no one can regulate or even question your business. Or, like GM, you abuse or lobby against government regulation because “what’s good for you is good for the nation.”

You Curry Approval
You bring in consultants and advisors to validate the status quo and inflate your ego. At the same time, you fire those who become critical, including suppliers, customers, and even employees. When ad agencies or research groups suggest strategies you don’t like, you hire somebody else.