The Caterpillar that Killed the War Machines


When he was young, my son used to call them “callapitters,” but in this case, I’m not referring to the little creatures with multiple legs. I’m talking about the big yellow construction and earthmoving trucks. I’m referring here, to Caterpillar, Inc.

Maybe they’re called Caterpillar because of the incredible metamorphosis they underwent when transforming from a war machine company during World War I, into what has since become the world’s largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, as well as diesel and natural gas engines. Today, Caterpillar ranks #44 in the Fortune 500, with more than $70 billion in assets.

It’s been said that Caterpillar shut down its war machine operation for two years to focus on retooling for times of peace, giving them ample time to strategize, plan, implement and execute with operational excellence. I like to cite Caterpillar’s story as an illustration whenever leading a team through change. Almost immediately someone on the team rightfully states the stubborn fact that “we can’t shut down everything just to retool.”

It’s right about then that you show your team the great EDS commercial from the 1999 Super Bowl, where they are “building airplanes in the sky.” Click the image below to watch:


After the team takes this in, everybody is laughing together and someone says, “It’s better to laugh about all this than cry.” The group acknowledges that we don’t have a war chest of cash giving us the luxury to shut down for two years to plan for the future, and you acknowledge that you’re all in it together with the same common purpose. Then you plan together, as a team, capturing the high level view of your preferable future, as well as the mission critical “must dos” to keep the legacy business healthy. When you and the team own the change mission together, you’re naturally aligned and more apt to trust and support each other as you steward your organization through change to positive results.

When you’re leading change, what do you do to keep everybody motivated and aligned?


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