Dr. Carl Frost and the Frost/Scanlon EPIC Principles



CarlbuickCarl Frost and the new Buick giftDr. Carl Frost was a giant in the field of Organizational Psychology.  During his long productive life he touched many. To his friends and clients he was "Jack Frost." He worked with both Joe Scanlon and Douglas McGregor at MIT.  He came to Michigan State University (MSU)  at the request of MSU President John Hannah at the end of World War II to teach and do extension work in Michigan's rapidly industrializing economy.

Dr. Frost had a very unusual appointment.  He taught Organizational Psychology but he also did extensive field work.  His graduate students spent hours with him on the road to visit with his clients.  They learned Organizational Psychology hands-on.  All fees went to support graduate students.  His students became many of the leading Organizational Psychologists in the country.

As a young earnest professor he caught the attention of D.J. DePree (the founder of Herman Miller).  Dr. Frost found a receptive client and Herman Miller became the poster organization for the Frost/Scanlon approach. 

Dr. Frost's old car would some times break down on the long drive from East Lansing to Zeeland to work with Herman Miller (before the highways were constructed).  He was so loved by the employees of Herman Miller that they bought him a new Buick through payroll deduction and presented him with the keys.  He would continue his relationship as trusted advisor with DJ DePree's sons Hugh and Max.  He also became friends with the great designers of Herman Miller--Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson.

Dr. Frost's teaching/fieldwork arrangement almost came to an end at the very beginning when his Dean threatened to fire him for acting more like a consultant then a typical professor.  Before letting him go the Academicians decided to talk to the DePree's at Herman Miller.  They asked "What has Carl Frost done for you?  and the answer was "Carl Frost doesn't do anything for you.....but he keeps asking the darnedest questions."

Carl kept his job and went on to help Herman Miller, Donnelly, Motorola, and Beth Israel Hospital to become among the top 50 best places to work in America.  His main tool was his ability to ask questions.  His favorite question was "What Day is It?  It meant to those who knew him....Do you understand reality?

Dr. Frost's Workbook and Articles for Download

Leadership in the New American Workplace Workbook

The Scanlon Plan: Anyone for Free Enterprise?

Participative Ownership:A Competitive Necessity


Principles are basic.  They generate the deep roots upon which a company is designed....These roots give us shared values [that] blossom through events and relationships.  Hugh DePree

IPECBlocksThe Frost/Scanlon EPIC Principles

As Joe Scanlon and Dr. Frost experimented with methods to improve organizations they discovered similar problems existing in very different industries.  Information was not shared between management and the employees closest to the work. Workers were not involved in improving their organizations.  There was too much internal competition and not enough understanding of the external competition. Too much emphasis was put on financial rewards or what Joe called "the economic man" theory.  Joe and Carl Realized that money was important but not the only motivation at work.  They understood that workers wanted to be part of their organizations and when treated like adults would behave like adults.  The name "Scanlon Plan" was given to their work by others but it was a misnomer.  They had no plan or one size fits all solution.  Instead they relied on a high involvement process to create better workplaces.

Dr. Frost realized there were standard Principles that governed their work.  The first Principle he labeled Identity.  It meant that everyone in an organization must understand the reality of the organization. The second Principle he labelled Participation.  It was defined as "influencing decisions in one's area of competence."  The third Principle he called "Equity."  It was a sincere desire to meet the needs of all stakeholders.  He later added managerial competency as the fourth Principle but it was soon shortened to Competency.  It was defined as a commitment to constant improvement.

The Principles IPEC are in order of importance, but it was found too hard for people to remember--so the letters were rearranged to spell EPIC with the understanding that Identity comes first.

The Frost/Scanlon EPIC Principles each have a corresponding Process.  Principles by definition are basic truths that do not change.  Processes change based on the unique needs of each organization.  The Process for Identity is Education.  The Process for Participation is Responsibility, the Process for Equity is Accountability, the Process for Competence is Commitment.  The Principles and Processes at first may seem simplistic or for some too complex. Yet the four Principles when you understand them and how they work together create a very powerful basis for individual and organizational change.  The best book of the Principles was written by Terry VandeWater at Herman Miller.


To download Terry VandeWater's Principle Based Participative Management click here.


I see the Scanlon Principles as allowing us to unleash the tremendous energy within the company through Participation...to direct the beam toward the desired target through Principles of Identity, to constantly keep the powerful beam in tune though Equity, and to continually strengthen the beam through Competence.  Dwane Baumgarder, CEO Donnelly Corporation