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The Need To Exchange

By Gary Rich on Jan. 30, 2012 in Leadership Bites

Recently, I was meeting with a client who serves on the Board of a large company. Discussing the organization’s performance, he marveled at the fact that although the CEO post had been vacated nearly six months earlier, earnings had not declined. The new CEO would be coming on board soon, and this Director predicted that, “Now, things will really start moving!”

Well, maybe. On the other hand, we’ve seen this movie a few times and they haven’t all had Hollywood sunset endings.

It goes like this: A new CEO enters the company and is heralded by much fanfare, pomp and circumstance. A worldwide introduction is organized, video monitors in thirty seven countries begin humming, there are planted questions from the audience, praise for the past, talk of the future, the familiar “world is changing and we have to change with it” message, and the need for everyone to jump on board, etc. etc. Sound familiar?

Sadly, within two months, this same CEO, is sucked feet first into the corporate machine. It really isn’t their fault. They do the job the way they’ve seen it done, the way they presume it should be done and, often, in the way they would like it to be done.

Predictably, this means trips around the world, analyst calls, investor meetings, and all of the preparation that staffers crave. Countless hours spent noodling earnings releases, rehearsing for board meetings and prepping the teams to be waltzed in front of their board. Budget reviews, strategy meetings, talent review meetings, occasional government or regulatory contact, media interviews, employee town hall meetings, the invitation to play Augusta and before you know it seventy hours a week isn’t enough and other than that shiny new org structure they implemented in month four, things are pretty much about the same. It’s the dilutive effect.  Pit activity against inertia, and status quo wins every time.

The right question to ask the new CEO after about 90 days (the amount of time it takes to accurately determine what reality is) is what needs to be different here? What should and must change? What needs to be created and what needs to be terminated? That should become any new CEO’s project list.  I’m not saying all of the other responsibilities are to be shirked. What I am saying is the projects that make a difference need to come first—not be shoe-horned in between the other stuff. It’s about perspective. It’s about not being seduced by the importance and excitement of the top jobs to-do list. It’s about knowing you won’t be in the job forever and focusing on what will be different when you’re gone.

We’ve all seen big jobs vacant for months on end. Miraculously, organizations figure out a way to accommodate the vacancy and continue.

New General Managers, CEO’s and Presidents really need to focus on what has to change first and then figure out how to get the people around them to make the nuts and bolts happen—exactly the same way they were doing while that pretty corner office was gathering dust.


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