Monday, June 27, 2016
It was the usual monthly management review meeting where the CEO announced his intent to leave. He had built a great team with mix of talent, each bringing something to the table, complementing each other in more than one way. Potentially any of them could have taken the position and barring a couple, everyone put their hat in the ring. Rigorous process later, the announcement surprised the unelected, many of them believed that they were better candidates and they were not all incorrect in their belief.
The new CEO brimming with pride and swagger, he used the same forum to assert his new found power on the recent peer group that now reported to him. He found himself facing challenges that never surfaced in any earlier meetings, problems that appeared manufactured rather than real, issues that could potentially dilute the company’s image, market share and profitability. Attempts to create allies appeared futile and one by one, most of the aspirants exited leaving the new CEO struggling to sustain the business.
They were already grumpy with perception (their reality) that a less deserving person had been selected; he never really received acceptance due to his past behavior as a peer. Even though he was willing learn, empower the team, help them solve problems, provide resources, to them he remained the pain that he used to be. The exit of more than half the team left him incapacitated, raising concerns with global HQ; he ended up building his own team who would be subservient to his wishes, whims and fancies.
Whenever a person gets promoted unexpected or moves up the corporate ladder laterally, the event creates flutters for many. There are those who believe that the person was granted favors beyond his/her capability or they got lucky, or some kind of nepotism was at work. The person has to work harder than s/he expected to with the new position; there is also a sense of suspicion and distrust which tests his/her capability at every step. Surviving in the new position takes all the acumen until acceptance.
For someone coming from the outside into a position, it is comparatively better; they are given the benefit of learning the ropes (Honeymoon period), culture, people before the pressure starts rising. Off course some aspirants to the position may make life difficult for the newbie or decide to leave to save face especially if their colleagues believed that they should have made the grade. Newcomers get higher tolerance and benefit of doubt, stretchable timelines, and resources to complete the tasks at hand.
The position had been vacant for a while in the quest to find the right candidate for the position; the earlier incumbent had to beat the retreat rather hastily. This time around the management wanted to be sure of their choice and thus validated with help of senior industry veterans. The CXO came on board with a lot of expectations riding on him; he had also connected with the industry veteran to gain insight of what awaited him in his new role. Adequate assurances on both sides, he decided to take the plunge.
Baptism by fire awaited him with a flood of activities, requests, and expectations that filled his plate during the induction. He was overwhelmed by the current state and quantum, urgency and variety of work that was placed in front of him. Every discussion unearthed new facts and challenges that made him shudder; he took it in his stride careful not to set unreasonable expectations. As weeks passed by into months, people accepted his viewpoint and gave him latitude to plan, recast his team and manage deliverables.
Tolerance levels in the first case were significantly lower with strains of animosity and jealousy tainting relationships; cooperation and understanding was withdrawn to otherwise normal working. The CXO intuitively knew the cause and effect; unable to change the situation he accepted it and attempted to work within the constraints which did impact outcomes. He also attempted an offsite team building meeting with his new direct reports which did soften their behavior but not enough to help.
Whereas in the second, the newbie was welcomed with open arms by the Leadership team, peers and direct reports like manna from heaven who will save them from doomsday. On his part he played to the gallery with a balance of finesse, tactical decisions, and playful arrogance, winning hearts before getting down to work. The latitude offered made the difference to how well he could settle down and start executing rather than being judged from day one. He did have a honeymoon period a luxury for a newcomer.
I wonder why is such easing in not available to internal movements ?
Monday, June 20, 2016
Case 1: He was hired to take over from the outgoing CIO who had spent fair amount of time building the technology foundation for business efficiency. The outgoing person was moving to greener pastures globally so no one grudged him his departure nor there was a question of holding him back. The new CIO was happy to join a growing IT savvy business which offered an easy journey with a team that had created success. Settling down within a month he found himself facing the exit of a key direct report.
The exit interview revealed nothing that would give him an inkling of the cause for departure; digging with the team who had started trusting him, the CIO realized that the outgoing person wanted his position badly for which he had lobbied hard with the CEO and the promoters leaving no stone unturned. Finally when the new CIO had joined, it was evident that he will have to go elsewhere to fulfil his aspirations. As soon as he got an opportunity, he decided to leave salvaging some pride in the process.
Unfulfilled aspirations do trigger such behavior; people leave organizations feeling jilted when they are unable to make the grade. Few are able to recognize that they may not have the requisite experience and soft skills or leadership qualities required for the role. Technical competency and/or domain expert does not necessarily make the ideal candidate for the head role. You need to be a team player and have the ability to manage a team among other skills that almost every self-help book will advise you on.
Case 2: The incumbent had exited unceremoniously; few knew what caused the departure and they were not going to talk. While in position he had taken bold steps towards progress, also stepping on a few toes with his brazen high professional expertise attitude. Most initiatives floundered later, the team unable to deliver to promise which appeared untenable now. The position lay vacant for a while; after a prolonged search the replacement came on board to face a resignation handed to him on day 1 !
Taking it in his stride, he wondered if he was the cause; the person was a key resource who had not spent too long in the company. The profile did not match the role he had taken on so it was not a case of the person being ignored for the role. The plans for organization transformation outlined to him during the interview process made it imperative that he retain existing talent while he also needed to hire from the outside. He reached out to his mentor who knew the organization well, for help.
It was partially coincidence though triggered by undue pressure had precipitated the resignation. The role was demanding and she was in a leadership position of that magnitude for the first time; the team was challenged and unable to rise to the occasion resulting in uncomfortable review meetings for her. After the last all hands meeting which had caused some embarrassing moments, she had decided to seek career building opportunities elsewhere; the timing went against the new leadership hire.
In both cases it was up to the new leader to accept the event and demonstrate skills on how to manage the situation. Even though decades apart their approach was quite similar; their agendas well set on future direction, both were capable of execution. Go getters with divergent personal styles, they rose to the challenge and hit the ground running. A year later they had their respective organizations on path to glory, benefits accrued from projects undertaken, their credibility high internally and externally.
He spent a couple of days with the team understanding current status and impact of the resignation; reworking the team and tactically supplementing with outsourced resources, he reached out to the network seeking past colleagues and industry acquaintances to join his journey. His received an overwhelming response from the ecosystem and hired quickly to fill the gap. Industry reputation being largely positive, people were attracted to the Talent Magnet willing to be part of success that they knew will eventually come.
Personally I have always been against retracting a resignation or offering a sweetened deal to anyone who has shown inclination to leave; it sets a precedent for others to test waters and impacts morale of others who feel trapped if they do not have the same level of criticality for their roles. I have observed many companies suffer such employees, unwilling to take the step that is eventual until a new leader does it. Organizations are resilient and they recover loss of founders, high performers and charismatic leaders.
Someone taught me a long time ago “If there is a critical resource in your team, fire him” !
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Over the years he had built credibility within the enterprise rising through the ranks to head his function. The years also added to relationships internally and externally helping him win in cross functional projects. Recognition and industry awards followed, after all he had earned them with his hard work and perseverance. Elevation within the company with associated trimmings and perks got him excited like a child, soon his behavior started rubbing a few the wrong way; initial incidents were ignored as one off by his watchful manager.
Changing industry dynamics required high levels of collaboration across functions to keep winning; most new initiatives required cross functional teams to acknowledge the dependencies and work to ensure that the end outcome is relevant and uncompromised in its ability to work. He knew the business well enough to define the specifications which he did despite his team imploring him to validate with the business team. Many months later when the solution was delivered, the business started poking holes at it.
Not that the solution was bad or did not achieve the desired results, the thrust in your face ensured that they took no direct or derived ownership. Having spent a significantly large budget, the CEO attempted to push the adoption with limited success. Review meetings unearthed the chasm that existed between the folks who created the system and those who had to use it. The resultant adverse business impact was not taken kindly by the enterprise, resulting in forced exit for the CXO and loss of opportunity for the business.
You will unanimously declare that this is a clear case of success gone to the head; and you would not be entirely wrong in that diagnosis. Many are unable to handle success and thereby end up being rather presumptuous in their approach to people; their feeling of invincibility ends up creating high risk ventures. Unable to garner respect of teams and organize them into cohesive groups, they use arrogance as a medium to subdue any resistance, citing past accomplishment as their continued license to leadership.
With past sins remaining hidden in the archives, he secured an even more lucrative assignment; he got off to a good start with some of the initiatives underway prior to his arrival succeeding and delivering value. He expanded the new portfolio with significant investment decisions which set the path for audacious goals, uncharted territory for the company. The management enamored by his confidence decided to give it a try; a few objections and words of caution were brushed aside as being too conservative and old school.
Taking the endorsement of his plan as a carte blanche he subdued alternative views labeling them insubordination, casting aspersions on competence and credibility of the older team. He decided to change the project direction to his past way of working, unilateral decision making and forcing the team to accept his way of managing the project. Very quickly it alienated some of his impacted peers who were willing to stand up to him in the interest of the enterprise and the project which was important to all stakeholders.
This time around his team did have a couple of members who took no quarters nor gave any; they were high professionals who feared no one and had delivered consistently across organizations they had worked in. The duo decided to align to the stakeholders surreptitiously initially and then opened up the doors to others with visible progress that none could refute. Seeing progress, the antagonist decided to ignore the recalcitrant behavior of the team only to take away credit opportunistically from them.
Behaviors change only if they are acknowledged as limitations or opportunities for improvement; ignoring all feedback with a determined mindset will precipitate the matter over time. Organizations are hesitant to admit bad decisions especially when hiring senior staff; they also hide under the carpet any wrong doings or damage, giving neutral or masked feedback about the person thereby adding fuel to the fire. Good riddance, it’s now someone else’s problem to manage, until they end up getting another dud.
Formal reference checks are like that only; it is the industry and common customers and/or suppliers in the extended ecosystem who can provide candid feedback on a person, his persona in work and life. Unfortunately such feedback is also seen as breach of confidentiality, which it is to some extent, but then how to separate the good from bad, superficial knowledge from expertise ? Psychological tests serve a limited purpose, the skill is in the interviewer to spot the difference and take the right decision.
A year later, he was again changing companies, this time in a different part of the world where bad news will take some time to reach !
Monday, June 06, 2016
It was a call from his ex-boss and he wondered what prompted the call 2 months after he had quit to take up a new assignment in another industry. He had spent over two years in the company when it was going through difficult times and strengthened the business and his function with a mix of calculated risk and conviction of success; he had succeeded in no small measure, acknowledged across the company globally. The company, his manager and now mentor, had given him back his professional pride that was bruised by his previous company.
Over the decade and more of work experience, his track record was excellent barring the unpleasant exit from multinational politics. He had left that behind and moved on with the new company that had offered him a challenge and opportunity to regrow his self-esteem. Driving a mean timeline, he had brought change that appeared difficult, and also created new avenues for growth. The company attempted to retain him but greener pastures beckoned him; he had left with bridges intact, the company also treating him well during the short notice period.
The surprise call from his ex-manager was to seek information on the last project he had worked upon which was well received as the strategy forward; the caller also requested two days of time in the coming weeks to travel abroad for a strategic presentation which would help in reinforcing the decision. He very much wanted to help his friend and now mentor; he also knew that he will have to take permission from his current company and manager to travel on behalf of his earlier company; so he promised to check and revert.
Tentatively he broached the subject with his CEO, outlining the request and his desire to acquiesce; in the two months that he had spent in the new entity, he had been quick to fit into the team and role while demonstrating his skills as a people’s person in his team. The agenda for the year was charted out and required his unwavering dedication and attention to execution. The CEO looked at his face which implored a positive decision and granted permission to travel; he realized the value his new hire could create even for his company.
The CXO had had a miserable time in his last few months in the role; unable to manage the growing political patronage across functions, he was unable to compromise his professional pride and bend to the now omnipresent sycophancy. Barring his team and a few who had felt the difference he had brought to the enterprise, no one shed tears when he left. The traditional farewell party was held with the usual speeches and gift, which had most people wanting to leave as soon as possible without looking rude.
He faded away while he did leave a legacy that became evident after few years when practitioners of servility unable to survive the pressure had been eased out of the company. For the company the resultant setback was difficult to manage; they had incinerated the bridge that binds an ex-employee to the company where high performers spend a large portion of life devoting time, energy, sweat and blood to not just do a job, but build a legacy. Two years later, this continues to haunt the company with suboptimal performance with resultant impact on shareholder value.
Even if the second company had to approach the CXO to assist with their woes, it is highly improbable that he would have accepted the offer. There was no emotional connect, no binding force that would have triggered a thought to help a company which had treated him with ignominy during the last few months and subsequent notice period. The clean break by the CXO closed any avenues that anyone could have explored. In a soft mood he was tempted to reach out; he inquired with other ex-colleagues only to be firmly advised against it.
To create and sustain goodwill, it requires equal effort on part of the departing employee as well as the enterprise; enterprise culture determines in large part the behavior of HR and Managers on how they treat past employees. Some alumni groups on the internet and social media portray a scary picture of such enterprises dissuading potential talent to explore opportunities. I believe that the onus to a large extent lies on enterprise to create brand ambassadors by spreading good will to attract and retain their most valued assets.