Monday, April 24, 2017

Surviving in an Enterprise in a leadership role without doing anything

Most of us have read the 3 envelope parable on corporate challenges and careers; for those who have not, an abridged version. A newbie leader is given 3 envelopes by the outgoing incumbent to be opened only in cases of dire trouble. He opens the first one when challenged in a management meeting and confronts the wisdom: Blame predecessor ! A year passes when again he is in trouble; the second envelope ? Restructure, create new strategy. Survive ! Final envelope’s turn comes after a gap which reads: Create three envelopes !

Corporate world is full of pseudo professionals who survive and at times thrive with their mastery of jargon, leaning on others, taking away credit from own team, agreeing to their immediate managers, sucking up to those who matter and finally using vendors to give them dope that makes them look good. The malaise is a lot more in the technology world that invents acronyms, jargon, and new fads with regularity confusing even technophiles; tech vendors are happy to provide spinal support in return for business.

The masqueraders can be seen at most conferences and seminars nodding intelligently at speakers and asking questions; they flock together and stay away from the intellectuals. They are not to be confused with the incompetent who shy away from any public appearance who only focus on internal politics and their survival depends on the first or second envelopes at different times with different folks within the company; their survival is also reliant on finding a godfather or some capable team members.

Pareto’s principle applies here too but inversely; the majority are able to get away with their pretenses and a small segment gets caught often shunted out by bell curve distribution. At senior levels the collateral damage is high to the enterprise, setback in business or industry at times difficult to overcome; weeding out such ineffectives takes time and effort which most companies are reluctant to invest. It also reflects badly on their ability to hire talented good people or separate cheese from chalk !

Take the case of this large enterprise which hired – let’s call her Suzy – to a senior position; she had come through the interviews well with help from an insider who coached her on what to say. Nothing wrong with that, everyone seeks whatever help they can to ace an interview for a position that they want badly enough. Such was the situation for Suzy too as she had been force exited from her past company post restructuring, a fact that remains undisclosed. She chatted her way through to securing the position.

Her inherited team compared her behavior, expertise, skills, knowledge, connects in the industry, understanding of the industry, personal traits, leadership qualities, desire to connect with them, essentially sizing her up as a leader who will influence their future. The comparison by the team with the earlier person was obvious and natural, the results however not in her favor; she recognized the fact and created an impregnable veil shutting off any discussion. The team knew the disadvantageous position thus prevailing.

The team toiled harder only to be cut off from credits scored by their work, giving them no visibility nor allowing any of them to interact with decision makers lest they expose the insecurities of their leader. Any attempts to bypass the straightjacketed process were met with reprimands and promise of future retributions. The iron lady brushed aside her rusty demeanor allowing those who made up her coterie to gain favors at the expense of the others with resultant attrition in the inherited team as collateral damage.

It was a matter of time that Suzy will reach the third envelope stage, except that she had been able to demonstrate progress for now with the first (envelope) being pulled out like a trump card whenever something was not as expected. It was a matter of time that management took cognizance of the fact that the past was distant and she had had enough time to change it. It was a matter of time that the Board recognized there has been no significant initiatives from her stable despite the rising costs and industry moving at a faster clip.

Different enterprises wake up to eventualities at different stages of their progression; when growth and profitability is above target, no one really cares for the deadwood, they are too busy celebrating. Search for termites starts when everything is not hunky dory or when a new leader takes over reins and has no history, baggage or axe to grind. Eventually the overdue surgery takes place cleansing the system to restart; then there are companies who are reluctant to take tough decisions, they embrace mediocrity for long.

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