Magazine article Management Review

It's Easy to Fool the Boss

Magazine article Management Review

It's Easy to Fool the Boss

Article excerpt

Suppose you find yourself in charge of a large company that must reduce its size significantly. You know you have a " gold mine" of talented executives, but how will you identify them?

Which individuals should be retained? Which should be discharged? If the process of staff reduction were to take several months, how would you maintain morale-particularly after a period of management turmoil and substandard performance? Could you sustain interim performance and emerge with a stronger and more productive organization?

I recently experienced this situation. My colleagues and I accomplished the transition rapidly and positively. Results improved almost from the first week. The cumulative effects were spectacular in terms of profitability, sales growth, and employee morale. We achieved this turnaround by applying a simple management practice that is used instinctively by many fine executives, but which, to my knowledge, has never appeared in management books or magazines. THE PROBLEM

I found myself the newly appointed CEO of a company that was losing money rapidly. The management staff was top-heavy, with too many conceptualizers and not enough doers. Top management had become isolated from the reality of the business and had become drawn into a vicious circle: Incessant time-consuming meetings and a lack of interaction with subordinates resulted in deteriorating business performance and the need for more meetings.

Hundreds of people in the organization were aware of these problems and frustrated by their inability to communicate with top management. Coordinators and coordinating committees abounded. Decisions were delayed. Excuses, fault-finding, and protective maneuvering sapped the energy that should have been directed toward resolving real business problems. WORKING TOWARD A SOLUTION

When my key associate and I took over the leadership of this company, we explained the new direction of the company and the new action orientation that we expected from the management team. Of course, this alone was not enough. The management team had heard these types of statements from the previous top managers many times, and were justifiably skeptical. To begin, we made a particular point of avoiding long meetings. Very few lasted more than one hour. Those few meetings that were scheduled for a half-day or a fuR day ended hours early, much to the amazement of participants, who had become accustomed to sessions that grimly extended into the evening or the next day. We were able to shorten these meetings by identifying key issues as they emerged, assigning these issues to the appropriate executives for action, and then moving on to other issues.

Even as the CEO of a fairly large company with massive problems, I spent two fun hours of each day in the offices of middle managers, discussing individual performance and asking such questions as, "What are you working on? What important things should I know about? What would you do if you were me?" Although often neglected, casual meetings of this type are part of the repertoire of good executives everywhere, in stable as well as turnaround situations. But within the context of this meeting, we applied our unique management practice.

After 15 to 30 minutes of general discussion, I would ask the manager, "Who are some of the really productive people in the company? …

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