Don’t Skimp on Talent Management in a Downturn

As leaders have steered their companies through this economic downturn several familiar tactics have been deployed.  A common move has been to cut costs – many firms have and many more will as an effort to hunker down and focus on the core business.  Others, like Oracle’s Larry Ellison, will see the tough times as having created a buyer’s market and will look to make acquisitions on more favorable terms than could have been had months ago.  Still others will look for ways to forge alliances, to innovate, or to otherwise shore up their competitive position.

Regardless of the plans leaders develop to forge ahead the single critical success factor is how well the company understands, develops, and then deploys talent.  The cleverness of the strategy developed to lead the company out of the downturn is irrelevant if there isn’t a team in place that can execute.  Here is the complication – when the competitive dynamics and the broader economic conditions have changed this quickly and dramatically it is critical to understand just what your team can do.  No company is playing the same game – or the game the same way – as they were just a few years ago. How well boards of directors and CEOs recognize and respond to that will determine how quickly and how successfully they bring their company through the downturn to leverage today’s improving conditions.

The challenge faced by leaders today is that two characteristics of the downturn make it likely that talent management issues have not been given proper priority.  First, because virtually all companies include some degree of cost-cutting in their plans for moving forward many are often too quick to identify succession planning, employee development, and similar talent management investments as targets for saving – it becomes “something we can’t afford to do right now”.  The problem with this strategy is that this may be precisely the time that investment could yield the best return.  How much experience does the management team have in managing in hard economic times?  How deep is their understanding of the impact fundamentally different market conditions will have on the business?  What previously unforeseen competencies have become critical for your leaders?  How can you develop these competencies without investment?  As conditions improve, how can we be sure we have the talent on board to take full advantage?

Second, the turbulent business climate leads to a turbulent labor market.  When employees view their company’s situation as tenuous they are likely to consider an exit on their terms rather than waiting to see if the situation improves.  Of course those most likely to leave are the most talented – they are the ones that will most easily find other opportunities.  For buyers of talent there is an incredible opportunity in the labor market because of this churn.  Buyers face a challenge in sorting wheat from the chaff as individuals look to leave companies with futures perceived as bleak or are cut loose – some time back, for example, J.P. Morgan made available the entire top management team of Washington Mutual.  For those struggling companies retention becomes an enormous challenge – and it may be one that only can be overcome with investment in talent.  And as conditions improve and hiring begins, pent up interest in new positions will lead to turnover.

For these reasons, this is not the time for Boards and CEOs to let off on succession planning and talent management but instead to double down to ensure they have the requisite sets of skills and experiences to be successful in navigating this downturn.  Specifically, succession plans need to be revisited – the future that a candidate was being prepared for has fundamentally changed.  Consequently what was a “ready now” successor may now face a significant gap in their preparation.  And smart buyers of talent may find some great values on the marketplace – but those can only be properly recognized when a clear understanding of what the company needs and what the candidate can do exists.

 

About the Authors

Nathan Bennett, PhD

Nathan Bennett, PhD

Nathan Bennett, Ph.D., is Professor of Management in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business. He specializes in leadership and strategy execution, managing innovation and change processes, top management team dynamics, and contextual influences on individual behavior in organizations. Nate has published in numerous widely-read resources for managers including the Harvard Business Review and Wall Street Journal. He is co-author of the 2006 Stanford University Press title “Riding Shotgun: The Role of the COO” and the 2010 book “Your Career Game: How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals.” Professor Bennett received both his Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Master’s degree in Applied Research from Tulane University, and a Ph.D. in Management from Georgia Tech.

 

Taylor Griffin

Taylor M. Griffin

Taylor M. Griffin is a partner and COO of The Miles Group.

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Who Is Looking Out for No. 1?

Serving a company as CEO is undoubtedly a unique opportunity.  And with the opportunity come truly unique challenges.  Some, like the pressures to produce consistent growth, are quite familiar.  Others, like how to develop strategies to survive and thrive in a global recession, are still being understood.  Whether the challenges are new or familiar, it requires a lot of grit to take them on day after day.  From what we’ve seen, the job has become only more grueling over the past decade.  To a degree much greater than ever before, CEOs are marked executives.  And their isn’t much reason to expect the scrutiny with which they’re viewed will lessen.

This circumstance raises important questions:  Is your current CEO – is anyone, for that matter – equipped to deal with all the woe and intrigue that comes with the job?  Are things evolving in a manner that may make the job unattractive enough so that – even with an astronomical paycheck – truly authentic, capable leaders are turned off?    And finally, what can boards and CEOs do to minimize the stress connected to the job as it is today?

What’s making the job tougher?  Here are just a few from what’s become a familiar list:

  • Political forces:  increasingly active government oversight and regulation
  • Economic forces: finding growth in a global recession
  • Social forces:  demands for greater transparency, increased concerns for socially responsible corporate behavior, distrust of institutions, generational gaps in the workforce and their workplace value systems
  • Technological forces:  dramatic rise of various social media platforms to track and hold companies accountable

And, granted, sometimes business has been it’s own worst enemy.  Who can forget the scolding auto executives received after travelling in private jets to DC for their Congressional testimony.  Not a week goes by where headlines don’t express outrage at what’s seen as outrageous compensation.  And finally, stories of what is at least bad judgment from CEOs like Mark Hurd and Brian Dunn don’t help.  Bad optics.

So CEOs face a tough situation – political, economic, social, and technological forces are interacting in new, often unpredictable ways.  The resulting volatility, complexity, and ambiguity create a situation where the pressure CEOs face is daunting. The demands on the CEO continue to increase – and CEOs can only spread themselves so far.  If you are a CEO, investors, analysts, government officials, regulators, NGO’s, customers, suppliers, partners, are among those who all want a piece of you – and they aren’t just in your town – they are all over the globe.  It’s a rare person who easily and comfortably moves around the world and engages with such varied constituencies in an authentic and meaningful way.  And all this is taking place in an environment where the role is faced with increased scrutiny.

How should your company be handling the increasing complexity of the CEO position?  First off, boards have to be sensitive to these demands when they select and appraise CEOs.  Perhaps they should recognize that CEO tenures will likely continue to shorten and as a result their succession planning and talent development processes may need to produce qualified individuals at a higher rate than in the past.  CEOs themselves have to make sure they invest necessary time in staying well under the crush of these wide-ranging demands.

That said, it’s troubling that recent reports suggest workplace changes are actually aimed at increasing the load carried by the CEO. We refer here to the recently reporting findings that fewer companies are deploying a COO – a second set of hands – and relatedly, that CEOs report an increase in the number of their direct reports.  Each of these trends leads to the conclusion that in an increasingly demanding time, more is being asked of already heavily burdened CEOs.  With these decisions, boards and CEOs may be unintentionally exacerbating the situation.

If there was ever a time that called for a number two – a COO – this is it.  The tendency in crises to want to centralize control – what we see now – is natural.  But this isn’t a crises; this is how it is going to be going forward.  None of the forces noted above are slowing down.  Companies need to be structured to match the complexity of the business environment and a COO provides a step in that direction.   It’s time to look out for number one by providing them a number two.

About the Authors

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Stephen A. Miles

Stephen A. Miles is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Miles Group. Previously, he was a Vice Chairman of Heidrick & Struggles where he ran the Leadership Advisory Services within the Leadership Consulting Practice and oversaw the firm’s worldwide executive assessment/succession planning activities. With more than 15 years of experience in assessment, top-level succession planning, organizational effectiveness and strategy consulting, Stephen specializes in CEO succession and has partnered with numerous Boards of global Fortune 500 companies to ensure that a successful leadership selection and transition occurs. Stephen holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s of Business Administration both from Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada; and a Master’s degree in Psychology from the University of Victoria.

nbennett

Nathan Bennett, PhD

Nathan Bennett, Ph.D., is Professor of Management in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business. He specializes in leadership and strategy execution, managing innovation and change processes, top management team dynamics, and contextual influences on individual behavior in organizations. Nate has published in numerous widely-read resources for managers including the Harvard Business Review and Wall Street Journal. He is co-author of the 2006 Stanford University Press title “Riding Shotgun: The Role of the COO” and the 2010 book “Your Career Game: How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals.” Professor Bennett received both his Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Master’s degree in Applied Research from Tulane University, and a Ph.D. in Management from Georgia Tech.

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Achieving Leadership & Innovation Success Through Constant Education

*This week’s post was originally printed in ‘The Exceed Report: a J. Mack Robinson College of Business/Executive Education publication’

PG43-Kat-Cole

Kat Cole, President of Cinnabon, Inc.

An Interview with Kat Cole, President of Cinnabon.

Kat Cole talks about the strategies and skills needed to effectively create and manage change in a brand that has had success in over 52 countries and continues to roll out successful new multichannel opportunities.

Kat Cole is the president of Cinnabon, Inc., which operates more than 770 franchised locations worldwide and is the market leader among bakeries, serving cinnamon rolls and a variety of other baked goods and specialty beverages. As the president of Cinnabon, she is a member of the leadership team within FOCUS Brands Inc., which is the franchisor and operator of more than 2,200 ice cream shops, bakeries, restaurants and cafes in the United States and around the world.

Cole has more than a decade of multi-disciplined experience in change management, culture, communications, service, training, sales, restaurant operations, and brand and organizational leadership and is a sought-after featured speaker and panelist on these topics. She has created relevant, cost effective training and development programs and is widely known in and outside of her industry for mentorship, management and leadership development.

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Interview with Cinnabon’s Kat Cole continued

*This week’s post was originally printed in ‘The Exceed Report: a J. Mack Robinson College of Business/Executive Education publication’

PG43-Kat-Cole

Kat Cole, President of Cinnabon, Inc.

An Interview with Kat Cole, President of Cinnabon.

Kat Cole talks about the strategies and skills needed to effectively create and manage change in a brand that has had success in over 52 countries and continues to roll out successful new multichannel opportunities.

Kat Cole is the president of Cinnabon, Inc., which operates more than 770 franchised locations worldwide and is the market leader among bakeries, serving cinnamon rolls and a variety of other baked goods and specialty beverages. As the president of Cinnabon, she is a member of the leadership team within FOCUS Brands Inc., which is the franchisor and operator of more than 2,200 ice cream shops, bakeries, restaurants and cafes in the United States and around the world.

Cole has more than a decade of multi-disciplined experience in change management, culture, communications, service, training, sales, restaurant operations, and brand and organizational leadership and is a sought-after featured speaker and panelist on these topics. She has created relevant, cost effective training and development programs and is widely known in and outside of her industry for mentorship, management and leadership development.

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Cinnabon: Building Global, Multichannel Success

*This week’s post was originally printed in ‘The Exceed Report: a J. Mack Robinson College of Business/Executive Education publication’

PG43-Kat-Cole

Kat Cole, President of Cinnabon, Inc.

An Interview with Kat Cole, President of Cinnabon.

Kat Cole talks about the strategies and skills needed to effectively create and manage change in a brand that has had success in over 52 countries and continues to roll out successful new multichannel opportunities.

Kat Cole is the president of Cinnabon, Inc., which operates more than 770 franchised locations worldwide and is the market leader among bakeries, serving cinnamon rolls and a variety of other baked goods and specialty beverages. As the president of Cinnabon, she is a member of the leadership team within FOCUS Brands Inc., which is the franchisor and operator of more than 2,200 ice cream shops, bakeries, restaurants and cafes in the United States and around the world.

Cole has more than a decade of multi-disciplined experience in change management, culture, communications, service, training, sales, restaurant operations, and brand and organizational leadership and is a sought-after featured speaker and panelist on these topics. She has created relevant, cost effective training and development programs and is widely known in and outside of her industry for mentorship, management and leadership development.

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The future of executive education continued

Real Executive Education: Lead innovation and growth, or else…
Adaptive leadership and strategic innovation are the hottest topics in executive education today. A recent IBM-sponsored survey of 1,541 CEOs, general managers and senior public sector leaders worldwide reported “that events, threats and opportunities aren’t just coming at us faster or with less predictability; they are converging and influencing each other to create entirely unique situations. These first-of-their-kind developments require unprecedented degrees of creativity—which has become a more important leadership quality than attributes like management discipline, rigor or operational acumen.” Successful organizations are those that have learned to integrate creativity and innovation with leadership and strategy.

Relational Executive Education: Working together to deliver results
Organizations are demanding that executive development programs deliver immediate business results.  They want their employees-participants to acquire the knowledge, skills, and creativity needed to lead the company into uncharted territory while simultaneously solving strategic problems. To achieve these dual objectives, executives are working more closely with business school professors to both design and teach programs. Future executive education programs must offer the right balance of theory and practice.  Theory without practice is irrelevant but practice without theory is unsustainable.

On the technology front, top business schools around the world including the Robinson College of Business are embracing the concept of “flipping the classroom” where the lecture portions of the content are delivered to participants before the program via pre-recorded webinars. Then the face-to-face part of the program is devoted to discussing and applying the frameworks and models to real-work projects.

Developing your leadership skills is the best way to accelerate your career. The most effective way to make your organization better is by helping others develop their leadership skills too.

An English nobleman sought to reward a selfless, heroic Scotsman who saved his son from certain death. The humble Scot refused any reward. The lord, sensing greatness in the man, insisted. When the Scot refused again, the nobleman said “Alright, but let me pay to educate your son the way I am educating my own.” The Scot accepted. His son went on to make one of the greatest medical discoveries of all time. When the lord’s son lay dying from infection, the Scotsman’s son’s discovery saved him. The Scotsman’s son? Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin. And the nobleman’s son? Winston Churchill.

Our world needs more great leaders and courageous innovators. Steve Jobs said it well: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” But John Quincy Adams said it first and best: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

About the Authors:

Steven D. Olson, Ph.D.Steven D. Olson, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor and Director of the Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business. Steve is an award-winning teacher in the College’s executive education, EMBA and Executive Doctorate in Business programs. He is an expert in fuses theory and practice in leadership, innovation, and environmental sustainability. Steve advises leaders in some of the most successful organizations including the U. S. Marine Corp’s Officer Leadership Academy. He was also the co-founderand managing partner of Generative Consulting, a leadership development firm whose clients regularly appear on Fortune’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Steve earned a Master’s Degree from Yale University and a Ph.D. from Emory University.

Daniel L. Stots, M.S.Daniel L. Stotz, M.S., is Senior Director of Executive Education and Lecturer at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business. Dan has 18 years of experience designing senior-level executive development programs that integrate the topics of leadership, innovation and strategy. He plays the lead role in working with senior executives to design customized executive education programs that accelerate the leadership development process. His current and past clients include Cox Enterprises, the FBI Crime Labs, GE Energy, Georgia Gulf Corporation, McKesson Technology Solutions, NCR Corporation, Regions Financial, Rollins Inc., and the NASA Johnson Space Center to name just a few. Dan earned a Master’s of Science in Management from Colorado State University.

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The Future of Executive Education

What do great leaders have in common? They never stop learning. For great leaders, development lasts a lifetime and draws upon surprising sources, far beyond their day-to-day worlds.

But great leaders don’t keep learning just for their own sakes. They know in their bones that the measure of their success stands or falls on the caliber of the leaders they grow. So they do their best to inspire every person in the organization to develop their potential greatness. And great leaders never let a high-potential employee get away. They trust their eye for talent and they challenge the most, those they believe have the best inside.

What does the future of executive education look like?

In the past, all too often, executive education served as a nice diversion. A little learning, a few rounds of golf, shopping and sightseeing, and then back to the grind. No more.

If the future is here, but just unevenly distributed, then what does the future of executive education look like?

First, it’s radical. Full-on. Bring your whole person or don’t come. As the Marines say, “The way we train is the way we fight.” Executive education of the future will feel more like simulated battle than like death by PowerPoint.

Second, it’s real. Program participants won’t be allowed to come back to work without ideas and tools they can use immediately. Forget stale case studies about another firm’s challenges or problems. Tomorrow’s executive education will be all about your organization, your challenges, and your problems.

Third, it’s relational. The world will belong to those who can sense, create, relate, engage, inspire, motivate, and challenge. No matter what you’re learning, if you’re not learning to bring out the best in others and the best in yourself, then you (or your sponsoring company) are wasting your money.

Radical Executive Education: The key to keeping the very best of the best

The retention of top talent has become equally important, if not more important, than the development of top talent. Senior leaders are now believers that it is their employees — rather than new products, services or technology — that will drive the future growth and success of the company. The book “Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down”  by Vineet Nayar provides important lessons on how one CEO used the Employees First, Customers Second (EFCS) approach to transform their company from a slow-growth bureaucracy into a marketplace powerhouse. Sending high-performing, high-potential employees to executive education programs is a great way to retain them because it is both a tangible demonstration of the company’s ongoing investment in their future, as well as a “thank you” for past contributions.

About the Authors:

Steven D. Olson, Ph.D.Steven D. Olson, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor and Director of the Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business. Steve is an award-winning teacher in the College’s executive education, EMBA and Executive Doctorate in Business programs. He is an expert in fuses theory and practice in leadership, innovation, and environmental sustainability. Steve advises leaders in some of the most successful organizations including the U. S. Marine Corp’s Officer Leadership Academy. He was also the co-founderand managing partner of Generative Consulting, a leadership development firm whose clients regularly appear on Fortune’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Steve earned a Master’s Degree from Yale University and a Ph.D. from Emory University.

Daniel L. Stots, M.S.Daniel L. Stotz, M.S., is Senior Director of Executive Education and Lecturer at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business. Dan has 18 years of experience designing senior-level executive development programs that integrate the topics of leadership, innovation and strategy. He plays the lead role in working with senior executives to design customized executive education programs that accelerate the leadership development process. His current and past clients include Cox Enterprises, the FBI Crime Labs, GE Energy, Georgia Gulf Corporation, McKesson Technology Solutions, NCR Corporation, Regions Financial, Rollins Inc., and the NASA Johnson Space Center to name just a few. Dan earned a Master’s of Science in Management from Colorado State University.

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Is your board about to pick the wrong CEO, continued

#3 Does the CEO Have Too Much Say?
In some cases, a CEO is too influential on the board. This influence may have been earned through years of success, as when the CEO has become an icon of industry (e.g., Jack Welch). In other instances, the dual role of Chair/CEO provides that individual a great deal of power in all board matters, including succession planning. It wouldn’t be fair to say that heavy CEO involvement inevitably leads to a poor choice as a successor, but it is reasonable to hypothesize that allowing the CEO to dominate the process is an abdication by other board members of a key responsibility.

THE RISK:

Allowing the CEO undue influence in the succession process risks keeping the focus on the past versus the future. What CEO doesn’t want to cement his or her legacy? “Handpicked” successors can work if there is a long preparation with full vesting from the board (such as Apple’s Tim Cook), but ceding too much control over the process to the CEO can leave a board weaker, dealing with the baggage of the old CEO, and removed from a critical area of accountability.

#4: Is There Insufficient Diversity?

Years of research on group decision-making reveals that diverse groups – though often slower to reach a consensus – make superior decisions. Diversity is thought to widen the group’s search for alternatives, to offer a more creative process for vetting alternatives, and allow for a more open and candid discussion when identifying a path forward. It’s reasonable, then, to hold that diversity on the board offers a benefit as the contenders in a succession process are identified and considered. Insufficient diversity around the table can limit the field of candidates: for example, when the board lacks industry diversity it’s quite possible that their networks are redundant – not likely to be broad enough in search.

THE RISK:

A narrower field of candidates known to the board is a risk when homogenous boards are casting their nets outside the company, but the risk also applies with internal candidates. Lack of diversity as far as functional background, for instance, may put blinders on the board when evaluating chief executive potential of those within the company. Gender, ethnic, and age diversity issues can also apply.

#5: Is there a Lack of Succession Experience?

Like any other work group, boards are assembled with a job in mind. Succession is a key responsibility of a board and as such, the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do it well need to be unequivocally and deeply reflected in the team. Just as it would be unconscionable to appoint someone without proper experience to head the audit committee or the compensation committee it is essentially malpractice to presume the succession challenge requires any less acumen to do well.

THE RISK:

Lack of experience in succession planning, and the challenges that arise with even the smoothest processes can derail a board. When there isn’t enough attention paid to appointing people who can accomplish this task, all the well-intended advice in the world won’t be enough to allow anyone to be sanguine about the outcome of a succession hunt.

As you see a company begin the process of making plans to replace a CEO – whether the event be a carefully timed and orchestrated one or a quick move in response to a crisis – a key indicator of how well the successor will perform comes from understanding how ready and capable the board is of working together, with savvy, to arrive upon a credible, capable candidate. If the board suffers from one or more of the liabilities identified here, it may be that the first order of business is to address those challenges of the board itself.

About the Authors

milesStephen A. Miles is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Miles Group. Previously, he was a Vice Chairman of Heidrick & Struggles where he ran the Leadership Advisory Services within the Leadership Consulting Practice and oversaw the firm’s worldwide executive assessment/succession planning activities. With more than 15 years of experience in assessment, top-level succession planning, organizational effectiveness and strategy consulting, Stephen specializes in CEO succession and has partnered with numerous Boards of global Fortune 500 companies to ensure that a successful leadership selection and transition occurs. Stephen holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s of Business Administration both from Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada; and a Master’s degree in Psychology from the University of Victoria.

nbennettNathan Bennett, Ph.D., is Professor of Management in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business. He specializes in leadership and strategy execution, managing innovation and change processes, top management team dynamics, and contextual influences on individual behavior in organizations. Nate has published in numerous widely-read resources for managers including the Harvard Business Review and Wall Street Journal. He is co-author of the 2006 Stanford University Press title “Riding Shotgun: The Role of the COO” and the 2010 book “Your Career Game: How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals.” Professor Bennett received both his Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Master’s degree in Applied Research from Tulane University, and a Ph.D. in Management from Georgia Tech.

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Is your board about to pick the wrong CEO?

Given its importance to a company’s health, it’s no favorite topic in the business press. That iconic companies like Apple, Hewlett-Packard, and GM have recently named new CEOs only adds to the interest. And as troubled firms such as Best Buy and Yahoo! announce new chiefs, Monday-morning quarterbacking around their selections has become a favorite pastime. There is no shortage of advice around what a healthy CEO succession process looks like. We don’t have an issue with the advice that’s been proffered – it’s all about taking care to ensure a good outcome. Yet in spite of all the attention the topic has received, we contend there is a key missing piece. The missing piece is that the first and arguably most critical step in a succession process is ensuring that the right people are sitting around the table to execute the process.

Not only should the board about to make the decision on the next CEO be experienced in such matters, but the interrelationships among the board members should also be healthy. These criteria are often overlooked. It’s generally assumed that the board is ready for the responsibility of picking the next CEO.It may not be. And when it isn’t, we are concerned that giving the wrong people the right instructions does not foreshadow a good result.

Below we share our take on the board characteristics that should cause concern during a CEO succession.

#1: Is There Interpersonal Conflict?
Boards are often filled with larger than life individuals, each with long track records of success and strong opinions they are more than willing to express. While a certain level of conflict helps avoid ‘groupthink’ through the discussion of multiple perspectives, conflict can be harmful when it gets personal. A lack of trust, private agendas, and the like can cause tremendous damage in the decision-making process around the naming of a new CEO. Frankly, situations like that recently witnessed as Hewlett Packard struggled through a number of succession challenges led many to question the board’s capabilities to provide proper governance.
THE RISK:
When the conflict becomes personal, strategy and vision take a back seat. The incoming CEO – no matter how talented – is starting out at an extreme disadvantage when coming into a scorched-earth battlefield left by a warring board.

#2: Are There Irreconcilable Differences Regarding the Vision for the Company’s Future?
The nature of business today – economic uncertainty, increasing globalization that brings with it both threat and opportunity, technological advances, and equivocal signals from governments around fiscal and regulatory policies — brings with it a very noisy decision-making environment. It is easy to see how different strong, experienced individuals could develop commitment to different strategies as the best path forward. And no other single act more clearly affirms a strategic direction than the selection of a new CEO. When board members do not share a common vision for the future, they likely will be looking for very different capabilities in the next CEO and likely will not be able to agree. At Yahoo!, for example, it’s fair to say that the best strategic direction for that company has remained a mystery for the board.

THE RISK:
If the board can’t agree on a strategic direction, an incoming CEO could be like a star quarterback who’s suddenly asked to pitch a no-hitter. A board’s ambivalence can set up an otherwise talented CEO for failure if he or she is brought in to play the wrong game.

About the Authors

milesStephen A. Miles is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Miles Group. Previously, he was a Vice Chairman of Heidrick & Struggles where he ran the Leadership Advisory Services within the Leadership Consulting Practice and oversaw the firm’s worldwide executive assessment/succession planning activities. With more than 15 years of experience in assessment, top-level succession planning, organizational effectiveness and strategy consulting, Stephen specializes in CEO succession and has partnered with numerous Boards of global Fortune 500 companies to ensure that a successful leadership selection and transition occurs. Stephen holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s of Business Administration both from Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada; and a Master’s degree in Psychology from the University of Victoria.

nbennettNathan Bennett, Ph.D., is Professor of Management in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business. He specializes in leadership and strategy execution, managing innovation and change processes, top management team dynamics, and contextual influences on individual behavior in organizations. Nate has published in numerous widely-read resources for managers including the Harvard Business Review and Wall Street Journal. He is co-author of the 2006 Stanford University Press title “Riding Shotgun: The Role of the COO” and the 2010 book “Your Career Game: How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals.” Professor Bennett received both his Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Master’s degree in Applied Research from Tulane University, and a Ph.D. in Management from Georgia Tech.

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How to be a ‘shock absorber’ continued

What  does  absorption  look  like?    Consider,  in  contrast   to  Hayward,  an airline  executive  who  had  a  plane   crash  under  his  watch.  He  remained clear in  his   thinking,  absorbed  the  emotion  around  him,  and  did   not panic  or lose  his  cool.  He  engaged  with  all   stakeholders  in  an  authentic and compassionate  way.   He  stepped  back  and  put  a  process  and  plan  in place   with  key  leaders  responsible  for  executing  various   parts  of  it.  He led from the  front  and  stood  in  the   firing  line  of  all  those  that legitimately  had bullets  to   fire.  He  was  empathetic  and  he  took  personal responsibility  and accountability  for  the  errors  that   occurred,  never  trying to  hide  or  blame someone else. He didn’t bemoan that he “wanted his life back.”

Through  observing  how  leaders  around  the  world   have  responded  to  crises  of all  kinds — from  corporate missteps to the “black swan” events that are outside of a company’s control — we  have  identified  five   things that “shock absorbers” do to lead their companies  during  these  tough  times.    One  important observation to take away is that an executive’s absorptive  capacity  is  based  both  on  how  they appear and  what  they  do;  who  you  are  matters,  your  process   matters:

  • Be  the  rock — behavioral  and  emotional   stability  are  critical.   Followers  are  looking  to   you all the time; any “tells” that point to crises  will  be  seen  and  amplified  by  others.
  • Listen  to  stories,  but  focus  on  facts.    People will want to have their fears heard, but it’s likely  that  facts  will  better  guide  decisions. Listening  is  an  important  display  of  empathy   for  the  stress  they  are  experiencing,  but  while   you  listen  you  must  continually  work  to   continually  bring  people  back  to  the  facts. Never  miss  an  opportunity  to  improve  the   quality  of  the  information  you  have  at  your   disposal.
  • Slow  down  the  game;  take  as  much  time  as   you  can  to  make  decisions. In  a  difficult  time   it  takes  a  deliberate  effort  to  avoid  jumping  to   a  conclusion.    Even  if  there  is  time  for  you  to   correct a bad choice, it’s better not to have made  one. Constant  course  corrections  can   be  seen  as  poor  leadership.
  • Don’t give up your position out front, but stand  shoulder  to shoulder  in  support  of   your  team.  It’s essential that no one doubt your  willingness  to  be  the  first  target  for   those  aiming  arrows  at  the company. Fortunately,  it  is  possible  for  you  to  be  in  two   places  at  once.  While  you  are  out  front,  you   can  also  be  shoulder  to  shoulder,  never  letting  the  team  doubt  your  availability  and   your  desire  to  offer  them support.
  • Effective  communication  is  critical.    The volume  needs  to  be  high,  but  quantity  is  not   enough.    What  is  shared  needs  to  be   supported  by  the  facts  of  the  situation  and needs  to  be  delivered  in  a  frank,  constructive   manner.    Amplifiers  generally  communicate   the  most,  but  the  content  of  the  message   becomes  the  problem.

Employees  need  a  great  deal  from  leaders,  especially   in  times  of challenge. And  the  last  thing  they  need  is   someone  fanning  the  flames. As  a  leader, it  may   sometime  be  the  case  that  your  ability  to  simply  not make matters worse is a gift to followers. It’s an even  greater  gift  if  you  can  use  your resources  to   absorb  some  of  the  shrapnel  that  often  accompanies   workplace crises. The  way  a  leader  either  absorbs  or   amplifies  the  threats  that result  from  these  situations   plays  an  enormous  role  in  how  employees handle a   crises. An  absorber  rises  to  the  occasion  and  uses  his or her “absorptive capacity” to protect and enable   their  teams,  whereas  others,  through  words  and deeds,  end  up  amplifying  stressors,  making  situations   more  dangerous  by effectively  undermining  their   teams.  Keeping  these  five  recommendations  in mind will help you help your team do what you’ve brought them  together  to  do — to find  the  right  way  forward.

About the Authors

milesStephen A. Miles is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Miles Group. Previously, he was a Vice Chairman of Heidrick & Struggles where he ran the Leadership Advisory Services within the Leadership Consulting Practice and oversaw the firm’s worldwide executive assessment/succession planning activities. With more than 15 years of experience in assessment, top-level succession planning, organizational effectiveness and strategy consulting, Stephen specializes in CEO succession and has partnered with numerous Boards of global Fortune 500 companies to ensure that a successful leadership selection and transition occurs. Stephen holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s of Business Administration both from Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada; and a Master’s degree in Psychology from the University of Victoria.

nbennettNathan Bennett, Ph.D., is Professor of Management in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business. He specializes in leadership and strategy execution, managing innovation and change processes, top management team dynamics, and contextual influences on individual behavior in organizations. Nate has published in numerous widely-read resources for managers including the Harvard Business Review and Wall Street Journal. He is co-author of the 2006 Stanford University Press title “Riding Shotgun: The Role of the COO” and the 2010 book “Your Career Game: How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals.” Professor Bennett received both his Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Master’s degree in Applied Research from Tulane University, and a Ph.D. in Management from Georgia Tech.

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