You read a how-to-manage book and think, "That isn't quite right. That doesn't synch with the real world." You're right. How-to-manage books are often steeped in a utopian, MBA course view of corporate life
.Common sense and gut instinct is ignored in these books and therefore their advice is rarely effective in the field. For thirty plus years I've learned how companies really work from the vantage points of the coffee room, hallways and drop-into-my office gossipy conversations. The companies I've worked for or consulted are ones you've heard of and possibly admired. Often they succeed spectacularly; often their failures are breathtaking. I've contributed to both scenarios. I am writing a book from my experiences as an executive on demand, an advisor to great corporate leaders.
Usually, the leader of a company or corporate division has terrific vision. Just as often it fails to be executed. My book will attempt to detail why there is a chasm between vision and results and offer solutions. Start with these:
1. WELCOME TO THE PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD
You can't build a truly modern company with 150-year-old job titles and org charts. Apple's greatest organizational achievement is they hand out titles like CHIEF EVANGELIST. Most corporations today are structured exactly the way they were in the days of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Why? Are you running a Railroad? How did that turn out anyway? Even official State papers of incorporation ask for the titles of the ancients.
Baby boomers have been anxious to put in a new structure for some time now. When are they going to be in charge? The people who protested Vietnam, helped usher in Civil Rights got rid of the gym requirements and made co-ed dorms the norm are now in their 50's and 60's. Their ideals should be the guiding principles of business life. But that is not the case. Companies are still structured and employees titled in the mold of Henry Ford.
Throw out the titles tomorrow and look hard at your goals and tasks. Re-label according to today's initiatives. Change them again as needed.
2. ROTATE THE CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER EVERY TWO YEARS.
The problem with every public corporation is that the CFO is the smartest person in the company. Always. He/she has the math brain, got 1600 on the SAT's and has the MBA. Because they are smart, they are certain that they can do the job of CEO better than the CEO because he believes that the CEO is loose with the facts and sloppy with detail. In clever, quiet, CFO ways the CFO always undermines the CEO in an attempt to get their job. Look at the horror show at Time Inc. where the brilliant CEO Jack Griffin lasted six months. He excelled in sales, brought the company into the digital age and got raves from Jeff Bewkes. What got him booted?
What killed him was that the CFO and the Chief Counsel apparently weren't invited to all of Jack's creative and sales meetings. Can you imagine? They crossed their arms, pouted and said, him or us. Those two Pennsylvania Railroad titled executives are supposed to SERVE the CEO. But they rarely do, they always want the job, they are scary smart and they are all inside-intrigue and politics. Meanwhile the CEO is giving speeches, stating vision and managing dozens of diverse executives. The CEO is working and the CFO is sawing the planks out from under him.
Learn from retail bankers. When you go to your bank branch you'll notice that from time to time the whole staff seems to change. Rotation of employees is a policy of big banks to compel employees to stick to securities' laws and not play favorites with any given customer. In fact, if you are a high ranking exec at a bank you must take your vacation and the location of that vacation must be over fifty miles from home. Many non-profits also have firm rules mandating rotation of service.
The CFO job should be a two-year job. Pay and tenure them like members of a boy band. Big check, leave when your welcome is worn out.
3. YOUR BEST FRIEND AT WORK IS NOT YOUR BEST FRIEND.
Most CEO's have a vision-killing flaw: The Best Friend At Work. The best friend at work blocks the execution of the CEO's vision more than any other factor. Once I attended a reception in the anteroom outside the CEO's office of a three-letter company. The boss' best friend urged another executive at the reception to go in and tell the boss his idea. The executive marched in to the CEO to sell his idea. As he walked into the den of death, the best friend looked at my crowd and said, "That isn't going to do him any good."
Over and over I've seen the boss express a vision, a tough one to execute but doable, and the moment he leaves the room the best friend says, "That's crazy. He's wrong. We can't do that." I've witnessed this at virtually every company I've watched up- close for the past 30 years.
There are two types of best friends at work. The one who follows you job-to-job, oddly incapable of working for anyone else. And the embedded best friend who was also the prior CEO's best friend at the same company. ie: The throne whisperer. They agree with all initiatives, celebrate your idiosyncrasies and will change religion to that of the CEO if necessary. Both dilute, damage or destroy the CEO's vision. Get your best friends at college, not work.
4. IF EVERYBODY AGREES, YOU'RE DEAD.
A fresh, intriguing vision must be processed and incorporated into existing patterns and thoughts. For that to happen, your staff must challenge your vision and ask questions. Lots of questions.
If there are no questions when you present your vision, your vision will not be executed. In former APPLE CEO Gil Amelio's book he expressed frustration that none of his meetings with the team resulted in any actions, just silence. (In the same book he also admitted to driving a Cordoba, which was no doubt the root of his problems with the Volvo driving Apple evangelists.) If you share your vision and the response is silence, your staff hasn't processed the information and they have no intention of committing to the plan. They are going to wait you out and hope you forget the plan or get fired. The person who asks the hardest questions, the toughest questions and keeps asking them is your true best friend.
5. YOUR RECEPTIONIST KNOWS EVERYTHING.
The elevator door opens and you are greeted by a...telephone and directory of employees. Not a receptionist, a phone. You look at the list and usually the person you want to visit isn't on it! What a lousy way to welcome a guest; having them work the switchboard. After you dial in the extension twice---the first time you will dial it incorrectly---the phone rings on some poor loser's desk that has a fulltime job and now also has to be a receptionist. The guest stands in the hall for longer than you can imagine and a very distracted, resentful employee then lets them in. Dumb.
Instead, staff the greeting desk and empower that greeter. Let them know they are your eyes and ears. You will be asking them what they think of guests, job applicants and vendors. When the meeting with the guest starts, invite the receptionist to sit-in and express their opinion. Watch the face of the visitor when you do that.
By having the receptionist participate in the flow of information at your company there will be many positive results. First, he/she will 100% contribute to the execution of your vision. Secondly, it will be clear you're running a democracy and in the long run they last. Third, a tone of humility is established and humility means, "to be teachable." Finally, executives who are too quiet, too reserved will find ways to participate and contribute to your vision because they don't want to be shown up by the receptionist.
Thanks for reading this. In the comment section if you have thoughts about why visions vanish at most companies, it would be great if you shared them.The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaBizBloggers.com management or associated bloggers. MediaBizBloggers is an open thought leadership platform and readers may share their comments and opinions in response to all commentaries.