Randy Michaels recently departed as CEO of the Tribune Company. You also won't find any articles about his "bad ideas" — because there aren't any. Mr. Michaels was hired for his ideas and ability to make them work. He formerly was COO of Clear Channel Radio, the largest radio company in the world.

Jeffrey Hayzlett was CMO at KODAK until last June. At an ADCLUB New York Breakfast he said, "My job is to walk into a room and be disruptive." Mr. Hayzlett's book, The Mirror Test is worth the buy.

These are brilliant, proven, executives who are well known for track records of success. Their management styles are not only well known, they are effective. They are Change Masters.

Whenever Change Masters and corporations part abruptly, the leaked concerns are always the same:*

"A clash of styles." "The corporate culture didn't mesh with the executive…" "He/she was harsh…brash…inconsiderate…failed to communicate…intimidating…" Unwelcome ideas always seem to come from people who are described as intimidating.

When the second round of leaks come out the mutterings usually devolve to issues with the executive's appearance, spouse, selection of jokes, and office décor. Those sound like critiques of rogue country club members, not executives at for- profit corporations.

The fact that "clash of cultures" is a tolerated justification for rejecting an executive at a publicly held corporation goes to the heart of what is wrong with that corporation. The "culture" isn't important to shareholders. Profit is important. If the Change Master improved profits, as Messrs. Michaels, Griffin and Hayzlett did, that fact is oddly buried toward the end of news reports.


Why do things go wrong? Here's what the hiring body does — often with the best of intentions — that make it impossible for a Change Master to thrive:

1. "You can always come to me if there is a problem." If the über boss tells key veteran executives that they can "back door" information to him, no change will take place. Instead, the entrenched executives will spend their time looking for evidence of trouble with the proposed changes.

2. "People will get with the program or they won't." Dumbest sentence ever spoken at a time of change. Has the program been outlined? Timetabled? Are there rewards in place for success? Never. Instead the new leader is brought in to "change things up." And some vague, threatening, yardstick will measure the troops.

3. "Well he's just a consultant, we make the final decision." "We" meaning the people whose actions resulted in the need for a consultant or new boss.

4. Signing existing executives to contracts prior to the new bosses' arrival — to make them feel secure. Celebrating tenure and contracts rather than achievement is how the trouble began.

5. Failure to backstop. At some point change means pain. People may have to be let go, titles and responsibilities adjusted and goals set. One wink from a board member to troubled troops can kill the entire, essential project. If anyone on a Board or high position even hints that dissent is tolerable, the staff will take the easier softer way and do nothing.


For decades, I've been hired as an executive and consultant by the biggest media companies in the world to bring in new ideas and initiate change.

It's noteworthy that when a Change Master leaves a company one of two things happen: 1. All of their proposed changes are put into effect as the remaining management fights for credit i.e. "We were planning to do that anyway" (My favorite.) 2. None of the proposed changes are put into effect or the changes that were enacted are reversed and the company ultimately fails either by going under, or by losing stock points, listeners, ratings, subscribers, etc.

When a company hires a Change Master there is a subliminal message that the status quo is failing and the current staff caused the failure. Defenses go up immediately. Here's how to fix that.

1. No big gun walks into an unfixable mess. Identify what is working at the company and announce it. Tell the Change Master to explain what the company's strengths are and why they were attracted to the assignment.

2. Incentivize buy-in. When the Change Master is announced, tell the company's executives the exact incentive for embracing and fostering the new initiatives. "Stick around until the end of March for your bonus…" is not going to grow the company's profits. Instead explain that the new leader will determine the incentive plan. It will be based on their goals and it will be based on results. The first thing the new boss must do with their chosen team is to establish the incentive plan.

3. Stop criticism cold. "He's here because he will show us how to make more money. That's why I hired him. You need to impress him with your abilities and ideas." End of conversation.

4. More ideas and more management is not the answer. If the Change Master wants to bring in other experts, fine. But if the investors, Board or management committee adds in more outsiders to the mix, the troops get confused and change stops.

5. If people have to be fired, do it at once. Do not say, "Those are all the changes we are going to make." Say nothing about staffing. Keep the team focused on the profit goals that will result in them earning their incentives.

Personal tip. When the Change Master walks into your company, the smartest thing you can personally do is go to them and say, "How can I help you?" Now you're the first team member.

* Note: I have no idea what the formal reason was for the departure of any of these execs so don't waste the lawyer letter.

Walter Sabo is the Founder and Creator of the business concept. He is an experienced leader of new organizations and is currently CEO of Hitviews. Walter can be reached at walter@hitviews.com.

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