Friday, January 23, 2009

How to Keep the Job You’ve Got

As I’m watching the hundreds of articles, reading the checklists, and listening to the bloviation about finding new employment and planning for your future when you lose your current job, it seems to me that we’ve overlooked the most important and simple solution—doing our best to keep the job we’ve got.

It seems to make sense that keeping the job you’ve got is a lot easier than trying to find another one, then another one, and then another one. Here are, from management’s perspective, the behaviors of those employees that have the most value, most of the time. These employees are likely to be retained when cuts or worse have to be carried out:
  1. Do your job. Understand what your job is, get a job description, figure it out, and do it.
  2. Make your budget or sales goal, if you have these responsibilities.
  3. Make the plans or strategies you’re engaged in actually work.
  4. Help others succeed and accomplish their part of the plan.
  5. Reduce stress, tension, and contention. Be a peacemaker.
  6. Get along. Help others be more comfortable in what they’re trying to accomplish.
  7. Be a finisher. Get things done. Wherever possible, stop those things that will never be done.
  8. Be a source of inspiration. Help others have better days. Most of the time, others will focus on what really matters because that’s what you are doing.

Did I miss anything?

For more information about layoffs, visit the article in my eNewsletter, The Dark Art of Laying People Off.

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How to Lose a Job

As crazy as it seems, in times like these, there are people who are intent on getting high up on the list of people we can do without. When we look at who is on the list of people to separate first, here are the kinds of behaviors and attitudes that surface:
  1. Making the boss mad by barking, shouting, or simply talking back.
  2. Denying what everyone else already knows or what really was true—whether good, bad, or somewhere in between.
  3. Getting angry and threatening others.
  4. Acting like you’re a victim of forces beyond your control, but forces that should be controlled if those in charge really cared.
  5. Trivializing real threats to the organization by focusing on just yourself; avoiding the truth.
  6. Claiming that you’re being treated unfairly.
  7. Minimizing the damage that your own behavior is causing and asking irritating, irrelevant, insolent questions.

If this is you . . . even if it’s only one or two of these behaviors or attitudes, you might want to examine your life and your attitudes. The more items on this list that reflect your daily habits, the more likely it is that, relatively soon, you’ll be working for someone else or not working at all. These are job killers.

For more information about layoffs, visit the article in my eNewsletter, The Dark Art of Laying People Off.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

All Book Reviews Should Be This Good

Very recently an unsolicited, cool review of my new book, Why Should the Boss Listen to You? The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor (Jossey-Bass, 2008), appeared on Take a look. I’ve never met this gentleman but, obviously, we’re going to be friends for life.

Much more than it first appears, January 2, 2009
By Dr. Don Malnati (LBK, Florida 34228)

Why should the boss listen to you? Sweet book. A sophisticated analysis. The top is fast and complex. You read him think and analyze through issues with a decision maker.

Far more than it first appears. A real look at the soul of what good business can be. Everything could be like this, e.g., health care, politics . . . . James Lukaszewski (Loo-ka-SHEV-skee) (szew=SHEV am I the only one that didn't know that?) sketches the boss, inner circle, advisor and staff. Explains each player. How they fit together, where they are coming from and how you contribute. The big picture is there when you finish. He has some good visuals and many lists.

7 Disciplines
5 Imperatives
4 Things to do
5 Flawed strategies
9 Things a leader expects
11 Things you need to know to work with a boss
3 Lists of questions to consider. Nice learning device.

Leaders get an unfair beating, especially from the corrupt drive-by-media. Humans like to work, leaders like to lead. Lawyers and media egos like to screw things up.

Too many books could be a pamphlet, not this one. “Managers test before they trust.”, a nice thought I liked in the section on trust. Something like that on every page. On half the pages I wrote a comment. An enjoyable read of deep material. His thoughts reveal a life that works. This body of work is a protein meal.

I Love this book.

The CD is like an outline, How to Develop the Mind of a Strategist, $10 from

Get comfortable, close your eyes, listen. Or go to the seminar.

My favorite on the CD is not in the book. It is a seven-word summary of everything you need to know about unions. It is NOT negative. The 7 words will make your company better. Or the 7 words will make your union better. Get the CD, find the 7 words. You will remember them. You will use them. You will appreciate Jim, say more with less.

The book is very, very good. You will not be able to read it only once.

You will listen to the CD once, but the one phrase is worth $100+.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Where Have All the CEOs Gone? The Succession Crisis of 2009

Following on the heels of the SEC’s devastating options backdating scandal, which caused as many as 200 CEOs, general counsels, and CFOs to lose their jobs, we enter into another, even more frantic period of CEO departures. Economic events are accelerating the timetable for CEO departure. When the news gets bad and stays bad, it’s the CEO who receives extra scrutiny and a shorter lease on the executive suite. The trusted strategic advisor needs to be plugged into the succession strategy or have a fundamental understanding of the succession process. The CEO’s sudden departure can be overwhelming.

The important news for most staff functions, including communications, is that a change in CEO is less likely to cause a change in senior staff functions, at least at first. The CEO’s departure does present two significant opportunities to the trusted advisor—whether internal expert or external resource. The first is assisting in a graceful, prompt, and relatively painless exit for the current CEO. The second is developing a strategy for the successor’s first 100-to-900 days. The roughest part is managing through the politics, competing personalities, and posturing during the period of departure and accession.

There are recognizable patterns in CEO and successor behaviors during departure scenarios that the skilled advisor can anticipate and then be extremely helpful to both the departing CEO and the successor. Here are the most interesting patterns in the CEO departure scenario.


Everything becomes strange and sort of fuzzy as the organization enters a period of succession. This begins, of course, with the more or less formal announcement that, at some point in the near future (hopefully sooner rather than later), the existing CEO will depart, and a process has been initiated to find a replacement or a replacement is about to be named. Succession is one of the highest stakes games in corporate management. Lots of senior people are jockeying to be considered and/or at least included in the process and the new power structure.

Only a few people get to play, and most power centers become unstable for the period of time it takes to complete the cycle from announcement to search, to selection to CEO departure. It just gets really weird. For the potential successors, they are moving into a world that is beyond real and beyond belief, and sometimes petty and silly all at the same time. This is the successor’s weird world. Every individual I’ve coached through these circumstances has told me that, no matter how clearly I forecast the weirdness, it was even weirder in real life.

The Five Phases of Departure

Phase One: Posturing

The posturing of possible internal successors is evident, as is the development of internal centers of influence, in the search to determine just how the succession decision will be made. Every organization handles this process differently, every time. The person generally driving the succession scenario is the departing CEO.

Phase Two: Plotting and Placating

The longer it takes to announce a successor, whether from the inside or the outside of the organization, the more time the organization wastes getting ready. Statistics show that the insider or outsider faces the greatest risk of failure in the first 18 months. Once the new CEO is on board, there is an expectation of immediate performance, even before they have found the bathroom.

The odds of real success favor the insider over the outsider almost every time. The key is the current CEO’s departure date. If that date is longer than 12 months, there’s going to be an enormous amount of individual and collective agony as the process proceeds. Individuals fall in and out of favor, in and out of contention. The air is thick with politics. The organization holds its breath the entire time.

Phase Three: Legacy

The departing CEO begins to put in place or favor programs, projects, and ideas that he or she would like to see live well beyond his or her stewardship. The CEO usually begins talking about accomplishments and what he or she hopes to see survive over the long haul. This behavior is quite natural. While it drives all potential successors to the brink of distraction, so long as the boss is the boss, he or she gets to say these things and to build his or her legacy, which is a major preoccupation during the remaining weeks and days of his or her term.

Phase Four: Immortality

In scenarios where the current CEO’s departure date is greater than 12 months, the CEO has time to make some very extraordinary moves that cement in place the company they created, and to prevent the successor from changing or altering what has been done. The most powerful gambit is to sell all or part of the company before or, some times, after naming a successor. Another way to assure that an organization will keep the departing CEO's stamp is for the departing CEO to reshape the organization in a way that makes it difficult to reformat once he or she leaves. Immortality behaviors extend until the moment the CEO walks out the door, longer if he or she can reach in and keep in and keep tweaking it, as a Board member, for example.

Phase Five: Slow Motion

Will he or she ever leave? The CEO, as the date of departure approaches, begins to have second thoughts as to whether the company can function, even with a hand-picked successor. If that successor is named more than 12 months prior to the exit of the CEO, the odds of that individual remaining a successor diminish by month. The existing CEO may begin to torpedo the successor at every turn.

My advice to departing CEOs: announce your departure time up to 12 months ahead and surprise everyone by leaving three months early. As soon as the successor arrives, leave the building and go tour the provinces. Come back only occasionally for sentimental visits—to be honored for your service, achievements, accomplishments; and to recognize those who helped you complete your service, supported your achievements, and helped you to have a career of accomplishment. If the former CEO is going to hang around a while, at least for the first year or so, establish a separate office in another building or some distance away.

Keep in Mind

Four powerful process success ingredients to keep in mind as the “play” of succession proceeds:
  1. Any potential successor needs to maintain their relationships with everyone on as an even a keel as possible, especially the departing CEO. Making this happen is part of the senior advisor’s key role in succession. CEO and successor must stay in regular communication throughout the entire process. It’s the CEO who generally cuts off communication fairly quickly.
  2. Most successor candidates must control their frustration, and resist and control the urge to make or suggest changes before getting the mantle of leadership. There is only one CEO at a time. It hacks off the boss. Steps may be taken to prevent changes from taking place, and pushing change can prevent succession. The senior advisor counsels patience, a focus on exceptional performance, and assisting the CEO wherever possible in achieving his or her objectives until their departure, and to be kind and in contact afterwards.
  3. Anything the boss did during his or her tenure can be undone, redone, or reconstructed once a new CEO is in position, but only after the mantle of power is transferred. The senior advisor needs to be extremely cautious about making plans and engineering changes before the power to accomplish things has transferred to the new leader. Once the mantle of power is assumed, the world changes dramatically and permanently for the person in charge. Be ready for the mental and emotional transformation. When there is failure to perform, former CEOs now frequently return to manage organizations where their successors failed to work out.
  4. The average tenure of a new CEO has declined to 41 months—1,890 days. The first 600 days are the hardest and the most challenging for the trusted strategic advisor. Get your new CEO a countdown clock and make it prominent and visible in their office. As the time to his or her exit is counted down, a productive sense of urgency will permeate every meeting, conversation, and decision.

The one thing almost all CEOs will tell you once they get the job, even some with extraordinary experience, is that when they walk in their new office for the first time, close the door, look out the window, the first question they ask themselves is, “Now what do I do?” Have answers ready.

In a future post, I’ll talk about how the trusted strategic advisor helps the new CEO structure those first 300-to-600 days. It’s a fascinating strategic opportunity and one in which the advisor can have extraordinary influence.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

50,000 Feet: Restoring Confidence

Restoration of trust in business and government to manage our complex economy will only return when the most essential ingredient of ethical behavior is addressed openly and vigorously—the integrity of business leadership. It’s going to be a tough sell.

I recently attended a meeting of communicators primarily involved in financial communication—banks, Wall Street, real estate, and some very large financial businesses. The banking communicators were busy explaining how difficult it was going to be to figure out how to resolve the mess created in the mortgage markets and elsewhere. As they fumbled, stumbled, mumbled, and bumbled through things clearly too complicated for me to understand, I raised my hand and said, “From the public’s perspective, only three things are necessary to resolve the banking crisis and re-establish trust. 1) The leadership of one or more individuals in whom the public can have absolute faith and whom, perhaps, these organizations genuinely fear. 2) All of the financial organizations and institutions that failed need to begin begging for increased regulation and oversight, as they vigorously and sincerely apologize and take responsibility for the horrendous damage they have caused so many people, families, and businesses across the planet. 3) Many business operators will have to lose their jobs and go to prison as a result of their behaviors. Even though much of what happened was deregulated or unregulated and, therefore, was thought to be unpunishable, an angry, direct message needs to be sent to the financial marketplaces. Enough already. The bottom line for these communicators? “We’re not all bad guys.” That’s really helpful.

As for those who are getting or anticipating a bailout . . . we’re still waiting for a little humility and plans for extraordinary openness about what these companies plan to do and actually do with the money. If you take public money, you have an affirmative obligation to report the uses and plans for those funds, and validate that they are being put to the use that was intended by the public, as though you had become a citizen-owned public company. When you take public money you, in fact, become the public’s property.

My Forecasts:
  1. Expect the opposite. There will be even bigger bonuses for bankers, Wall Street types, insurance executives, auto executives, the new banks and financial institutions created, and their financial geniuses. They believe they deserve to survive.
  2. The seeds of the next crisis are being sown as we dig out of today’s problems. Business regulation always tends to protect profitability, wealth, and survival.
  3. The reality of regulation is that those who make the regulations end up profiting from them.
  4. Regulation generation will create a tremendous industry of lawyers, ex politicians, and former government and corporate functionaries who will fight any new regulatory structures until they are imposed. Then these same individuals will find ways to get around the new regulations, through them, and profit from them all over again.
  5. Business leaders with integrity begin to step forward and raise their voices in support of better behavior.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

All Bias, All Bull, All Spin, All the Time

The news media continues its addiction to gutting candidates for public office. Its new targets being Caroline Kennedy, and former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris, picked to replace Senator Barack Obama. The gutting began during the 2008 presidential campaign, and focused mainly on Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton.

You can always tell when the gutting begins; it involves continuously demeaning, silly, mean-spirited, vacuous observations, and stories. With Hillary it was the crackle analysis. Sarah Palin was just too easy a target. The media got her ridiculed and then beat her to death with stories about her being ridiculed. With Caroline Kennedy we have the growing “you know” analysis. This “you know” nonsense was started by Bill O’Reilly on Fox News where the spin begins. Several news organizations are now analyzing transcripts of her conversations and interviews to count the number of “you knows” she said. One of CNN’s bright-eyed, ubiquitous female commentators recently gleefully held up a transcript document with all of Ms. Kennedy’s “you knows” highlighted in bright yellow. Who gets the blame if Ms. Kennedy is not appointed? Why, Ms. Kennedy, of course. “She brought it on herself.” That is the set up here.

This is bias. This is bull. None of this matters.

Is this a crisis management problem for Ms. Kennedy? It depends on how much she wants to become a United States senator. It’s situation normal for new media and legacy media bloviators, bellyachers, and bullies.

I have some suggestions for what we should be talking about or doing:

1. How about how we throw a bunch of these criminal executives in jail for having stolen the life’s work of millions and millions of people?

2. How about how we put Bernard L. Madoff, who is living high on the hog, under house arrest in his 55,000 square-foot Manhattan apartment, in Rikers Island with other criminals? Or conversely, how about we put 50 or 60 of Rikers’ prisoners with Mr. Madoff in his apartment.

3. Let’s establish the FBBSAT (the Federal Bureau of Bailout Scrutiny, Analysis and Transparency). This agency would explore and expose where all of the billions of dollars are going and how much is being wasted, used for personal gain or, let’s hope, for what is was intended.

Heard any great bull lately? I would be happy to include in my next round up to chat about, argue, or discuss, as you prefer.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Why on Earth Would Anyone Start Yet Another Blog, Considering the World Has 130 Million Blogs Already?

I guess, like anyone else, I’m interested in sharing views based on a lifetime of work and experiences. Over the years, I’ve gotten to look behind many curtains, locked doors, and barricades, most of which you would find boring, banal, and surprisingly dull. However, the benefit of access is understanding, insight, and special knowledge. All of these I intend to provide to the various topics this blog will cover throughout its life.

As we progress down this road, I’ll be establishing some specific departments or concept areas where my comments will be archived, but easily accessible. And, with any luck, we will rattle a few cages, offer some unorthodox and unconventional opinions and thinking, and occasionally be wildly inconsistent.

This is a blog for the curious, the strategic, the articulate, and the argumentative looking for sensible, interesting, constructive discussions.

Here goes.

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