Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Chicken or the Egg

One of the confusing situations that develops when the leader of any organization is trying to change and grow that organization is whether he should hire a new senior executive first or develop his strategy first.  I have seen this often enough to wonder if there isn't an evil genie who sits and waits for the hiring of every new chief executive, because - unfortunately - the usual answer is that the Chairman and Board of Directors decide to do both at essentially the same time.  And that is probably the worst of the three options.

If you hire a new senior executive while you have also brought aboard some consultant – or worse – hired an EVP for Strategy to help you develop a strategy you will do two things at once, and both have a negative impact on your organization.  First, you will create a conflict between the new Executive and the strategic planners as to who is in charge.  Any new executive who comes aboard will have his own plan, his own strategy (unless he isn’t worse his salt).  He will immediately view the planning team as, at a minimum, a hindrance.  More likely, he will view the strategic planners as the 'enemy' who are going to take away his freedom of action.  And he will immediately start to undermine their efforts.  Second, at the same time you send a conflicting message to all the people in the organization as to exactly what is going on and who is in charge.  If the strategic planning team really has your 'ear,' then what is the real authority of the new executive?  Or, if the new guy is really in charge, what are these folks in the planning team really doing and why are we wasting the time and money for them to do it (whatever ‘it’ is)?

So what is the right answer?  As with much of life, the right answer is: it depends.

Assuming you - the leader - owner, majority stockholder, chairman of the board, board of directors, etc. - know what are to be the real goals of the organization, and you have a fairly clear framework of how you want to get there, the correct answer is to hire a consultant or stand up a strategic planning team first.  Let them, under your guidance, develop a strategic plan that meets with your approval.  Then, go and hire the new executive, using that strategic plan both as a guide in the specific qualities and skills needed for your new CEO (or whatever his title), and when you start the interviews, make certain that the prospective hires are all aware that this – show it to them in rough and general form – is what they are being hired to execute.

It is also obvious that, with every good plan comes constant adjustment, and they will be responsible both for execution and those adjustments, and the branches and sequels that should be the part of every comprehensive plan.

On the other hand, if you are not certain of your goals, or the boundaries of your plan, the constraints and restraints, the key assumptions - then you need to bring in a strong executive and give him a carte blanche to form his own planning team, and to complete the hiring of the rest of new executive team.  (By the way, the WORST thing you can do is bring on a new exec, tell him to start forming a new plan, and then hire new execs - not letting the new exec form a plan OR a team of his own - you have just stripped him of any real authority.)

I can hear the cursing and gnashing of teeth.  "No,” everyone says, “you need to bring on the new exec first so he can be part of the plan and the planning process and he feels that he has ownership.  Otherwise, he will spend all sorts of time trying to twist the plan around, tweak it, so that it is his plan. You are setting yourself up for further conflict with him."  If you do that, it will be his plan, not yours.  If you want him to form the plan - let him.  If you want it to be your plan, and you want ‘the new guy’ to use your plan, you need the plan first, at least in general terms - which a strategic planning team can give you in just a couple of weeks - and then you bring the new exec on board to execute the plan.  You present it, you ask him if he wants to join the team.

Very simply, the question is who is really the leader and who is the executor.  If you want to lead, to set the real goals and milestones, it has to be your plan.  If you know longer want to lead, then you need to let the new executive form the plan.  But you can't have it both ways - unless you want to fail.


At April 23, 2012 at 3:02 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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