Clean Sweep

Sometimes you gotta go from top to bottom.

Recently talked with a friend in a world of hurt. She's fine, mind you, but her organization is out of control careening from one crisis to the next in search of leadership.

Without going into detail suffice to say no one in the leadership team acts in charge or has a vision.

In a real-life tableau reminiscent of Jimmy Breslin's The Gang That Coulnd't Shoot Straight, no one can do anything right.

It ain't pretty.

Do Over

In best case scenarios as new leaders ascend to the top of an organizational unit, a review of the existent leadership team talent reveals one or two players need to be changed out with the remainder developing in place to meet the new performance standards .

Best case.

Unfortunatelty my career has been mostly turn-arounds and acquisitions: the runway is pretty short. After due diligence of the talent bench at times I've had to share the following prognosis with my leader: you gotta do over.

Sometimes a business is in such peril the only sustainable remedy is removal of virtually the entire leadership team and starting over. Not coincidentally this is a great time to remake the structure as well.

Bold step? Yes, and fraught with lots of challenges.

But that's what they pay us for, remember? If it were easy anybody could do it.

The Ultimate Solution

Replacing an entire leadership team is the final solution and can't be taken lightly. But this nuclear option is for real. Keep in mind Warren Buffet's sage advice: good teams can survive bad strategy; bad teams can't win even with good strategy.

So when is the right time to pull the plug and start over? Here are some potential trigger points:

  • revenues continue to decrease
  • costs out of control
  • the product pipeline is empty
  • customers are abandoing you
  • employee attrition is rising

Any of these on their own is alarming, yet in combination they can spell the end of the organization.

But more than anything, and especially so for a business in trouble, the sine qua non is strong and resolute leadership. When the team in charge looks more like Keystone Cops than cornerstone its time to move.

Businesses face peril for any number of reasons, external and internal. And while its hard to combat larger economic factors its virtually impossible to do so with a leadership team bereft of the eponymous leadership.

HR practioners seldom acknowledge the tactical option of removing – firing – leadership. We've devolved to the point where this is more likely a belated reaction versus planned intervention.

Remember the working definition of organization development? Planned intervention for improvement?

Sometimes you have to make a clean sweep to make improvement.



3 thoughts on “Clean Sweep

  1. A strong and important point here, Christopher. I fear, though, that most HR departments don’t have the change management capabilities and/or internal and board support needed to git ‘er done!

  2. Leadership is definitely fundamental to pick an org up and move it towards a positive future. But agree with Dawn, in most orgs, how much is this HR’s call? And if the CEO’s the problem, and they own the business……..

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