Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Misguided management or a strategic end run?

Running Boxes
Originally uploaded by 3Alex
A senior leader, frustrated to the gills, unloaded a story the other day about what she perceived to be a completely lame-brained move by her boss, the CEO of a company in the performing arts industry.  To some of you in more traditional businesses it might not be hard to imagine that in a creative business sometimes things play out more creatively than businesslike.  Whether that presumption is true or not, this situation leaves a linchpin leader frustrated enough that she fantasizes about placing this job in her rear-view mirror.

Here's the gist of the story:

This senior leader (we'll call her Beth) is responsible for the operations of the performing arts company.  She manages field leaders who are on the road, and she got her current role by doing the field leader job effectively.  She knows first-hand what traits and skills are needed, and she still fills in from time to time when it's necessary for her to do so.  She is even-tempered while being a no-nonsense leader who gets things done.  She checks the tasks off the list, but does so while working to maintain good interpersonal relationships.

One of Beth's direct reports in the field (Sam for our use here,) while very effective in the content of his work, has had a couple of recent temper tantrums.  One was with his contact at a performance venue, and the other was directly with her.  In Beth's estimation, Sam's behavior went beyond frustrated and angry.  He made personal verbal attacks that Beth described as completely disrespectful.  In conversation with us, the neutral outsiders, Beth expressed her reservations about Sam's temperament, and his potential impact as representative of the company in the field.

Now the plot thickens:  Sam had the opportunity to socialize with the CEO of the company, and the two of them found that they had a lot of personal interests in common.  Not long thereafter, Beth heard through the company grapevine that the CEO plans to promote Sam, bringing him in off the road to work at the home office.  Rumor has it that he will continue to report to Beth in his new role.

Beth is upset that, despite her reservations about some of Sam's behavior patterns, he is being rewarded by a promotion.  Now she is expecting to be required to manage the fall-out from his prickly personality up close and personal.  What's worse in Beth's mind is that, although she will be responsible for Sam's performance in a new role for which he has inadequate background, she was not included in the decision to bring him in. Beth wasn't even informed of the possibility until it was already appearing to be a done deal.

Compounding the issue is the "window dressing" factor.  Beth acknowledges that one of Sam's assets is that he puts forth a polished appearance.  It's something that "the CEO loves" according to the senior manager, and her theory is that the CEO is being overly persuaded by Sam's aesthetic presentation.  But if and when Sam comes "in" to the home office, there is another person to be negatively impacted by his presence.  Beth is concerned that he will displace a solid, but less sexy, employee (George) that has been her right hand person.  It is her view that the CEO's prioritizing style over substance, while perhaps understandable in a performing arts business, doesn't work on the operations side.

So here are some of the questions at this point:
  • Is there a means by which Beth can still influence the outcome?  If not to prevent the promotion, at least to place Sam in a role for which he is better suited than the one defined by the CEO?
  • How can she help George, her solid performer that is already in place, to present in a better light for the CEO?  Should Beth be embarking on an internal PR campaign to make sure his value is not overlooked or underestimated?
  • To what extent should Beth throw her weight around to get the outcome she wants?  She has been an integral part of the business for years, coming up through the ranks to a role without which it's unlikely that the company could survive.  Can she use her personal preferences to influence the CEO?
  • How far should she go to help Sam succeed at the home office?  It appears to her that the CEO has inadvertently set Sam up to fail in a role that he's not ready for.  Should Beth be laying out an alternative plan that she thinks is more workable - and one that protects her interests?
This case seems to represent a lot of the characteristics that people despise about corporate settings - politics, personal relationships prioritized over business soundness, solid performers who go unnoticed because of their lack of drama, and leaders who are kept out of the loop in situations over which they are later supposed to be responsible.

What would you recommend that this senior leader do?

1 comment:

Norman said...

A few thoughts from an insightful blog: