One.December 4, 2021
QORVAL MAXIM: Sometimes the best “One” isn’t in the organization yet.
Sometimes the best person for your role isn’t you.
My partner and mentor Jim Malone and I had a conversation one time about the impact that transient managers have on an organization, and how those experiences for the interim manager, interim CEO, transformational leader, can develop them.
In Jim’s instance he served as a Fortune 500 CEO six times, as well as in dozens of other engagements. He talked about the difference in the company, culture, and the relationship that company has with stakeholders, before and after an organizational transformation or turnaround.
Conclusion…there is no substitute for experience. Our firm has been in hundreds of situations.
I recall an engagement where the company grew to a certain point, but the ownership, leadership, and board had reached the point of their ineffectiveness. Truth be told, most of the problems this organization faced, and most of the limitations and challenges it continues to face, were the result of the following:
- A two person board. That’s never going to work. It doesn’t.
- One board member, the incompetent micromanager.
- The other board member who is the Chairman and doesn’t have the balls to fire the other board member.
- Self-interested prior senior executives that didn’t understand how to make money (at least the Chairman had the balls to throw them out)
- Lack of diversity. No women, no minorities, no people from outside the industry. Basically all 60-something white dudes.
- In the classic “shadow of the leader” problem, the shitty governance of this organization created Managerial Myopia at its best.
QORVAL MAXIM: Maybe you’re not seeing what you don’t see because you don’t want to see it.
The company is now profitable. It will have challenges within the next two years because the incompetent board member intervened and fired 90% of the sales team to save money, in the process keeping layers of people who have little to nothing to do.
I guess that’s another mistake, thinking you can live without sales.
Nothing happens until someone makes a sale. Sales drives everything. Period.
Tarzan and The Vines
Jim and I also had a conversation about Tarzan. Jim told me, “Tarzan doesn’t get anywhere if he hangs onto the same vine. Tarzan glides through the jungle by letting go of the last vine and grasping the next one.” Those vines, and the cadence of working through the jungle are his lifelines. Jim was way ahead of his time in promoting female executives and often said, “sometimes the best Tarzan is a woman.”
Organizational growth is often constrained by hope and inertia, and what is needed is a fresh set of eyes, and like Tarzan, they need to let go of the vines from the past. In my career I’ve had the good fortune to be able to come into many situations which were “less than optimal” — sounds better than “dumpster fire” or “complete shitshow” — and have the team to transform them, driving financial and operating results. It’s what professionals like us do.
QORVAL MAXIM: Let go of the last vine.
What’s fascinating is how industries are hyper focused on “industry experience” or 30 years with BigCo, being an alumnus of the right named school, being quoted in some magazine (for an article ghostwritten by someone who moonlights because they don’t get paid enough at another magazine.)
One of my clients paid our firm the biggest complement we could ever hope for, “you guys can smell bullshit like no firm I’ve ever seen. The most finely honed bullshit detector I’ve ever seen. You guys can zero in on the real issues (what we call Qorval VCI’s) in days.”
Again, there is no substitute for experience. More importantly, there is no substitute for a lot of experiences.
I remember my dear old late friend, consultant and often recalcitrant college dean, Bill Kavanaugh, shutting down a long time manager in a continuous improvement meeting. The manager boasted “I have 31 years of experience.” Bill’s response (Bill pulled NO punches): “Ray, you have 31 one-year experiences. You have 31 years of repeating bad processes and generating losses.”
QORVAL MAXIM: Never equate longevity to efficacy.
Here’s an example I use all the time.
Know the band U2? Yep, you might have heard of it.
For years they played the same numbing version of their banner song, “One.”
Even U2 got tired of hearing their same version.
So they changed it up…
Two amazing things happened.
1. A collaborative version where they brought in Mary J. Blige. (I’m bowing to MJB, killer writing/singing talent and amazing actress too.)
2. Having Rick Rubin produce a remake of Johnny Cash singing One.
Here are the links to those versions. You be the judge.
Mary J Blige and U2, “One”:
Johnny Cash, “One”:
You can see Bono and the other U2 band members giving a few “WTF?” looks to MJB. (as if to say, shit, we can’t do that and it’s our f-ing song)
MJB turned that band into U1 from U2 by showing up and as Elvis would say, “takin’ care of business.”
MJB kicked ass.
Back to my opening point. Sometimes the best person for your job is the next person. Don’t overlook interim talent.
People like me and us — whether small firms, large firms, independent contractors. We might be better at the CEO role than your current CEO, or, if you are the CEO, better than you.
It might be the time to let go of the vines. Results speak for themselves.
It might be the time to invite a Mary J. Blige or a Johnny Cash in to record your song.
Just be ready, because when the Mary J.’s and Johnny’s of the world sing your song, well, as they say about any song ever covered by Johnny Cash, “it ain’t gonna be your song no more.”
But it might just be better.
You need to shake up your organization. As they say in the music industry, “studio time is precious.”