Who Does “Number 2” Work For?June 9, 2021
Bifurcation of Teams During Times of Challenge and Change.
Navigating the leadership team dynamics and staffing decisions in a company is challenging enough, but it’s magnified in industries with extremely high turnover and migration patterns across companies in that space.
It’s like one big game of Whack-A-Mole.
People pop up here and there and you never know what they are up to.
People come aboard, people go, people move, sometimes they come back.
Sometimes you wish they’d leave, but they don’t.
Sometimes the owners keep toxic people around for a variety of reasons.
Often these industries are marked by “shop steward mentality” and fleeting loyalties.
It’s like disloyal organizational Alzheimer’s — sometimes despite being around for a long time their thoughts, focus, and loyalties are elsewhere, and recollections are often askew of reality.
During a period of intense change, often what the general cadre of employees perceive to be reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Especially when a company has been through, or is going through, a difficult time, or, while in a period of tense realignment, resources are thin and the owners and managers are fighting tooth and nail to turn things around.
The employees tend to want the convenient “Readers Digest” version of a chain of events, some concise narrative, lots of fiction, lots of finger pointing -and the blame game and the divisive faction can usually play into that dynamic as an attempt to push their own agenda or attempt to reposition the apolitical people simply trying to do their jobs and feed their families.
Austin Powers : What exactly do you do, Mr. Number Two?
Number Two : That’s my business.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the little boys’ room.
Often the difficulties and problems the CEO and managers are fighting in real time are not their doing but the result of sins of the past, sins orchestrated either deliberately or by negligence or simply sinfully pathetic or worse, apathetic, management. Often, during times of challenge or change, the senior team spends lots of time cleaning up after managers they entrusted to do their jobs, many of whom are no longer there.
And, there are usually very clear reasons those former managers are no longer around; often the current remaining employees are unaware of what really transpired, and while some of them may be drinking the displaced cabal’s flavor-aid, so to speak, they too are under the lens.
Sometimes management is bifurcated and polarized based on competing factions within the organization; these factions are usually downstream org- chart lines under competing executives.
I recall one client situation where the management team was bifurcated, and the threatened and apathetic senior executive (The Company’s Original COO who we’ll refer to as “Number 2”) who was pushed to one side and replaced – ( by the company’s former Sales Manager, who was named as the backfill COO (mind you, this is a guy with zero operations experience)), and, then,“Original COO”, a/k/a, “Number 2” now was put in charge of “strategy” had very little to do and began “negative campaigning, “ forming a cabal to undermine the new second in command.
Stay with me, now.
The trusting, benevolent CEO should have either fired or terminated “Number 2” when it was clear that the individual lacked the drive, skill and work ethic to do the job; the Peter Principle is a bit like throwing a boulder into a pond — it has ripple effects that make it all the way to the shoreline.
As Al Pacino noted in The Godfather III, the hard lesson learned is that during all of the management meetings and calls, where people are seemingly civil, “the true enemy has yet to show his face.”
Instead, as a way to attempt to preserve harmony within the ranks, the CEO redeployed that Original COO, a/k/a “Number 2” to a newly created, semi-retirement role long on title and short on responsibilities and deliverables, and he was now the Chief Strategy Officer, but still, yup, you guessed it, “Number 2”. The lack of any real role spun the “devil finds work for idle minds and hands” into hyperdrive, as “Number 2” into overdrive, scheming and plotting and badmouthing the ownership group. It also provided opportunity to begin plotting to attempt to steal employees and customers which, as it always does, backfired.
We shined the light on the insanity of this structure and asked, further: does an insolvent, loss-making $17 million company even need a $250K Chief Strategy Officer?
That individual was found out and despite his constant prior pontificating about loyalty and positioning others in the organization “New COO/Former Sales Guy” as having ulterior motives and Machiavellian plans, “Number 2” turned out, in fact, to be the true enemy and was caught scheming.
Yes, “Number 2” really stepped in it.
So, the CEO and his team got to work dodging anti-competitive attacks and harassment from the former “B Team” cabal members operating under “Number 2”, refocused and retrenched and reached out to concerned clients. It would turn out that the cabal couldn’t deliver on what they promised the company’s clients and the employees it tried to recruit, and they disbanded and vanished into oblivion in other industries.
Meanwhile, the damage had been done to the company.
A Pair of Jokers
In one similar situation, I inherited two such individuals jockeying for attention and accolades. They both began to report in on one another, one constantly sending me text messages about what the other was up to, and sending me confidential information (that he had leaked out of the HR Director that reported to him, another story altogether) about him as well. The presence of these two people of defective character held the company back and they needed to be let go in order to let the company heal. I brought them both into a room at once, and fired them both in the same meeting. One said to the other, with a characteristic sarcastic grin, “well, I guess there’s nothing for us to feud about now.”
After they were dismissed, we held a “town hall and cleared the air.The company experienced a breath of fresh air and regained focus enabling it to survive and receive numerous offers for acquisition. The employees actually applauded for the firing of two C-level executives. That speaks volumes.
Employees that felt compelled to “choose a team” now put down their arms and worked together for the newly unified organization.
In the blunt discussions about why they were both to be let go, I shared an insight I learned from my father growing up in a family business:
“if someone will steal for you, they will steal from you.”
You had to see the look at that one executive’s face when he was told that. I think he learned something valuable that day.
The irony of many such bifurcation situations is that today’s mess is the result of yesterday’s negligence; it is important to clear the air and the deck. The upside is that laying today’s positive groundwork is cultivating orchards and groves for the first fruits of the new season.
During times of retrenchment, it’s critical to solidify a core group of hard working, mature, like minded individuals with similar ethics and value systems; it is equally as important to solidify customer relationships and communicate openly and candidly about what happened, how the company’s former “team” members’ flawed character damaged operations, and regain trust and continue to grow, and move forward.
Such a team is impossible to beat and sometimes the jaded second choice leader is found out in time, and is, in retrospect, really nothing more than, well, “Number 2.”
Sometimes it’s best to start with a clean slate and in one of these company examples, one of the turnaround “winning moves” was to fire all three of the company’s C-level direct reports which reported into the CEO: The COO, The CSO (Chief Strategy Officer a/k/a as Original COO/“Number 2”) and the CFO, who was, despite being a C-level executive in the company, playing at a D+ level at best.
he Company CEO found out the hard way he had to look out for Number 1 and watch out for “Number 2.” Loyalty is a two way street and he found out “Number 2” lived on a one way street.