“Senior managers are looking for someone to give you the courage to act,” explained Duncan, my prospective executive coach. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Over the years I had turned around successively larger regional operations for Coca-Cola Enterprises, then applied that experience at North American headquarters to take tens of millions of dollars in cost out of the corporate P&L. In my current role I was having fun slaying dragons on a daily basis as one of the key actors in a much-needed transformation of a $16B business. Yet the feedback in no uncertain terms was that I could accomplish more, that my leadership effectiveness was falling short in the politically charged thickets at headquarters.
In the course of my consulting work I’m frequently asked how to launch lasting change across a large sales organization. I always respond with, “Quickly deliver value to a small portion of your business through a successful pilot.”
On a recent vacation cruise I found myself chatting with Todd Burkhart, our ship’s captain, about the recent Costa Concordia disaster. Thirty-two people lost their lives on the coast of Italy as a result of their captain’s intentionally close approach to shore. As Captain Burkhart explained, “It wasn’t just a breakdown in the captain’s judgment; it was a breakdown in the entire chain of command. For the maritime industry, it’s the second that’s the most concerning.”
Smaller companies have certain advantages over their larger competitors. Creativity, independence, and nimbleness are often the result of a unique company culture.
As I write this, it’s been a particularly busy week for scandals born of toxic organizational cultures. Rupert Murdoch is frantically orchestrating damage control to minimize additional losses for his media empire, News Corporation. His British tabloid reporters repeatedly hacked into private voicemail in pursuit of stories. Closer to home, my local community is reeling from revelations that scores of educators in the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) altered standardized test scores.