There is an old joke, which is funny as it is based on standard guidance and practice for all mediocre ‘C’* level executives.
In essence the outgoing CEO leaves his successor 3 numbered envelopes and tells him to open the first envelope when he hits his first crisis, the second envelope for the next disaster and then finally open the third envelope when the next catastrophe hits. This is what the notes in the envelopes said:
In envelope #1: Blame me
In envelope #2: Reorganize
In envelope #3: Prepare 3 envelopes
Practically speaking there is of course a great deal of sense in this methodology so aspiring ‘C’ levels, listen and learn.
1. Blame the departing executive
This should be an obvious first step as the outgoing boss is usually leaving because they have been at the company for 4 years and one of their first acts was to announce a 5 year turn around plan. This plan now looks likely to be a giant balls up so they have found another highly paid job elsewhere and handed over the reigns to the incoming executive who will now have to try to sort this mess out. As the new boss you could, of course, accept full responsibility for the disaster as it was on ‘your watch’. You will then be applauded by those with a moral compass and then excoriated by stockholders, analysts, and the world’s press, all of whom lost their moral compasses just after puberty. Crises remember impact stock options and executive pay so carrying the can for someone who dumped you, as the new boss, in this mess is daft. Mediocre ‘C’s always pass the buck and then announce a new 5 year plan.
2. Reorganise the Company:
When an external ‘C’ level is appointed they rarely have a grasp of the detail or the workings of the organisation they are about to take over. This means that they can be outmaneuvered, challenged or run rings around by those who were passed over or just fancy upping the ante. The second crisis is a perfect opportunity to get rid of these people and those who hold opinions that don’t agree with yours and anyone who is effective at things you’re not good at and therefore might show you up. Fill your inner circle with those who appreciate your talents, who see your obvious leadership qualities and who feel they need your approval to do anything.
Then reorganise the company. Good examples are:
- If the company is run from the centre, move the management to the regions or the other way round
- Merge Engineering and Operations or if already in the same department, separate them
- Bring in a new Marketing Director and then change the company logo
- Move 50% of Department heads to new roles outside their comfort zones. For example there’s no reason why the Sales Director can’t run HR
- Downsize the workforce as the last act, getting one of the newly promoted executives to run the process as a way of blooding them
- Have a Christmas party, the (remaining) workers will totally love you for it.
3] Prepare for your departure:
A mediocre ‘C’ Level is always going to get found out, so you should always prepare for that eventuality. As soon as the re-organisation is finished, you’ll need to start Networking in earnest. Its also possible to curry favour with suppliers by cutting them good deals and of course don’t forget that your competitor is not your enemy but in fact a potential job opportunity. So don’t upset them by rocking their boat too much. If the opposition is also a Mediocre ‘C’ then they will do the same. In fact you can have quite a good laugh about your ‘spats’ when you read about them in the press, when you both worked them out between you beforehand.
So as the Boy Scouts say ‘Be Prepared’ for your inevitable departure and remember unlike a captain leaving a sinking ship last, the mediocre ‘C’ is on the lifeboat to prosperity before the alarm even sounds.
* What is a ‘C’ Level executive? They are the CEOs, CFOs, COOs etc and are the 3rd level of Management.
‘A’ Level Execs: Ideas people who plan ahead and create plausible strategies
‘B’ Level Execs: Work with ‘A’ Execs and then deliver stuff on time and on budget
‘C’ Level Execs: Have meetings and lunch a lot. Leave the actual work to the ‘A’s and ”B’s