IT “dashboards” have become highly seductive to CEOs of midsized companies. Who could resist up-to-date, easy-to-digest information on business performance, and how the team is performing? Not many CEOs. Yet if they knew how long and how much money it will take to install such systems—months and sometimes years—they might think twice. But whether or not companies implement them (and there are good reasons to implement them at the right time), these automated dashboards don’t replace good old-fashioned management techniques.
After 45 years in business, In-Common Laboratories in 2012 was suffering from a revolving door that no company wants to face: three CEOs in three years. Many challenging issues precipitated a 2010 board decision to find a new CEO for the not-for-profit provider of medical laboratory tests. In 2011, the board realized it hired the wrong CEO (No. 2) for a variety of reasons, including precipitous losses. But it wasn’t until the third CEO, Kris Bailey, showed up in 2012 that the board realized the problems ran much deeper: a “Mother May I” culture that had turned the top team into powerless managers whose ingenuity was running on cruise control.
At the end of every economic growth cycle, midsized companies tend to invest heavily in sales and marketing to steal market share. They realize that a no-longer growing market won’t raise all boats, including their own. Yet increasing sales and marketing may actually not be the best way to grow in these times. Making big efficiency gains may be far better.
Forcing up-and-coming leaders to sink or swim in the pool of real experience is one way to develop future executive team members. It’s also a sure-fire method to drown some managers who have real potential. There are far better ways to develop managers than by foisting a big and unfamiliar organizational problem on them.
When companies go through times of change—whether acquisition, divestiture, leadership change, sales slump or competitive shocks—employees worry, then react, often with little input from management. When change is impending, the CEO (or top-most leader) ought to pull the leadership team together to share the news, discuss what the employees’ concerns might be, then decide on the appropriate message to be conveyed.