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A New Hope

Unfortunately this post isn’t nearly as exciting as Episode IV of the original Star Wars trilogy; however, I am hoping (pardon the pun) that you will continue to read along, if anything, out of respect for the fact that perhaps we are both Star Wars fans. Otherwise, why did you click on this post to begin with? Oh yeah, right, you are probably interested in leadership and all things HR!

A big part of why I enjoy working in HR is the opportunity to hear from my friends/colleagues in the industry as well as from people I know that suffer through poor organizational and/or HR experiences. I have a very close friend that works in the IT industry and the stories I get from him are the stuff of legends. I mean, a lot of what he shares with me is nothing short of Dilbert’ish in nature. Fortunately for me, I am a blogger so his stories are fodder for my blog!

Hope

My friend, “Steve” (name changed to protect the innocent…well, at least changed to protect him) had been regaling me with stories for the past couple of years about the leadership challenges in his organization. He works for a development shop that was spun off by a couple of partners from a parent company over 20 years ago. While the firm had previously grown in leaps and bounds, the partners/leaders have always had a real difficult time with, how shall we say it, the “distribution of power.” Meaning, pretty much every decision HAS to go through them. This is not the same as micromanaging – the issue here is the centralization of power in an organization that requires power to be distributed/decentralized in order to maintain a cutting edge product that is responsive to customer needs.

Because of this centralization of power issue, the organization has developed complete tunnel vision from a leadership perspective. This issue of absolute power residing with the two partners has resulted in a corrupted approach to leadership – one that is inefficient at best, stagnant at worst. You see, the company hasn’t grown by more than a percent each year for the past 7 years. In fact, with the way their leadership power is set up, they are unable to “reach” as an organization. Innovation has been stifled as this centralized power approach has limited/constrained new ideas and employee growth.

Fortunately, the parent company still exercises some oversight capabilities over the spin off and as such, several months ago, they added a CEO role and brought in a new leader to breathe some fresh air into the company and to enable it to GROW. To say the change has been a breath of, well, fresh air is an understatement. Steve has been telling me that the new CEO has quickly flushed out many of the core issues that been impacting their growth and potential success.

Her (the new CEO) initial approach has been to the challenge the current ways of thinking and to identify obstacles that are preventing growth. Interestingly enough, in the early stages, the partners essentially “blamed” current staff for the lack of growth. This was quickly shut down as the new CEO made sure to point out that as the organizational leaders, they were accountable for their people and their development/capabilities. If there were shortcomings with the current staff, the partners were responsible for that issue. (I wanted to hug the CEO at this point). Her message was pretty simple – what worked 20 years ago doesn’t work now. She wanted to distribute the power (decision making) of the two partners to the rest of the management team. Her vision was to have them accountable for running their departments and meeting their departmental and organizational goals. (novel concept huh?)

This approach requires supreme confidence as a leader. You see, the company was still mostly successful in spite of this stagnant leadership approach, but she had the confidence to shake things up. Strong leadership means putting the right people in place and then getting the hell out of their way. Steve has been raving about the change in organizational culture since she started. He tells me that people are more confident in expressing their thoughts and ideas about how to improve the company. He indicated that he and the rest of the management team have been longing for the accountability and autonomy to run their departments, which they now have. Now he feels empowered, not only as a manager, but as a leader. In his words, “this change of leadership has brought me new hope, a hope that this company can be more than it has been and a hope that I can actively contribute to the future success of the company. “ Doesn’t that pretty much sound like an engaged employee now?

You can’t really ask for much more than that when it comes to a leadership change. Now here is hoping their new CEO can make this all happen so we chalk this one up as a good leadership = organizational success story. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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