I recently heard Louis V. Gerstner, IBM’s former Chairman,
give a talk to a group of managers.
Though I’m certain, during his hour-long presentation, that he provided
more wisdom than I could ever hope to absorb, he made one far-reaching
statement that really resonated with me.
the 1800’s; nor was he hoping to pull our cultural progress back to that of
some less civilized third world country.
painful to senior managers today as a real, rope-around-the-neck public hanging
would be… Lou meant that – when
necessary – be prepared to readily and publicly make the big, bold
terminations. Firing someone really
significant, for the right reasons, gets big attention.
high-profile, key player within the organization and indiscriminately terminate
his or her employment. What I am
talking about is holding those superstar employees to equally high standards of
behavior and expectations within the organizations.
series of relatively insignificant, “baby-step” changes within IBM.
when not much in IBM was even moderately
successful) at running those operations, took exception to many of the things
proposed in Lou’s communications to field employees throughout the world. Instead of hopping an airplane to the U.S. to chat
about it, he simply withheld those communications. He made it clear to his staff that Gerstner
just “didn’t understand Europe,” and his ideas
wouldn’t work. No sense upsetting the
respect, and (b) a public display of
defiance designed to draw a line in the sand.
office, and described to him, in great detail I’m sure, his newly minted
severance package. Do not cross go, do
not collect $200. And he wasn’t shy
about telling others why he did it.
Obviously, IBM needed successful executives, and was suffering a serious
dearth of the same. Even more, however,
IBM needed a focused, synergistic leadership team, pulling in the same
direction toward the same goals.
responsibility for about 30% of our total annual revenue. Most of it with pretty decent margins. The problem, though, was that this executive
felt that the rules of engagement and accountability suffered by the rest of us
simply did not apply to him. Slowly, it
began unraveling what was previously a pretty solid leadership team.
understood the significance, as did the rest of the employees in the
organization. If the boss will whack that guy, one of our most successful general
managers, he probably won’t stand much for me not carrying my share of the
within IBM with Gerstner’s example, was significant and meaningful. People
noticed, paid attention, and internalized the potential of such a public event.
and can create short-term chaos in an organization.