Regime Change Management

I guess I was destined to get into change management in some form or fashion.  DNA alone got the ball rolling; manic creativity runs in the family, and creativity thrives on constant and profound change.

So I fit in well in engineering at Texas Instruments during the late 1980s to early 1990s, where change was the order of the day.  My first boss realized he needed to keep me challenged and so I wound up the de facto change order troubleshooter, chasing down busy managers whose signatures were required to keep some government-demanded product development or improvement on track. 

Of course these were technical changes.  They were more the results of business changes than drivers.  Years later I was able to parlay that experience at TI into a nice spot in product data management (PDM) at another company.  That’s where I learned the cost of poorly-implemented regime change.

We had a turnover at the top that didn’t stop there.  As they tend to do, the new CEO brought his own team in.  Who in turn brought in theirs.  And ad infinitum until the turnover rate pushed average tenure down from over five years to less than one.

In a well-ordered organization that doesn’t have to necessarily be a bad thing.  But in our case we were anything but.  Suddenly at six years tenure I was the “old guy” and considered the local historian.  I found myself working harder to keep new people from repeating the sins of the past than innovating for the future.  Not the best use of my time.

It’s only natural that an incoming CEO would want to surround himself or herself with people from their own past.  The problem is reconciling the two histories.  As I’ve pointed out before, best practices don’t always port well.  Sometimes they’re not even relevant.  Get rid of too many legacy employees, and you’re doomed to find that out the hard way.  Just as these well-intended corporate overhaulers did.

It didn’t take long for the CEO in this story to be fired for failing to achieve the board’s goals.  The boot out was softened by a multimillion dollar severance, which led me to cynically realize that if that’s the norm, it makes more financial sense for a top executive to come in, screw a company up as fast as he can, then take his golden parachute and run.

I hope that’s not so common though.  I’d rather think that for the most part, new CEOs come in willing to truly assess their new business, its people and its needs, and make intelligent, informed decisions about how to succeed in it.  Identify who should be let go and who must be kept– because a clean sweep can be a quick recipe for disaster.  Anyway, that’s what I’d like to think.

I’ve always been one to focus on potential, and I’m too old to change that now.


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