Wednesday, March 25, 2009

You Have This Window of Opportunity Called a Crisis. Better Move Fast

Do you have the right people around you now? Chances are you don’t.

“When you have that window of opportunity called a crisis, move as quickly as you can, get as much done as you can. There’s a momentum for change that’s very compelling,” Anne Mulcahy, Xerox Chairwoman and CEO told the New York Times Sunday.

Rupert Murdoch, head of another global behemoth that still considers itself nimble, seems to agree: “The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.”

“Adaptability and flexibility. We have to change all the time,” continues Mulcahy. “The people who really do the best are those who actually sense it, enjoy it almost, the lack of definition around their roles and what they can contribute.”

Sounds great, Anne. That’s the entrepreneurial spirit that Xerox and many other great American companies were built upon. But, how do you train HR departments and company recruiters – traditionally the champions of internal process -- to find good people who relish “the lack of definition around their roles and contribution?” Anyone? Anyone at all?

That’s right. Most can’t do it because they have to fill “slots” and “silos” that were budgeted under the company’s legacy business model. They want people who can “fit in” to the pre-existing “culture.” That’s HR speak for: Stay in your box. Don’t look outside your box or else you’ll have a pink slip in your box.
Says Mulcahy: “We’ve learned a lot about identifying failure quickly. As much as it’s sometimes hard to make choices about where you invest, it’s equally hard to make choices about where you don’t invest and what you eliminate.”

Not all failures are equal, cautions William Davidow, of venture capital firm, Mohr Davidow Ventures.

A company (or project) might fail because its timing was bad or because the entrepreneur was a poor manager. Davidow says that despite a recent Harvard Business School survey to the contrary he expects a higher follow-on success rate for failed entrepreneurs than first-timers, and a serial entrepreneur will find it easier than a first-timer to get in the door to meet him. “I would want to know why the least deal failed and what the person learned from it.”

The same thinking should be applied to managers and top brass of media, information and technology companies. To find the leaders who are going to lead you out of this financial (and decision-making) deep freeze we’re in, you’ve got to seek out those who’ve made a few stumbles along the way….It’s more about what they learned than how well they could (or couldn’t) cover up those mistakes and re-assign blame.

Mulcahy is a rarity among Fortune 500 CEOs who has run a human resource department. She acknowledges that most HR departments don’t get useful and honest feedback from employees and they tend to get hung up on fairness above all else.

“Not everybody is created equal,” she says, “and it’s equally important for companies to identify high potentials, accelerate their development and pay them more. I think companies tend to get confused with processes they think are fairest and that is not what companies need.”

Amen to that.

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