19 February 2011

Getting a Good Fit

It was announced recently that Time Warner Inc. had forced out Jack Griffin, chief executive of the media company's Time Inc. publishing unit after less than six months on the job.  This is according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.

The main reason for this separation coming from inside the company seems to be a lack of "fit" between Mr. Griffin and Time.  So Jeff Bewkes, CEO of the parent company, decided to cut his losses and let Mr. Griffin go.

One of the more important things not on any resume' is "chemistry."  This partially explains why companies, even those who take their time in succession, often fail to ask the right questions.  Will this person fit culturally?  Organizationally?  Alongside current management?  With the board?  With our customers? 

Is there such a thing as a perfect fit?  Once in a great while.  Most of the time a more realistic succession goal is a close fit.

Sometimes the situation requires an incoming leader to be different from the current culture, especially in a turnaround situation.  I often think of Lou Gerstner going to IBM in the 1990s amid that crisis.  He was a one-man "counter-culture."

With the help of a lot of people in the company, Mr. Gerstner led one of the great recoveries in the history of business.  The inside story is told with clarity in his book, "Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?"  http://www.amazon.com/

From press reports, it sounds as though Mr. Griffin had a mixed bag of things going against him:

  • He succeeds a long-time executive, Ann Moore, who was there for more than 30 years.
  • His behavior is described as "imperious."
  • Early meetings were called, some starting at 7:30 a.m.
  • There was a clash of personalities and styles.
  • An over-reliance on outside consultants.
  • A refashioning of sales and marketing to reflect his former company, Meredith Corp.

We look forward to hearing his side of the story, and there are always two sides.

Short-tenures often follow long ones like Ms. Moore.  Why?  It is primarily due to a period of transition.  Businesses need to work their way through the process of changing leaders. The price for this transition is often paid by the person willing to take on an assignment of this kind.  That is why "interims" are appropriate in certain circumstances.

Some of the blame for Mr. Griffin not working out belongs to Time Warner.   What were the expectations?  How thorough was the vetting process?   Who signed off on the hire?   

The biggest predictor of future behavior is frequent past behavior--so an "imperious" nature should not have been a surprise.   

This termination shows how even big corporations with all the right HR resources can come up short. 

The takeaway is how quickly Time Warner moved to correct the mistake--six months.  Failing to deal directly with problem executives is the number one reason for CEO failure according to best-selling author and consultant, Ram Charan.  Mr. Bewkes, the CEO of Time Warner, decided Mr. Griffin was not a good fit, decided not to provide coaching, and acted promptly to change course.

What's the application for your organization?



(C) Bredholt & Co.