This story was first published on April 10, 2011 – Written by Chuck Papageorgiou
A mentor of mine used to tell me “Look at the way you do anything, because it’s probably the way you do everything.” This is from a conversation with a client some time ago that I was reminded of today. It’s slightly altered for the usual reason, to protect both the innocent and the guilty.
Ideasphere Partner (me) – So, if I understood our discussion and what I’ve heard you say so far, you are worried the company is “stuck in its ways” and your competition may be outflanking you, so you want me to help you as an advisor to you and also help you expand the technology team to add some talent that will help you “think differently.”
Client – Yes. That’s exactly what I need you for.
IP – OK. What new skills do you want to add to the tech management team and why?
C – The most urgent need is for someone who understands this whole Cloud Computing and Social Media technology space, the impact it has on our industry, and who can “hit the ground running” to make up for the time we have lost by not paying attention to it the last couple of years.
I – There are not many people who understand both your industry and these new technologies, but I am very familiar with one bright individual who would fit that role perfectly. He’s helped us on a couple of other projects and he is currently working for a company in a different market than you so there should be no confidentiality or non-compete issues.
C – Great. That’s what I am counting on. You and your folks know a lot of people. Who is it?
I – His name is John Doe (name intentionally changed) and he actually used to work for your company up to a few years ago.
C – Ah yes; John. Know him well. Not interested. Anyone else?
I – I am sure we can find others, but why not John? Did he leave on bad terms?
C – Not really; He was passed over for a promotion and the new boss did not want to pursue the priorities he thought were important, so we reached a mutual agreement for him to resign.
I – Oh. OK. He must have had a bad sense of priorities.
C – Not really. He actually wanted us to spend more time on understanding the impact of all these new technologies and have strategies to deal with it.
I – Wait! So he wanted you to focus on the urgent problems we are trying to solve today almost five years ago.
C – Yes. But he was not a team player. He went over his boss’s head and shared his view with other members of the executive team.
I – OK. So he went behind his boss’s back. That’s not the right thing to do.
C – Oh, No. He talked with his new boss about it and was very open and direct about his intention to share his ideas with the executive team when it was his turn to present at the annual strategy session. His boss thought this technology was a fad and he should not spend any time on it, and he was told that if disagreed and presented his views, he would be contradicting his new manager in front of the other executives and that he would be putting his career at risk.
I – OK. So when he presented his ideas the executive team did not agree with him and he had to leave.
C – Nope; He did a good job articulating his thinking and most of the people on the executive team thought he was probably right. They just did not want to undermine his new manager, so they did not back him up. His new manager had worked for the company for fifteen years before getting that promotion and everyone liked him. As a matter of fact, he recently retired with twenty years of service.
I – OK. Now I am confused. He was right about the strategy; He went about it in an open and respectful way; He left rather than stay and undermine his new boss; His new boss is no longer here; So why won’t you hire him again?
C – We have a policy never to re-hire people who left the company.
I – Never??
C – Never! Has not happened since our founding.
I – Wow. So if an employee leaves the company, they become persona non-grata as far as being re-employed by the company ever again. When was this policy put in place?
C – My grandfather, who started the company, put it in place when one of his original business partners left to start a competing company that failed and then tried to come back.
I – That was over 40 years ago!
C – Yes it was. We are a company that respects tradition and we have retained that policy since our founding.
I – So would you say this is part of “stuck in our ways”?
C – No; This is different………
The advice shared in this article is based on how I work and a preview of the counsel I provide to entrepreneurs, founders, Corporate Executives, and Private Equity and Venture Capital clients based on three decades of work in these areas.