Leadership Change – Dealing With It

8 Feb


So Microsoft finally decided who their CEO should be, and all of the world has an opinion on it. Ofcourse, so does all of India – most are proud, some contemplative.

I haven’t come across a lot on what the employees of Microsoft (and the erstwhile Nokia) think, but it’s a good time to ruminate how leadership change affects us, and how we should ideally deal with it.

Let me start with an example from home – our kids keep having these discussion frequently on “who’s the boss of the house” – and, atleast for them, its a clearly established hierarchy with role definitions crystal clear. So, Riddhi is the boss of Achchu, Mamma is the boss of all kids’ activities and behavior, Babba has veto power – and so on. One of the things that changed this year was that Manoj became the boss of Riddhi’s studies (I was part-time doing this job earlier for whatever it was worth).
At nearly the end of the year – her grades have slipped drastically, and she is now an avowed and vocal hater of all things “studies”.

Now, Manoj, who typically is the first one to read all my blogs, will argue that it is the onset of teenage/ maybe friends dynamics/ too much interest in extra-curricular stuff/ a mean mother .. etc, that is responsible.

I agree, there probably will not be any correlation – probably just a series of unfortunate events. But, there IS a before-after situation here, if not a cause-effect one. Time for introspection for all of us.

I saw/ see this when my company EmPower got bought over by a large company. The biggest thing that worried us founders was how our 400 strong people would take this small-to-big change. The advantages were obvious – bigger brand name/ better training etc institutionalised resources available/ better growth prospects since wider pool……

Over 2 years post the acquisition – I still meet many folks who say – “Those were the days – sigh!”. Now, bit of nostalgia is expected, but I think this is more than a “desire-to-please”/ “glorify older times” phenomenon.

After all, between a very flexible/ agile and woman-at-the-top family style leadership culture, and a large process oriented delegatory style, there is a world of difference, some good and some bad. Also, I think what happens with a startup is that the senior leadership joins BECAUSE they like the startup culture – they’ve largely been there and done that in larger orgs. And, for the younger/ fresh inductees, it’s their first job, so their first experience with any form of organisational leadership culture, and so they kind of grow up knowing no other. Both cases make for lower adaptability to the opposite end of the spectrum. Net net, while a lot of our people are still at the company, I see many instances of those sighing for the older ways – and then there are those ofcourse that have quit (and still talk about their time at EmPower 🙂 ).

Not an unusual situation – I have seen, and am a part of many alum networks of companies that meet quite often (Gillette alum, EmPower alum, XGB to name a few)- so there IS a common affinity that exists.

By the way, to refer again to the companies I started this post with, some snips of my friends’ walls at the Nokia-Microsoft deal last year exemplify this as well :

nokia msft

“The shuttle moves on from helsinki to seattle. The only difference is not the ride but the crew would change and its interesting to see whats in store. …. Nokia the brand and culture still remains close to my heart.”

“So, this is what it feels like to witness the end of an era!”

“Had once told someone that its gonna end up as a case study either way. Never thought it’d be this soon”

And this article from leading Indian Financial Outlet was posted again and again..

To take a closer look at some common issues to consider regarding a leadership change:

When leadership change is a natural/ organic process – retirement/ voluntary switching CEO: While one is expected, and the other maybe not so, both probably have probably a scenario where the company is doing OK from a performance/ morale etc perspective. The question here is – continue with an insider/ try and preserve what is already happening; or opt for completely new blood/ change things around a bit.

While there is merit in the status-quo perspective, in most cases, influx of a new personality almost naturally implies new thinking – in many cases, because the new leader would NOT feel like (maybe even be,) a true leader if he did not leave his own imprint on the organization. I think it makes sense actually – I remember discussing succession at our company post integration with the larger organisation, and at the suggestion of one name with the defense that he would be able to maintain status quo, someone saying – no, status quo actually means regression as the world will move ahead!

Witness the number of changes that happen – even to hardcore strategic moves, when leadership changes! I was discussing unification of data (in the context of Master Data Management) with an ex Bankam employee, and he said that when he was there, Bankam tried to unify all their diverse legacy systems (a problem that faces most organisations – only, it existed in a higher degree in BankAm as BankAm is basically a conglomerate of many bought out companies). He said he quit BankAm after 2 years on this project; it’s been 7 years, and the project is still not done. One of the large reasons is – that there have been many leadership changes, and each leader has then accorded a different priority to the project!

Ofcourse, if the company has not been doing all that well, it is even more imperative to shake things around. In fact, this is one of the apprehensions regarding Nadella’s appointment – that the company required more newness – while Nadella signifies a bit of a “status quo” approach.

Incidentally, the other fear that public opinion has regarding Nadella is the fact that he has asked for Bill Gates to be brought back – this, while maybe is good for the company, may just prove not so good for N himself due to the Powerful founder overshadows CEO doubt.

Having said the above, imminent leadership change is very much the flavour of the moment in the Indian political scene. Two oldtime rivals are fielding “new” faces – one, the scion of the old almost royal political family, the other an extreme right wing conservative yet modern-in-his-approach emerging regional leader. And both these parties have now been challenged by a virtual upstart, a “common man”. It’s the battle of Namo vs. Raga vs. AAP – and we have to see who wins. Exciting times ahead for all!

ceo change

And oh btw, as I was publishing this, I came upon this amusing post on what would happen if Arvind Kejriwal was CEO of Microsoft. Enjoy 🙂


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