Several years ago my team and I worked with a financial services organization. It was in trouble. Its performance was in decline and its leadership culture had become complacent. We were brought in to work with the new chief executive officer (CEO), who was trying to turn this company around. He was particularly struggling with his top 50 leaders. “I can't seem to light a fire under them,” he said in our first meeting.
Nothing he tried seemed to work. He tried to be inspirational and paint a great vision of the future. No response. He tried to scare them, by giving what I call the “You're either on the bus or off the bus” speech. He tried to be their friend, appealing to their sensibilities. Nothing worked. I could tell he was at his wits' end and losing patience when near the end of that meeting he said, “I should just fire them all!”
As we started to get to know this organization and its leaders, it became evident that they had become a rotting of zombies, which I described earlier in Chapter 7. They were all nice people who showed up every day just going through the motions. No excitement for their roles. It seemed the complacency had taken over all the senior leaders. Apparently, the previous CEO had tolerated this mediocrity for a long time.
After our preliminary analysis we came up with a strategy to drive strong leadership accountability. First, we would work with these senior leaders through a series of ...