New CEO doesn’t want to “shut the door and whisper”

Posted By Steve | July 30, 2012 | 2 Comments

There was an interesting article in the New York Times recently.

Communicators everywhere should print it out, put it in an envelope marked: “Read this if you want this organization to succeed,” and slip it under their chief executive’s office door.”

Better yet, staple it to his forehead.

The story is about how Laura Lang, the new CEO of Time, Inc., spent her first months on the job.

Most CEOs spend those first crucial months huddled with the most senior of the senior leadership. They get their opinions, figure out who they trust, who has to go . . . and most important, who they are going to listen to.

Without even realizing it, these CEOS are constructing their “executive bubble”—that invisible-but-real cone of silence that almost always settles over the CEO’s office and prevents any information and/or questions from employees from getting in.

Oh, sure, a new executive may hold a Town Hall or two with employees to announce her Bold Vision . . . but they rarely field tough questions from employees.

Not Lang. Instead of huddling only with senior executives and then spewing bromides at employees, she spent the overwhelming majority of her time talking to . . . get ready for it . . . employees!!

According to the Times:

“In her first couple months as chief executive of Time, Inc.,the country’s largest magazine publisher, Laura Lang took some time to hold town hall style meetings and field questions from many of the company’s 9,000 employees.”

And since the company is hemorrhaging money, employees had plenty of tough questions, including:

“Do you think print is dead?”

“Will magazines survive?”

“Why did you come here?”

Lang didn’t duck the tough questions. In fact, it seems as if she asked for more.

According to the Times, Lang “quietly devoted her first months on the job to talking to employees. She traveled to Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and London to meet with them. She convened senior executives in New York to review each magazine and assess what each one needs to thrive in a digital world. “

The best thing about the article was Lang’s quote about why she chose to spend her first crucial months on the job talking to employees:

“The point of the process was to say we’re not going away in a room and shutting the door and whispering,” Ms. Lang said.

Not shutting the door and whispering. Beautiful.

Compare that to this quote, from the new CEO of a major, Fortune 100 pharmaceutical company:

“I’m going to spend the first nine months on the job huddled in my office, or at off-site retreats with senior leaders. We are going to develop a new ‘mission statement,’ ‘vision,’ and 32 new ‘guiding principles’ for this organization. We are going to develop a really cool graphic of a three-legged stool sitting inside a pyramid that is resting on a Greek temple in order to illustrate our new operating philosophy. We are going to put that graphic on posters, and we’re going to put those posters in every facility. When it’s finally ready, probably a year or so after I’ve been on the job, I will hold a Web-based Town Hall to announce it, despite the fact that most of our employees don’t sit at computers and won’t be able to watch. Then we’re going to rely on harried over-worked, stressed-out middle managers who don’t understand the philosophy in the first place to communicate it to employees.”

Okay . . . no CEO ever said they were going to do that.

But hundreds of them have done it.


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Comments (2)

steveJuly 30, 2012 at 10:52 am

Kristen: you're right . . . I hope she builds on what she learned and uses it . . . and keeps the conversation going, either face to face on or on internal social media. The problem is, the company is in tons of trouble, and all the great communication in the world may not be able to help. But it certainly won't hurt!!!

Kristen RidleyJuly 30, 2012 at 10:50 am

That is pretty awesome. Sounds like those employees got a good one in Ms. Lang.

It would be interesting to be able to check back ina year and see what's going on at that poi t


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