Friday, February 18, 2011

Time's Change Agent Takes a Bullet

Without unwavering executive support, it's a lock that a change agent will take a bullet happily fired by a bureaucratic and dysfunctional employee base resistant to change.

It happened to Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools system.  While the wisdom of her grandstanding on the cover of Time magazine was questionable, Michelle had moved admirably to shake up academic administrators and teachers who had collectively failed to educate a majority of the students under their watch.

The union cheered as Vincent Gray defeated Washington, DC mayor Adrian Fenty (Rhee's boss), setting in motion her resignation.  It's back to the status quo for DC schools.

The most recent change agent to be burned by a top level executive with little stomach for follow through is Jack Griffin, the just fired chief executive of Time, Inc.  Even worse, Griffin's now former boss -- Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes -- thought it wise to give Griffin a lashing in an Email sent to employees announcing his departure.

Jack Griffin
My only knowledge of the environment at Time created by Griffin is through media reports and it appears his style and personality ostracized employees.  Yet, he was an outsider brought in by Bewkes to shake the organization free of the morose and dated thinking that has plagued many publishing operations.

When hiring Griffin a mere five months ago, Bewkes had to know that there was going to be outcry from long-tenured staff, as well as the departure of certain senior level executives. 

Change agents are suppose to cause change, right?


Len Chermack said...

It is so true that change agents are often the ones with the target on their backs the day they step foot in the door. As I have seen this in a number of companies first hand. As the turnaround guy, I was often brought in when a company was in a downward spiral (Baan an GlobeRanger) or revenue lagging in growth (State Of The Art/Sage). I find the biggest challenge is getting the employees to first understand and embrace the company needs change to go forward, and then I set out to gain their support toward a growth plan in order to create positive change. Interesting when the first positive sign of an event/success leadership begins to be embraced.

Len Chermack

Chris Parente said...

Marc -- reminds me of what you and I have discussed previously. On the corporate side, part of life is knowing who "has your back." Which senior exec do you belong to? If the answer is no one, then your position is not tenable no matter how brilliant you are. Unfortunate but true.

Fenty had Rhee's back, yet didn't put any effort into his re-election until it was too late. I wonder why she resigned -- should have forced Gray to fire her.