It's a Project Manager's World Newsletter with Dr. James Brown
      April, 2012 Full Moon Edition      

Are You or Your Organization's Executives Velvet Rope Leaders?

A friend of mine worked at a Fortune 1000 company several years ago where all employees entered at a main entrance. As you came through the door there was a desk with an attendant and an elevator cordoned off with a velvet rope.  The kind of thing you would see at an exclusive club. 

The velvet rope was there so that the executives of the company did not have to ride the elevator with the “regular” employees.  You can guess that if they didn’t take a short ride on an elevator with their employees, they didn’t eat in the cafeteria with them either.

These "velvet rope" leaders most likely have a skewed view of the world because they are out of touch with what really happens at the working level.  Since my friend dealt with “regular” employees he frequently got an earful of challenges and solutions on how things at the company could be improved.

Velvet Rope” leaders don’t get an earful. 

They get slick PowerPoint presentations from their direct reports.  This is why their decisions often don’t make sense in the context of the working level and why many opportunities for improvement are missed.

This month I had the opportunity to hear Dan Puscas, a director of AlixPartners speak.  Dan often serves as interim CIO in companies that are under distress.  He made the statement that eighty percent of the things/solutions they implement when they are helping a company are already there.

He stated the worst thing you can do is look at the organization chart and think that it is a basis for going forward.  You must have a skill of reading people.  By reading people he simply means talking to individuals in the organization.  Eighty percent of the solution exists in the people he talks to in the organization. There is an old and worn joke about the consulting profession that says... 

A consultant borrows your watch to tell you the time, and then keeps your watch.” 

There is a some truth in this statement because answers, solutions and opportunities are in the organization.  Poor leaders do not put themselves in a position to truly listen to their organization.  Good consultants come in and skillfully listen as a basis for proceeding.  They talk to the "regular employees."

Here are a few other points from Dan’s speech:

  • He doesn’t like benchmarks… companies are too unique.
  • His experience is that 20 percent of IT Projects don’t have an owner.
  • Talk to people outside of the office environment. (Pizza is a big part of his business)
  • Organizations often accept cost cutting targets without tying the cuts to reductions in service or clarifying the business implications of the cuts.
  • When a company gets in trouble and needs to cut costs... IT demand goes up.

After hearing him speak I am even more convinced that organizations forget that success is rooted in getting the basics right.  Poor leaders get caught up in details, subtleties or distracted by some narrow aspect of the business and forget the fundamental aspects of organizational communication. 

If your leaders separate themselves from employees with a "velvet rope" (or anything like it) a basic communication principle has been violated and the consequence is lots of lost opportunities.

James T. Brown, Author The Handbook of Program Management, McGraw-Hill

Copyright 2012 SEBA Solutions Inc.  All rights reserved.

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