In the past couple of months, several companies have gone through extreme and very public upheaval. Such transitions offer opportunities for fundamental, board-led change for the better, but they are also fraught with significant risks. Recent developments at RIM and Yahoo help illustrate three pitfalls: “managing from the grave,” sequence and timing, and misplaced suspense.
Managing from the grave
One of the big risks at a time of transition is that those who leave the helm of the company are tempted to “manage from the grave,” being more concerned about their own individual legacy than that of the company.
For example, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) has finally rid itself of its founders’ disastrous co-CEO/co-chair setup. Yet the stamp of the old management team is still very much in evidence. The founders continue to have a strong presence in the company, with both remaining as board members, and Mike Lazaridis staying on to head a newly created innovation committee.
RIM needs revolution, not evolution, and yet it has chosen to replace its co-CEOs with a company insider, Thorsten Heins, one of RIM’s two chief operating officers. While this may provide some continuity, what RIM needs right now are fresh eyes and ideas.
RIM’s newly appointed independent chair, Barbara Stymiest, has been on the board for five years, and though she comes with strong credentials, she may be too closely associated with past failures to be truly independent. Only time will tell if the former co-CEOs and co-chairs can truly let go and give the company the freedom it needs to right itself. Also in question is whether the new CEO and the board can resist being deferential to the founders or the pull of past strategies. To make the decisive moves needed to stop a death spiral, they must do both.