Q&As About Management Dilemmas
Ask Dr. Schaffer

Post a question and get an answer from Robert H. Schaffer, a leading management consultant for more than 30 years. To post your question e-mail info@rhsa.com .

I have been making major contributions to the success of our company for many years. My boss appreciates this, but he values it less than the work of one of my associates, which is a joke since this person is a complete incompetent. How can I deal with it? It drives me crazy!

Dr. Schaffer
Obviously your boss sees something in this person’s performance that is quite different from what you see. Is it possible that your associate may be delivering value that you don’t include in your definition of “contributions”? For example, your associate may ask the boss for suggestions or for help in getting the job done. This may enhance the boss’s sense of importance. You may take pride in not having to make such requests. Don’t dismiss such factors as irrelevant. They can be critical. You need to see whether you can identify anything like this going on. If so -- challenge of challenges – decide whether or not you are willing to work on developing a stronger relationship with the boss even if it means no longer using your competence as a suit of armor.

I am CEO of a publishing company. The seven people who report to me are all really top-notch people and run their functions very well. But when we meet as a group they all seem to play this little competitive game -- talking up their own units’ performance and making little digs at the other functions. I have repeatedly emphasized the importance of collaboration to the success of the business. They all express agreement with me and then go right back to their game-playing. I'm afraid that if I got tougher with them it might undermine their current performance.

Dr. Schaffer
There are several issues you need to think about. First, if you are worried that making stronger demands of your people will have adverse consequences, you are in trouble. It means your people have trained you to limit your requests to them to only what you think they’ll accept. That’s very constricting.

You might use the collaboration issue to begin escaping from this trap. Preaching the need for collaboration – like asking for loyalty or diligence -- doesn’t give you or your people a disciplined framework for action and assessment. You need to make the demand more specific. Can you identify some specific tasks that require collaboration among your associates to succeed?

As an experiment, try assigning the appropriate people to one or two of these tasks. For each project, ask the assigned team for a joint work plan and a schedule outlining how they’ll achieve the results. Tell them that you’ll be meeting with them to review the plan and then to follow its progress.

Now you are dealing with concrete, measurable issues where performance is definable and measurable. Better to deal with these than with the belief thatnobody’s “collaborating.” Don’t be surprised if they resist and test you all the way. They probably like the relationship as it stands. It will take a major effort to change it, but I don’t see that you have any choice.

The top brass in our company are convinced that they and our professional marketing staff know all there is to know about what products we should be selling and how to price them. They constantly ignore the ideas given to them by our salespeople based on actual experience in the field. How can I get them to wake up?

Dr. Schaffer
They obviously don’t appreciate the possibility that salespeople can make valuable contributions. What we don’t know is whether they might be open to developing such appreciation. To test that you might have some informal conversations with a few of the ones who should be paying more attention. The key to success here is to not vent your frustration by citing their inattention to your ideas. That kind of accusation, however you sugar coat it, is likely to arouse defensiveness.

Why not start the conversation by saying that you sometimes get product and service ideas from what customers tell you. You want to know what is the best way to share those ideas with the senior management team. Such an approach will usually get some constructive response. At the end of the conversation say that you’ll try out what is suggested, and then ask whether it would it be OK to come back in a few months to report on how well it has worked out.

We’ve been focusing all our attention on closing the deal with our new acquisition. Now we have to integrate the two staffs. We hadn’t given much attention to this step in the process. How do we begin?

Dr. Schaffer
Your experience matches that of most acquisitions, which is why the acquisition success ratio is so low. Senior management almost always gets so preoccupied with structuring the deal and working the numbers that they don’t create a strategy for implementing the integration until the deal is done. By then major opportunities have been lost.

But you still have time to avoid the second traditional mistake: Starting off by spending vast amounts of energy on the mechanics of integrating staff and creating a compatible HR system, creating matching compensation arrangements, building an integrated information system and merging the staff groups. This can all take many months while the intended benefits of the acquisition continue to erode.

The key is to start benefiting from the acquisition quickly. One way to do it: get people from both companies to agree on the half dozen or so actions that could begin yielding pay-offs quickly, and get joint teams working on those gains at once. A company we were working with decided that a top priority for a new acquisition was to expand their dominance in a key market. As soon as the ink was dry on the agreement, some short term sales targets were set, and a team was put to work to achieve them. Am I saying that you don’t have to merge the two sales organizations before they start working together? Yes. If you believe all the administrative details need to be worked out before you pursue important goals, you’ll be delaying progress for many more months. A successful attack on joint goals will not only generate momentum, but it will also give you much better ideas about how to do the integration.

Our alliance with a European company isn’t working. It looks like a culture clash problem. How do you suggest I overcome the gulf?

Dr. Schaffer
Anything that doesn’t work in a company is a culture clash – whether it involves different countries, different styles or different personalities. The key to success in such situations is to learn how to get things done that are rewarding to both parties despite their “culture clash.” Can you think of some things that, if you accomplished them, would benefit both companies? Select one or two of those and try to engineer a success experience, even a minor one. If that works, go on to some others. You might eventually have a lot of collaboration going on without ever solving the “culture clash” problem.

Robert H. Schaffer, a principal at Robert H. Schaffer & Associates, counsels the leaders of some of the nation’s top corporations and government agencies. His clients are among the biggest in the Fortune 500. He’s the author of the book, The Breakthrough Strategy, and his most recent book is High-Impact Consulting. Send your questions to Robert Schaffer by e-mail: info@rhsa.com and visit Robert H. Schaffer & Associates for more.

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Copyright 2003 by Robert H. Schaffer. All rights reserved.

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