Today’s guest post is from Bob Herbold, the long-time Chief Operating Officer of Microsoft Corporation and author of What’s Holding You Back: 10 Bold Steps that Define Gutsy Leaders (CLICK HERE to buy your copy). You can read more about Bob at the end of this post.
Eight years ago, soon after I had retired from Microsoft, I was approached about the possibility of heading up the IRS. I made two visits to Washington, DC to hear about the job and have my arm twisted to take it. Here is what bothered me. All the employees were part of a union which made it almost impossible to let anyone go. Also, promotions generally fell along the lines of seniority, and I could expect big problems if I tried to re-organize or to promote strong young players into crucial positions.
It gets worse. I would have no authority over the tax code itself; that was the job of Congress. Also, I would have 9 different Senate and House committees which would provide oversight, and I would have to report to each on a quarterly basis and take any of their suggestions and get back to them with regard to impact, feasibility, etc. Obviously, the only thing positive about this job was the status of being the head of the IRS (irrelevant to me).
The comparison to my 26 years at Procter & Gamble and 9 years at Microsoft is probably the key reason why the IRS job looked so bad to me. Both of those companies excelled at giving individuals jobs that had clear responsibilities with the opportunity to make a difference.
For example, consider Procter & Gamble brand management, an area where I spent a significant portion of my P&G career. Each P&G brand is managed by a small brand group (5- 8 people) totally responsible for the planning and execution of that brand. The leader, called the brand manager, is totally accountable for finding bright ideas that will excite their consumers and getting them implemented fast. The brand group has access to resources in manufacturing, R&D, etc. but it is not a requirement that these organizations agree with what the brand group decides to pursue. When the brand group gets its ideas nailed down and tested via consumer research, it goes to the top management of the company and asks for money to either field a test market, or expand a program that has been tested and execute it nationally. The measures of success are market share, revenue, cost and profit.
So what did I learn from my various experiences? Every one is different, but here is my list of the characteristics of a job that you should avoid:
1. Too Many Bosses – While you may report to one person, if there are other groups or individuals that can prevent you from making any changes, beware! This often comes in the form of consensus oriented decision making, where there are committees or particular individuals that have to agree to changes you want to make.
2. Personnel Inflexibility – You want to have people in your organization that are high energy, curious, and anxious to make an impact. If you are constrained in any way in replacing people or re-organizing, beware!
3. No Clear Measures of Success/Failure – Your goal should be to improve the performance of the going organization and implement bright new ideas that generate significant impact. There should be specific measures that show success or failure in these areas.
It is no fun to be stuck in a job where you are just carrying out specific duties and there is no way to generate any change or improvement. Avoid that job, and if you are in one, get out and find one that enables you to have an impact!
- Bob Herbold is the retired executive vice president and Chief Operating Officer of Microsoft Corporation. Bob is also the author of three books on leadership, including What’s Holding You Back: 10 Bold Steps that Define Gutsy Leaders. More on his books and leadership blog can be found at www.bobherbold.com.