Ron Johnson and the JCP Tragedy: It's All About the Board

I was out and about today, between meetings, when a friend and colleague - both of us great fans of Ron Johnson, the now former CEO of JC Penney - texted me "Ron is out."

I was sad but not surprised. It was looking like it would go this way for a while and I wondered whether the JCP Board would have the courage of its convictions.

After all, when they hired Mr. Johnson away from Apple, it wasn't like they didn't talk with him first. They had to have had an idea of what he might bring - in strategy, technology and customer orientation.

He had a track record - Target before Apple - so no surprises there, either.

So it's down to performance.

Were the numbers bad? Yes. Were they a surprise? No.

Because the strategy that Mr. Johnson laid out not long after taking over the position addressed the fact that the then current JCP customer base probably wouldn't be the base they'd have once all his changes were in place. The new base might be from the same socio-economic group - although even that had expanded parameters given Mr. Johnson's shop-within-a-shop boutique strategy - but it wouldn't be the same people.

Or probably not.

Which meant for any thinking being (which one always hopes resides in the Boardroom) that this was going to be a years-long transition. The changes to the stores could be made in the short term, as could be the introduction of new, more fashionable product lines.

But it would take bravery and commitment on the part of the Board to hold firm when the "always darkest before the dawn" part of the change was going on. Because that would be the real transition period. The time when the old guard customers who never wanted any changes anyway had left and the new base was finding its way in.

These guys didn't pull it off. They caved. And they blamed it on the shareholders.

That argument doesn't hold up anymore either - for which every Board can blame Jeff Bezos and his strategy at Amazon. Bezos cares, of course, about his stock's performance - but he cares a lot more about reinvesting every penny he can into building out the business and capturing even more customers in even more product lines - now b2b and b2c.

His Board doesn't cave. They trust him and they're willing to wait with him as he builds the value of Amazon more and more...and then more.

I honestly believe that Ron Johnson could have done the same thing for JCP had he had the support - and courage - from his Board that was required. He didn't.

Add to that the newbie CEO mistakes he made (e.g., too much too fast with too high expectations of the acceptance of change by the customers and staff, backpedaling on decisions before they had a chance to be integrated, etc.) and you've got dominos just waiting to fall.

And fall they did.

But that still doesn't excuse the Board. They knew who they were hiring and what they were getting. It was their job to support him in every way they could.

So now we'll see what JCP turns into. For my part, as I watched the changes take place, for the first time in years not only was I willing to buy there again but I was recommending it - for product and shopping experience - to my friends. And they liked it, too.

Now I'm not so sure. If it's going to be the same customers as before with the same product lines, you can count me out.

It's a sad day for business. Short-termism won - again - and that's the biggest loss of all.
Winning the Values War: Ellen DeGeneres, Ron Johnson and JCPenney (llk)

12.21.12: Your Business and the End of the World

According to some, tomorrow is the end of the world. At least that's their take on what the Mayans had to say, oh, millennia ago. (It's not like any of the 'experts' were there, so we have to take their word for it.)

Now, to be fair, there are lots of folks who are alive and kicking now who regularly spout that it's the end of the world. Some of them even ask for your money while they're doing their proclaiming. (I've never figured out whether they believe they'll need it 'on the other side' or if it's just hedging their bets if they stay on this side...but then I'm a cynic about that stuff.)

So, let's take a quick look at how this works to your benefit...not the going out and proclaiming part. Just the end of the world.

When you read or hear about people diagnosed with terminal illnesses, they often include stories about taking the time to change all the things in their lives they want to change - before it's too late.

Whether it's spending more time with family and friends, going skydiving or climbing a mountain, they understand time for the commodity and currency that it is. And, with that understanding, they invest it in changing everything they can while it's in their control.

No matter how much or how little they may have - of time or control.

We hear or read those stories and we think about how brave those people are. How courageous. And how lucky that they took the time they had to change the things they could and end their lives on their terms.

Think of the Mayan Calendar that way - and then think of your business that way everyday. It's giving you the opportunity to see time for the commodity and currency it is - if you use it accordingly.

Businesses are afraid of change. The people inside businesses are afraid of change. It's messy. You're not sure of the outcome before whatever you're changing has changed...let alone what it feels and looks and acts like while you're going through the change. Just like life.

But the brave do change their businesses - from the internal workings to the external customer experience. They look at their businesses - whether a front-line employee or sitting in the C-Suite - and they wonder how they can make it better for those they work with and those they impact.

They do their jobs on their terms and stop doing it the same way as before. They know it didn't work - for them, for their customers, for society. They decide to be brave.

Now it's your turn. Be brave. Because you can.

An Open Letter to Facebook Employees

Dear Facebook Employees:

You don't know me. I'm not an investor and don't even have a Facebook page. But I'm hoping you'll give me a moment to give you some perspective based on my many years of helping organizations under attack.

Because that's what you and Facebook are: Under attack.

It's typical, just so you know, and to be expected. After all, unless the people involved (in this case the investment industry analysts and talking heads) are the ones benefiting from having been "right" (which is always a moving target), they're going to diss the company anyway.

The good news is, that means that you get to ignore them. Seriously. Just ignore them. Quite frankly, they don't know what they're talking about. They can't. They're not inside. They don't know the amazing work you've done, are doing and have in the pipeline.

Even with all the publicly required information, they don't know what your current or future products and services are. They can't. Nor should they. That's proprietary - and needs to stay that way.

The other ones who benefit from you being under attack are your competitors - existing and emerging. They're hoping you get distracted...and maybe even that you take your eye off the Facebook ball.

Don't. Don't let them win that way. It's too easy - and underhanded, too. If they're going to win, they should win on product and service. Not because they like watching you being kicked when you're ostensibly down.

Which leads me to the most important point of all. It's that word: "ostensibly."

You're not down. You're Facebook - with your hundreds of millions of users, with millions more to come. All of whom will be participating in creating the social and financial success everyone envisioned.

Are you at a turning point? Sure - but so were Apple and Google and Amazon when the analysts were saying the same things about them and their management teams at their respective turning points. And look where they are now.

Follow the guidance your COO, Sheryl Sandberg, gives: Don't leave before you leave. Lean forward.

You joined Facebook because you wanted to. You believed in it. You saw it for all the opportunities it provided - and still provides. That hasn't changed.

So, do what your CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, says: Stay focused and ship.

You'll win - and then the talking heads will say they knew you would all along.
An earlier version of this post was published on Technorati.

2012: The Year of the Courageous

I tend to keep away from doing the“New Year Predictions” thing – but this year I’m making an exception. I’vedecided to make one prediction for next year: 2012 is The Year of theCourageous.

Speaking to an all-woman class, thetopic she took on – and with which I agree – is that the next generation of womenneed to make different and better decisions as future leaders than theirpredecessors.

The speech was inspiring. But it waseven more than that – and it’s the “more” that led me to think about thecourage it will take now more than ever, for both men and women to succeed increating the life and career they want.

Late in the speech, when she talkedabout the obstacles women put in their own way because they convince themselvesthat they won’t succeed even before those obstacles appear, her advice was:
“Do not leave before you leave. Do not leanback; lean in.”
That’s when 2012 became, for me, TheYear of the Courageous.

Why now? Why is 2012 different?Simple. It’s because, after having gone through the past few years – which arelike no others the world has seen in generations – you have to get beyond yourand others’ fears. You have to believe that you can succeed – and then act inaccordance with that belief.

The Myth of Better Times

I began my executive advisorybusiness after what was known as “Black Monday” in 1987. Everyone told me thatit was the worst possible time to choose to leave a comfy senior position incorporate America to go out on my own. That my dream of being an entrepreneurwas all well and good – but that I should wait until times were “better” tobegin living that dream.

I didn’t listen. To my way ofthinking, starting out when things couldn’t have been worse couldn’t have beena better decision. After all, if the odds were completely stacked against me,I’d know whether I had what it took to create the business I envisioned.

Almost 25 years and innumerableeconomic cycles later, I still say it was the right decision. I have traveledthe world and worked with executives and entrepreneurs who simultaneouslychallenged me (as I was challenging them) and gave me the joy of seeing theirand my success.

It’s no different now. This year Ico-founded an e-publishing business – when everyone continues to tell me towait and see how the global economy pans out. Or how the Big Boy publishinghouses adapt to all things ‘e.’ Or for any number of other reasons they putforward in what they say are my best interests.

But, if you look closely, what yousee in those well-intentioned thoughts are two things.  First, everything they note of concernis out of my control.  I can't doanything about any of it.

Second, they are expressing theirfears.  Not mine.

So the answer is no. Don’t wait.There’s no such thing as a “better” time – because, no matter what the economiccycle, there are always obstacles to success. There are even more reasons weand others give ourselves to fail - or worse, to not even try.

That’s why what Ms. Sandberg saidstruck such a chord for me. That’s the underlying message she gave to all thosewomen just as they are starting their professional lives:
Don’t be scared. Don’t convince yourself – orlet anyone else convince you – that you won’t succeed. Don’t stop yourselfbefore you ever start.
2012 is going to be a difficultyear. There’s no getting around it. But, for the courageous - women and men,both - it will be a year when you see yourself as you want to be – in manycases, possibly more than you thought you could be.

Be brave. Pursue and fulfill yourdreams. There’s no better time than now.

[This article first appeared on technorati.]