Policy, Procedure and the Papacy: How Embedded are Your Systems?

So Pope Benedict XVI has, in effect, resigned and given his notice at the Vatican.

I don't know how any of you are looking at this - and at the risk of offending Catholics all over the world (for which I apologize) - I'm finding this great fun.

The reason? Because, when you're talking embedded organizational systems, there's nothing like organized religion as an example of how it's done. Especially the Vatican.

Now, to be fair, I'm neither Catholic nor a member of any organized religion, so I'm speaking as an outsider - which is why I had to smile when I read the article from the AP informing us that, contrary to historical precedent (and rules), the College of Cardinals may begin deciding the current Pope's successor early.

After all, it's one thing when a system is set up - and has worked for almost 800 years - to make rules like a "required 15 to 20 day waiting period after the papacy becomes vacant."

Grieving. Travel. Politicking. It all needs time...especially in the run-up to selecting the organization's new leader.

(Does this remind anyone, as it does me, of the Electoral College and the delay between election and inauguration? Hmmm. But I digress.)

It's a whole other thing when time has moved on and the policy may no longer make quite as much sense - and may, in fact, actually or potentially hurt or be perceived to hurt ongoing operations.

As a result, the Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said that the rules are up for interpretation and that the date might be moved up because:
"It is possible that church authorities can prepare a proposal to be taken up by the cardinals on the first day after the papal vacancy."
Why is this important? Because the reason that it's even being discussed is the concern that with Holy Week beginning March 24, they need a leader in place. And, to do so, they need to move faster than the organization is used to moving.

Sound familiar? Suddenly sound like you?

And that's the lesson for you here:

No matter how embedded your policies, procedures, rules and regulations might be - whether formally or informally - it's always time to look at those systems to determine whether they address your current and emerging needs.

After all, just because it was right when the policy was set doesn't mean that it's still best for your organization now.

Just ask the Vatican.
Vatican may move date to elect new pope (SFGate)

Google, Buffett and Succession - Making It Work

As I've written about before, succession planning is a key aspect of how you should be spending your time.  

Since writing the previous pieces, a lot of things have happened at two of the companies I find most interesting in this regard:  Google and Berkshire Hathaway.

At Google, Larry Page officially took over as CEO from Eric Schmidt.  At Berkshire, David Sokol, the 'prince in waiting' left the company under a cloud - and created an even larger cloud over Warren Buffett.

And, even with that, both companies continue to do an excellent, far-seeing job of dealing with succession - which makes it worthwhile to take a look at how.  We'll start with...
Google was on the way to losing its creative steam.  Not only that, it was losing people - mission critical people - at way too fast a rate.

Why?  Because it became just a bit too grown up.

When Google hired Eric Schmidt to be an "adult" it was the right decision.  Neither Sergey Brin nor Larry Page, the co-founders, knew how nor was ready to run an organization of the size and complexity that Google was becoming.  And that was ten years ago.

Now, however, two things have happened.

First, Schmidt's management style is no longer optimal for the company's next stage.

Schmidt is an 'organization guy.'  They's why he was brought in.  He needed to take an amazing technology and a lot of potential and build a working enterprise designed to design, deliver and grow.

That's exactly what he did.

Over time, however, it became too bureaucratic.  Even with its famous 20% Days (the pure R&D time given to each engineer each week), the decision-making became too bogged.  Especially in a larger culture - specifically the Silicon Valley - that not only prides itself but exists in many ways only because it's so nimble.

The company was losing that - right at the same time that Twitter and Facebook came on the scene. And there went the Googlers.

Second, over the past ten years, the co-founders have honed their skills and grown to be ready to take the company to what's next.

With Page having taken over as CEO, the culture of a start-up is being actively re-energized.  He began that process by restructuring the company so that there are now fewer layers between him and the product/service eco-systems he wants created.

Decision-making will be faster and the speed to market of innovations will increase substantially.

Brin, working to his strengths, is driving and overseeing those new technology developments.  And Schmidt, as Executive Chairman, is working to his strengths in all the outreach for future M&A, government relations at a time when the company is under particularly close scrutiny and building other external relationships the company needs.

This was well thought out, well planned and well executed.  It is succession at its best.

Which leads us to...

Warren Buffett is 80 years old.  He's in great shape but no one lives forever.  Buffett is not only aware of that for himself, but he also takes it very seriously when it comes to his company.

For years, in every Letter to Shareholders, Buffett has alluded to - and eventually directly addressed - the succession issue.  He had to.  It was what he owed his shareholders.

And, at $125K+ per share and a company sitting on, minimally $10bn+ in cash at any given time, I'd say that he was right in deciding it deserved his attention.  Wouldn't you?

In recent years, not only his thinking but also the specifics have been consistently brought to the fore.  In his case, one man cannot take on all the jobs he continues to successfully perform.  So, he's divided up his responsibilities into three (at least) positions.

Moreover, the company's Board is ready to move on whatever needs to be done as soon as the moment arrives - which they all hope will be years from now.

Best of all, in his most recent Letter, he included a memo that he biennially sends the CEOs of all the companies Berkshire Hathaway owns.  In that memorandum he specifically asks them to inform him, personally, of who they want to take over in case something happens to them.

Bravo, Buffett and the BH Board.  Bravo, Schmidt, Page and Brin, as well.

Succession is something you never leave to chance.  There are too many people's lives and livelihoods depending upon your fearlessness in addressing an issue no one ever wants to consider.

Take it on - and then, Bravo, you.


Letter to Shareholders 2010 (Berkshire Hathaway)

Bringing up the boys - Google and the Importance of Executive Development

If you think about it for a moment, you'll realize that all the excitement about the changes in executive structure at Google were not only slightly ridiculous, but insulting.

Let's start with some of the 'why' questions:

  • Why, exactly, was it a bad thing that the boys - in the form of co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin - were now capable of running the company?
  • Why was it that a new division of labor at that triumvirate and successful senior level was considered an insult to Eric Schmidt?
  • Why, instead, wasn't Schmidt lauded for not only fulfilling his initial, accepted role as "adult," but also for doing such a good job at it that he could hand the job back to the boys?

The fact is, Schmidt was hired to do two things simultaneously:

  1. Turn what was initially simply a search service into a seriously money-making company, and
  2. Develop the founders toward their own goal of being executives and not just incredibly smart geeks.
Give them all credit.  Both the reasons for Schmidt's position and selection as well as the outcomes were all a success.

So why was this treated as if it was bad?

Unfortunately, this is the current state and perception of employee, management and executive development.

It's time for that to change - and for you to change it.

It doesn't matter whether you're on the giving or receiving end.  The fact is, for you and your organization to succeed in this fast-moving world, there needs to be a clear and direct focus on and investment in development.

Yours and your people's.

That's what creates success.

It's on you.  But the good news is, you can do it.


Carl Icahn and Knowing When to Leave

The legendary activist investor, Carl Icahn, announced that he is leaving the Board of Yahoo! - a company that many argue his actions saved from complete demise.

You may recall the wars of the recent past when Microsoft put in a $47B bid for the whole of Yahoo! and Jerry Yang, its founder and then CEO, said no.  That's when Icahn really got going.  And that's what led to Yang stepping down, Carol Bartz coming in as Chief Executive and a search deal between Microsoft and Yahoo! finally being successfully arranged.

Now it's time for Icahn to leave.  He doesn't need to keep his seat on the Board (although there's no news about his removing his money from the company).  He did what he needed to do, has ensured that the company - and his investment - is in good hands, both in its management and Board membership, and that it has a long-term strategic pathway for ongoing success being actively executed.

Icahn is known for getting in and making waves.  What can also be learned from him is how and when to leave - especially when it is, to a great extent, you who created the success.