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Breaking Up the Kitchen Cabinet

Despite guiding their company through a major turnaround, IVPcare's leaders decided to trickle decision-making power down to middle managers.
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Hands On

CEO'S NOTEBOOK

Who runs the company after the turnaround?

Last September, at a rustic lakeside resort, Rosanne Best met with 13 middle managers from her company, IVPcare, a $50-million business based in Carrollton, Tex. Her goal was to persuade the key employees to assume a greater role in running the company. IVPcare was booming after having survived a turnaround that was overseen by a small cadre of six senior managers. The group included vice-president of corporate communications Best and her husband, Von Best, the CEO.

So if the team had done so well, why tinker with its structure now? According to Rosanne, IVPcare had no other choice. Running the company was placing tremendous strain on its "prime decision makers," she says. Middle managers had come to rely on their superiors for guidance on decisions big and small. They were reluctant to do more because throughout the turnaround period, the executives in the kitchen cabinet had essentially trained everyone else within the company to defer to them. "We didn't know how much of a role they wanted us to take," says Carole Glover, the company's manager of accounts receivable. "We didn't know where the boundaries were."

The two-day September summit was the best way for the six top execs to convey to middle managers that they were dead serious about pushing decision-making power down the organizational chart. The agenda was pretty straightforward. First, the top crew went over the history of the company in detail, decision by decision, so that the middle managers would understand why certain choices had been made. Next the middle managers spent hours working up their own strategic plan for the coming year. It was a way for them to begin to take on additional responsibility. "We don't have to filter ideas up the ladder and wait for them to come back down anymore," says Glover. "Our company started as a small shop, then became a small company, and now we're a small corporation. We need to have more hands and eyes and ears out there. We know there's a risk to this, but we also know that the upper management wants us to take that risk. The people at my level who were not as happy before -- even they see a change." --Mike Hofman


A Management Inventory

What's the best way to disband a crisis-sparked kitchen cabinet? First, find out how well it's been working -- and what its shortcomings are. For IVPcare's Rosanne Best, a do-it-yourself retreat based on Patrick M. Lencioni's The Five Temptations of a CEO: A Leadership Fable proved to be the ideal method for identifying and solving executive follies.

Best and her top IVPcare cohorts -- CEO (and husband) Von Best, chief financial officer Lowell Saunders, and vice-presidents Mark Evangelist, T. DeWayne Manning, and Ronald G. McCoy -- all headed to Lake Cypress Springs in East Texas with plenty of homework. Each had to read Lencioni's book and decipher his or her own management temptation: choosing invulnerability over trust, choosing certainty over clarity, choosing popularity over accountability, going for status over results, or working toward harmony over productive conflict. They then spent two days in revealing self-discovery, Rosanne Best says.

The result? "Each of us came out with a greater awareness of ourselves," she says. In addition, all the participants now seem to be working on their own problem areas with the goal of creating a better organization, she says. --Anne Marie Borrego


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