Well, that was fast. Just a couple of days ago I called Trump the poster boy for bad management. The White House as an organization separate from politics almost made Uber's big problems seem manageable in comparison.
That was then and this is now, as Trump's new chief of staff, John Kelly, reportedly ousted Anthony Scaramucci as communications director less than two weeks and one obscenity-laden tirade about other administration members after the "Mooch," as he's been nicknamed, took the job. It was a smart move on Trump's part and an object lesson by Kelly on how to enter a volatile situation and begin to set things right.
Kelly was previously Secretary of Homeland Security and, before that, a Marine Corp retired general and former commander of United States Southern Command. He possesses immense leadership and management experience and skills. Having been brought in as chief of staff late last week, after Reince Priebus was forced out, he knows that when an organization is in disarray, it's necessary to take the right decisive steps quickly to send a signal that business-as-was-usual is no longer acceptable.
If you've ever studied turnarounds, and the Trump White House has been one waiting to happen, a few steps need to happen:
- Someone responsible for the organization identifies a person capable of doing the job.
- The turnaround executive comes in and learns about the organization and what went wrong.
- The executive identifies problematic hires, bad practices, and performs triage, focusing on the issues that most affect the organization.
- The turnaround executive then takes initial steps to restore order and eliminate the largest sources of trouble.
- The turnaround continues over time, addressing each less urgent level of issue and relying on capable staff to help pursue the strategy.
Typically, it takes turnaround executives far longer to act initially than Kelly because they frequently are outsiders and need to understand the lay of the land. However, Kelly was already in the Trump administration and already saw what was wrong.
Scaramucci, new in his position, was first to feel the axe because he did the unforgivable. As head of communications, he let loose with an intemperate obscene tirade, attacked other members of the team, made threats, and tried to browbeat reporter Ryan Lizza into revealing a source. The entire set of actions could be, and will be, textbook examples of how not to manage the press. And managing the press happened to be Scaramucci's singular job.
Mooch was mulch. Reportedly, Trump pulled the trigger at Kelly's behest. Any other request on Kelly's part would have shown him to be unfit to manage White House staff and their interactions with the president.
The swift and decisive action has given the administration an objective win, eliminated an enormous embarrassment, and set the tone going forward. People may answer to Trump, but they will have to deal with Kelly, and he has enough good will based on what he did as Secretary of Homeland Security that Trump, if he's wise, will continue to listen closely.
Kelly has effectively become the White House COO, which will allow Trump to focus on strategy while someone makes the things hum along. The difficult step for Trump, given his history and predilections -- pardon the reference to an old episode of The West Wing -- will be to let Kelly be Kelly. If he can discipline himself enough to do that, we're likely to see a far more effective organization.