The founder of a young distribution business--"Jim"--wanted to introduce me to his new sales manager, an executive of 20 years' experience. Jim was unhappy with this guy's poor recruiting, flat sales, and botched pricing negotiations.

When I met with the sales manager, I learned that Jim constantly complains. "Not about the business, but about old stuff, like what we should have done yesterday. Or a deal we should have gotten." I thought the sales manager was fine, so the issue must have been with the CEO.

This leader spent a lot of time critiquing employees' style, complaining about past results, getting personal.

He seemed to enjoy putting one or another individual--and that individual alone-- on the spot for a few weeks at a time.

Welcome to the Lighthouse

Torturing one team member at a time is what I call "lighthouse management."

That's where CEO attention is dark... dark...dark...then it's BLINDINGLY light.

This style needs that cycle of light and darkness. Why? Well, because the manager doesn't have the energy to stay on top of all the people at once. The manager will get a few weeks' worth of unfavorable impressions of an individual, then provide a period of "corrections." Then he goes off to "fix" the next individual.

What is the effect of this? Well, the executive team was demoralized, of course. Turnover was high.

But more importantly, the company stopped thriving because Jim was blaming people, and not processes. Since the evaluations were based on his own experience, everybody stayed at one level of competence--his.

So sales did not provide professional reports, but they did reflect the founder's desire for flashy salesmanship.

Accounting provided details on expenses--Jim loved to complain about expenses--but little in the way of trend analysis, capital budgeting, or thinking about margins.

So it went. And all the managers were periodically exhausted by the CEO's attention.

The 6-Week Solution

This CEO, like many, had a raw emotional need to control. This is okay in moderation-but he was going overboard.

So I asked him to recognize that need, and to put it on hold for a period of six weeks.

Then we agreed on a cycle of management meetings that would give everyone the chance to be heard and to provide an update on important deliverables:

  • A daily huddle, for what's going on. We called it the stand-up meeting. Got together for long enough to just touch base and make sure everyone was heard.
  • A weekly staff meeting, that included an agenda and minutes of what was going to be done, who was going to do it, and by when. Here we started to also introduce some of the periodic reporting--the trends and variance reports that the business needed so badly .
  • And a first-ever strategy session at the end of the six weeks. We dealt with key issues, such as identifying the company's core products and core customers .

Good communication, via effective meetings, is the first step to effective process management. Jim reduced his controlling management style. He developed confidence in the team's ability to identify issues and execute. That left little need to turn on the bright lighthouse light.