Time Inc. CEO ruffled feathers, and fought the wrong battle. Becuase when strategy and culture collide, culture always wins.

Jack Griffin, the departing CEO of Time Inc's publishing unit. was brought in to make change.

However, despite early financial success with his strategic plans to lift income, and restructure the company to compete in the new media world, Griffin was shown the door after only six months. The reason: not understanding that he had a two-front war on his hands: he need to change business strategy, and affect company culture.

Jack Griffin was fired, for what Time Warner Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes said was a leadership style that "did not mesh with Time Inc. and Time Warner."

This corporate tale reminds me of an axiom I use over and over again in my consulting practice: "When strategy and culture collide, culture always wins."

Griffin's error appears to have been a decision to let strategy lead, and to ignore company culture. He had been brought in to affect change, and was the first Time CEO who was hired from outside the publishing company's ranks. He surely had the support of executive ranks to come in a and shake things up. He hired consultants who advised him how to restructure, and he (presumably) managed up to get those plans approved at the executive level.

But as we see time, and time again, without bringing along the most important strategic asset of all (the company's rank-and-file), no strategy can succeed.

Now, I'm not suggesting that a leader should negotiate, and compromise with every employee, but I am suggesting that without bringing people along with you and your new ideas, there surely will be a People's Rebellion.

People's Rebellions are created when employees are not convinced that change will benefit them, and/or the company as a whole. A great leader needs to be a great polititian at times of change, and sway the masses to his/her plan.

Many executives think that simply by making a company successful (i.e. a successful strategy of change) all will be forgiven, and employees will duitifully follow. Or that employee's opinions matter less than the executives' ("they pay me to make the tough choices" and "I'm not hear to be liked).

While it is true that leaders might not always be liked, employees need to "like" your ideas, and believe that they will ultimately be rewarded for going along with change.

Longtime Time Inc. Chairman and CEO Ann Moore was Griffin's predecessor. She stepped down after more than 30 years at the company. Griffin was there 6 months, 

Media analyst Ken Doctor of Outsell. phrased it this way, "Time Inc. has a very strong culture and doesn't particularly like outsiders," Doctor said. "Part of what's going on here, rightfully or wrongfully, is that the body rejected the transplant."

Unfortunately, Griffin appears to be acknowledging the lesson to be learned around strategy vs. culture. His response to his firing, saying that, during his brief tenure, his work was met with "consistent and documented acclaim" by his bosses. Unfortunately, it was the employees who brought him down.

Griffin argues, "I was recruited and hired by Time Warner to lead the business transformation of Time Inc., based on my clear record of success and results in the industry.

"Every action I took over the past six months was made with that ultimate goal in mind. My exit was clearly not about management style or results."

No, it was about an understanding that successful change leadership happens when you create both a smartly devised strategic plan, and a carefully executed cultural plan.

Sources: WSJ.com and New York Daily News

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