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This is my effort to share my thoughts with readers about concerns facing our country today.  I believe there is a good chance my grandchildren may be the first generation in the history of this great country not to have a better standard of living than their parents. If so, our generation is to blame. The clock is running out for damage control. .

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Saturday
Feb142009

America Needs Turnaround Management

Business people understand turnaround management. It is a different style of management than a management style that keep upward momentum going. 

A turnaround manager is a change expert. Someone who can change the culture in an organization. Someone who can clearly define the change that is needed, then hold everyone in the organization accountable to make the prescribed changes. Someone who is willing to make drastic changes with the confidence that it will work. Early successes are critical to a turnaround. When Jack Welch took over GE his nickname was Neutron Jack. The physical plants remained, the people just went away. Jack's theory was a premise that there are four types of leaders. Those who got the goals and had good people skills, those who got the results, but lacked the desired people skills, those who had good people skills, but didn't make goals, and the group that had poor people skills and didn't get results. This last group was asked to find a career elsewhere. The second and third groups were counseled to improve their deficiencies. If they got better, they stayed, if not, they left. 

The first group, those who got the job done and did it the right way, were earmarked for bigger things. 

It's a simple concept, but other leaders in other companies could not get it to work because the leader has to be dedicated to it every day. It has to come from the top.

My guess is that President Obama would qualify on the people skills but fail on the results. My guess on Rahm Emmanuel; he would get the results, but no one could wipe up the blood he would leave behind with his treatment of people.  

The rest of his cabinet and advisers would be counseled out on day one. Honestly, probably 90% of congress, government employees, and presidents, past and present would not pass muster in the Welch GE culture. Most have never had to deal with accountability and if they had to now, couldn't.  General Petraeus is an exception. He would be groomed to take over bigger and bigger jobs. In the Bush administration, Rumsfeld would be gone day one at GE.  

Obama's pledge to change the culture and turn the country around can't work. His version of change is not understandable to anyone. His dedication to get results is not firm. 

Most turnaround managers don't stay on a job for a long period of time. They get bored. They break things to fix them. In some ways that's how Welch operated at GE. He got things going right, then he said GE will be number one or number two in every business they were in, or they would will sell the business. This was like a new turnaround. NBC would have been gone a long time ago under Welch. Welch's successor, Jeffery Immeldt, worked and prospered under the Welch culture, but he is not a strong leader who can drive the culture through the rest of the organization. He is failing badly. He makes and buys excuses. Under Welch, that was unacceptable.

If the United States were under a strong turnaround manager like Welch, we would have thousands of government workers fired through the years. Big budget groups like the Department of Energy that has accomplished nothing for 25 years would be drastically shrunk or would be gone. The space program would be under strong scrutiny. Costs would not have gotten out of control, controls would be in place along with accountability. Waste would be unacceptable. The post office and Amtrak would be profitable. Excuses would be hollow, and if goals not met, excusers gone.

The key thing for a turnaround manager is to make sure the rules are clear. Then ,when the rules are broken or goals not met ,the people failing know why they are leaving. No bear traps.

Our system is broken. We need a true turnaround president who will fix it. With a clear mandate from the public that it needs to be fixed and the opportunity to get it done. Sorry lobbyists, sorry unions, sorry special interest groups, step aside. Sorry thousands of government workers who have never had any accountability, not even to show up for work. You change, and get your job done, and show up for work or you leave. Regardless of seniority or minority status. You go.

Will this ever happen? Maybe. If things get bad enough and people get angry enough, it could. Most corporations get broken. Those, like GE, who choose the right person to fix them, get fixed. Those who don't, go away. It would be a shame to let the USA go away because we didn't give a turnaround expert a chance to fix us. Reagan was the closest thing to this in my lifetime. He turned around the mess Carter left him. He operated much like Welch. He spelled out the program and repeated it and repeated it over and over. He set and made goals. Air traffic controllers broke the rules. They were gone. We got results as a country and people were mostly happy. Even the democrats, for the most part, because Reagan had exceptional people skills.

This mess may need more of a Welch than a Reagan. The clock is ticking.

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