When management changes were announced at General Motors last December, most people focused on the firing of chief executive Fritz Henderson and his replacement by Chairman Ed Whitacre. The more significant moves, however, were those that took place afterward when Whitacre promoted a number of younger managers to key positions. Taken together, these shifts sent a strong message to everyone in GM that it was time for fundamentally new perspectives.
In an article by Ron Ashkenas, Managing Partner of Robert H. Schaffer & Associates, he writes; “But why did it take a virtual purge for GM’s executives to realize that it was time for a change? Wasn’t bankruptcy, a federal bailout and international embarrassment enough of a wake-up call?”
“Unfortunately, the GM situation reflects the reality that most managers have trouble breaking free of their tried and true strategies. Even when we intellectually understand that the world has changed and we need to do things differently, it’s difficult to let go.”
Former GE CEO Jack Welch used to gather his senior executives together in January and tell them to act as though they had just been newly appointed to their jobs. What would they do differently if they approached their work with a completely fresh perspective? It’s a powerful question, and one that most of us never ask ourselves.
Naturally, it’s easier to take a fresh perspective when you are really new and when the assumptions you’re questioning aren’t your own. We’re all more comfortable challenging someone else’s thinking than stepping back and critically assessing our own ideas. That’s why Whitacre needed to shake up GM’s management team—because the incumbents couldn’t get enough distance to challenge the way things had previously been done.
But why wait for your company to get in trouble? Now is a good time for every manager to take stock and think about what they would do if they were starting fresh. Here’s a thought exercise: First, take a deep breath and fire yourself.
Second, consider what you would do to reapply for your job. What would you say in an interview about the changes you would make and the improvements you would engineer? What unique stamp would you put on this new job? How do you feel about the company’s business strategy and the quality of its leadership team?
Answering these questions candidly and constructively cannot only help your business to thrive—it also can re-energize you for the next year.”