Building the Extraordinary Management Team

Finding People to Accomplish the Extraordinary

Choosing the right individuals to build an organization is critical. When organizational challenges are extraordinary finding the right people is absolutely essential. The question arises “How do you identify these key individuals?” There is no infallible process but I have had some experiences that might provide some assistance.

I can recall being a new publisher of a community daily newspaper that was experiencing difficulties in the production areas at a time that we were also building a new plant, installing new presses and purchasing new production equipment.

We used recruiters to help us find qualified individuals to place in key production areas as leaders. After a thorough review (we thought) of their background and capabilities and interviews with our corporate leadership, we hired several of the individuals that were recommended.

With this new group of production leaders the installation of presses and production equipment was disastrous and production problems were worse than when we started.  Our newsprint waste percentage was through the roof and we had partial newsprint rolls sitting around the press storage area. I felt like we just couldn’t get our operations in order and my frustration continued to mount.

Then one afternoon I was walking through the production area and noticed a man working on his car in our parking lot. I struck up a conversation with him and learned he was looking for a job. I asked if he knew anything about newspaper presses. He said he knew newspaper presses and knew how to fix our problems. I was intrigued. I asked how he would deal with the problem of waste and the partial newsprint rolls since we had no newsprint re-winder to combine the rolls.

He said he could rig a re-winder using the press motors and he could significantly reduce the waste caused by the press start-up process. Out of frustration I said if he could clean up and use the partial rolls and reduce the press waste by 50% in six weeks the press leadership job was his. He agreed, built a re- winder, reduced the press waste and became the press foreman.

Similarly, in our pre-press area we had waste problems and a miserable record of meeting deadlines required for timely delivery of the newspaper. One day a fellow walked in looking for a job and said he was a pre-press manager.

We were shorthanded and I said that I would hire him as foreman on a six-week trial. On his first afternoon I asked him how things were going and he said, “Just fine, I fired a couple of folks and the process has really improved.

At that newspaper there were two more hires, a circulation manager and a photocomposition supervisor that had similar positive results. These folks,+ A.J. Roberson (press), +Larry Kennedy (pre-press), +Linda Kelley (photocomposition) and +Jimmy Jerkins (circulation), saved the day at that newspaper.

This group loved the challenge, loved the feeling of succeeding and loved bonding with each other as a winning team. They followed me when I started another newspaper and when I was called in to save a failing newspaper. In every case they performed at the highest skill level and routinely did what others would have said couldn’t be done.

As an example, this group, with modest financial backing, led the effort to start a newspaper from scratch in just 90 days. We started with an announcement of our intent to start a daily newspaper in 90 days and publish from our plant on our presses with our staff. Incredibly, in 90 days we acquired land, built a building, installed presses and production equipment, hired and trained a staff and produced our first of many editions.

Later in my career I was asked to lead an effort to turn around a major metropolitan newspaper. My friends that helped me build and turn around community newspapers had gone on to other endeavors or had passed away. This job was going to be difficult so I began interviewing for the key slot, which was the Vice President of the Advertising Division.

There were plenty of applicants, but I needed someone for a very difficult job so I used an interview approach that would narrow the group down to individuals that really wanted to be in this difficult situation and work with me. In the interview I painted the situation as a “knife fight in a telephone booth”. In other words, if we failed the outcome wouldn’t be pretty.

There was one individual that stood out as a person that was energized by the challenge, had all the requisite skills and impressed me as someone I wanted on my team. His name was +Gordon Prouty and he was key in building a team that led the organization to new heights in revenue growth and new product development. Gordy is now publisher of a newspaper and leads his own team successfully.

So if I have advice to offer people building or assessing a team, I would say that their team members should answer two questions.

First ask, “If everything in your world was perfect, what would you be doing today?” If the answer is pretty far removed from being a member of your team addressing the challenges your organization faces, you may have the wrong team member. If it is an applicant you may want to remove him/her from the pool. If it is a current member of your team you may want to consider reassignment or another approach that lessens his/her role. There will be cases where the individual will have to be replaced.

The second question to ask is “Can the challenges facing the organization be successfully addressed in short order?” If the answer is no or that more time is needed you may have identified an individual who should not be on your team or should be reassigned.

The final piece of advice is to you, the leader. I would say that you should answer the question “Am I prepared to make changes in the team based on the responses to the questions asked?”

If you are not willing to take the action, are you really serious about changing the direction of the organization? If the challenge is extraordinary, do you have the team to lead you to success? 


Unknown said…
I don't get the answer to the second question. Sometimes challenges to the organization take time. However, if it's just addressing the challen ge then I see what you were getting after
Manager's View said…
I think the point is that there are times when more time is not an option. There can be parallel strategies but time may not be available.

Think of Apollo 13. There wasn't any extra time. What took place was an extraordinary effort to save three men by an extraordinary team.

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