Kaiser: The Discipline to Follow Each Rule

I concluded last week’s message with my personal opinion that a manager of any organization must view its disparate parts as truly being all of one piece. Nothing truly functions in isolation. In the same way, nothing grand (such as saving any entity from the brink of failure) can be achieved by focusing on one or only a few aspects of management. They work best in unison and this perspective, I believe, is shared by Michael Kaiser as reflected in the last of his ten rules gleaned from his 2008 book The Art of the Turnaround.

His Rule No. 10 states: The Organization must have the discipline to follow each of these rules.

We have examined nine rules of management of which Kaiser writes, “There is not one of these rules that can be sacrificed in the pursuit of a turnaround.” And once again we can see that his perspective hinges on the limitations of time in turning a blundering organizational behemoth 180 degrees away from its own destruction. But then, again, you have echoing response that his rules are applicable to all non-profits no matter what their financial status may be. Sound management is just that regardless of the circumstances and my willingness to promote Kaiser’s work is that I find his ten rules to be sound. There’s just one thing; his brinksmanship persuasion gives him an advantage I never enjoyed as a manager.

In our feel good era of management, the preference is for action to be subservient to consensus. Everyone must be heard. Everyone must be heeded, which is how decisions lose their efficacy beneath the perpetual concession to a single common and often  mediocre denominator. But the rules we have examined contain a definite bias towards management tyranny, which desperate board members will yield to when Kaiser plays his trump card; the short span of time in which a remedy must be found. His stentorian advice, which can be easily heard even when confined to the pages of a book, is that “Truly troubled arts organizations do not have the time for consensus building, numerous staff meetings, or focus groups. They require quick, smart action.”

This leaves me envious. My low-key demeanor and appeal to principles rather than obedience to rules is no doubt the cause for my never having attained the scope of authority Kaiser demanded and received in his various roles as executive director. This contrast between us makes it clear – to me at least – that there needs to be one more rule to consider in the art of management, turnaround or no.

My addendum to Kaiser’s ten rules is this: No matter the condition of any entity, how you frame the threats to its existence will determine the scope of power surrendered to you at the outset of your management tenure. Think about it before you sit down to an interview for that coveted executive position. You are engaged in sales, after all, despite the explicit job title advertised and the proof of your value to the organization will be found in the ability to sell yourself as the messianic solution to its impending doom.

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