The Rule of Empty Boxes

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

“I don’t want to use the word reorganization.  Reorganization to me is shuffling boxes, moving boxes around.  Transformation means that you’re really fundamentally changing the way the organization thinks, the way it responds, the way it leads.  It’s a lot more than just playing with boxes.”

–     Lou Gerstner (b. 1942), legendary CEO of IBM, leading it’s turnaround in the 1990’s

The Rule of Empty Boxes (REB) is a guiding light for companies trying to decide whether to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic or steer the ship to hazard-free waters.  REB dictates that in a re-org, re-alignment or transformation, senior leaders are required to draw up a functional org chart with empty boxes.  The people that got us here, now, aren’t always the ones to get us there, next.

Most companies, sadly, end up setting their compass for iceberg-infested waters, by putting the same old names in boxes and then aligning functions under those names.

“Well, he’s been here 28 years,” the CEO says.  “It’ll kill him if we change his paradigm.”

“Pat is such a fixture here,” says the HR manager, “why not give Pat a little more responsibility and see how it goes?”

Here’s how REB works:

  1. Resist the temptation to fill the chart from the top down.  Put the “perfect fits” in place first regardless of the tier.  Leave your own boxes blank, too.  Powerful, powerful opportunity to lead by example.
  2. Focus on skills, experiences, leadership qualities and the ability to embrace change — regardless of prior departmental alignment.
  3. Be prepared for names to remain on your draft board and boxes to remain empty.  Even names that have been on the roster for 28 years or names that people really like.
  4. Use the “could-do / can’t do / could learn / can’t learn” filtering system to determine if less-than-perfect fits can be molded to the new role.
  5. Conduct the entire first draft of the exercise with a “Why wouldn’t we…?” mindset, and avoid, at all costs, the mindset that says, “That would never work…”
  6. Blank boxes represent your most compelling opportunity to move the company forward.
  7. Undrafted team-members represent your most compelling opportunities to grow people, or to honor their accomplishments and set them on a different course.

A couple of other considerations:

Know why you’re making the change and be prepared to explain why this approach is your best path forward.  Your best people will want to know why.

Your best people also know who your weakest people are, at every level of the company.  If you’re expecting your best people to work for your weakest people, hang on to the Amazon Prime boxes that come to your house.  They’ll come in handy when you have to cart all your stuff home.  And, your best people will ramp up their loyalty and commitment when you have the courage to cut your weakest people loose.

Your best people will have great ideas on how to build the beast.  Invite them to the conversation early.  But if they see you huddled up with your weakest people, and your “re-org” gets done to them, not with them or for them, those Amazon Prime boxes will come in handy when your best people pack up and leave you.

 

 

 


  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.