What should you do when when a CEO gets in the way of a business turnaround?

At a networking lunch with a few ridiculously successful women recently, one described her recent promotion as "drinking from the poisoned chalice".

As I was there in part to drink to her success, I was keen to know more. She explained that she had been handed the most dysfunctional department in the company to run. In her view it had been allowed to "fester" for too long before the CEO accepted she was the only person in the organisation with the potential to fix it.

My friend is a fixer from way back. She has always been a problem-solving manager. From her very first managerial role more than two decades ago she has built a career on turning business units within large corporations around.

We used to joke that she needed a major disaster or critical business issue to motivate her. When the problem is solved she needs to be moved on to the next problem within the organisation or she will search one out elsewhere. There is no sitting back and smelling the roses with this woman.

So the latest problem, which involved a promotion, should be motivational for her. But she sees it as a "poisoned chalice" because it involves a major restructure of the organisation and a complete turnaround of processes. That's not the part that phases her. In fact that fills her with excitement. This is a woman who lives for organisational change. The part that's poison is that she has been asked to do the dirty work of ridding the organisation of senior people who were previously her colleagues.

Her style in tackling a problem business unit is usually to embrace the team, point them in a direction and then work with them to get the job done. Along the way there is always fall-out. Some people can't deal with change and leave. But losing key leaders of the team at the very beginning of the process has not been part of her success rule book.

I suggested she explain her strategy for success to the CEO. She informed me that when he handed her the 'challenge' those people were already removed from the forecast. So she has no choice but to remove them and then attempt to win the trust of the rest of the team anyway. A new challenge for her.

The business woman sitting on the other side of her at the lunch had been listening to our conversation and contributed: "classic male move".

"If he believed that removing those senior people was critical to fixing the problem then why didn't he do it earlier?" she added.

It's a good point. My problem-solving friend has been told that she is considered a future CEO for the organisation but a lot of that would depend on how she fixes the key business problem she has just been handed. The reason she's not jumping for joy at the prospect of this challenge is that she is working for a CEO with a highly prescriptive style. She knows she can solve the problems of the business unit but she's not sure she can work with her CEO to do so.

Have you experienced this in your working relationship with your boss? How did you deal with it?

Marina Go

Marina Go is Chair of the Wests Tigers NRL Club, a non-executive director of Autosports Group and author of the business book for women, Break Through: 20 Success Strategies for Female Leaders. She was previously GM of Hearst Australia at Bauer Media. Boss magazine named her as one of 20 True Leaders of 2016.  Marina has over 25 years of leadership experience in the media industry, having started her career as a journalist. She was appointed Editor of Dolly magazine at the age of 23, before spending the next decade editing a number of leading women's magazines. She has held senior leadership roles at Fairfax, Pacific, Emap, Bauer and Private Media, where she was CEO and founder of the career website Women’s Agenda.  

She is a director of digital startup Daily Siren, and also a member of the Advisory Boards of the Walkley Foundation, The Australian Republican Movement and Women’s Agenda. She is a former director of Netball Australia, Odyssey House,  Sydney Symphony Vanguard and The Apparel Group. She lectures on digital media at the University of Technology, Sydney, is a Mentor with the Women In Media and NRL Women programs and a UNSW Alumni Leader and Ambassador. She has an MBA from The Australian Graduate School of Management, a BA (Mass Communications) from Macquarie University and is a member of the AICD. She is a mother of two young men and passionate about diversity and equality. 

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