This post is an excerpt from my book Leadership Is/Isn’t Easy. I’m confident in sharing this article, not necessarily because I think it’s good (which I do) but because this is the first of two parts, the second of which you’ll only find out about if you buy the book. Sales can be sneaky sometimes. 🙂

This post was written about 3 or 4 months after the incursion into Iraq, June 2003. I’ve left the time component in because it fits, but the article is really about management perspectives and thus still relevant today.

Creative Commons License The U.S. Army via Compfight

The war has come and gone in Iraq and the vaunted battle never really materialized. Yet here we are, months removed from the official end of the encounter, and things don’t seem to be progressing one bit. If we view the situation in Iraq as if it were a business, one can find several factors that were overlooked, causing this “hostile” takeover of the business to, at this point, look like a miserable failure.

It failed because good management and business principles were not applied correctly to the process. Then again, it’s hard to apply business principles to a combat situation; or is it?

Let’s take a look at the problem of Iraq as if it were one organization taking over another, because these kinds of events occur all the time in business. Let’s see where things went wrong; in the follow up article, we’ll then look to see what should have happened to help mitigate things a bit.

Knowing what we know now, some of the failures are as such:

1. Rumors of the takeover were rampant, yet with very little detail, and the “employees” on either side didn’t have any time to adjust to what might be coming. Even in companies where employees may not like their present business structure, they will tend to have some loyalty to the entity they know, rather than the entity they don’t know.

2. There was no consideration given to the “management” staff already in place. Even in a troubled company there is always talent within that organization, or someone sympathetic to giving the new company the benefit of the doubt, and usually someone knows about that talent and tries to find a way to reach out to them. It immediately lends some credibility to the incoming “regime” that promises to take some of the feelings and thoughts of those who are left into consideration.

3. There was no plan to deal with the instability of the “employees” who were left by the “takeover”. One has to consider that employees who were floundering at a bad “organization” would feel rudderless and overwhelmed, and that at least a few of them would decide to take matters into their own hands and try to get “theirs”, based on the lack of knowledge of what may be available for them if they just wait to see what those behind the “takeover” may have in store for them.

The new “management” team never thought to equip their own “middle managers” with any of the possible scenarios that might occur, nor any knowledge of how to handle what might come, which left them standing around watching utter chaos take control.

Creative Commons License The U.S. Army via Compfight

4. The “employees” brought in from the new organization have no sense of what the “past employees” have been through. Even though the new “employees” weren’t as numerous coming in as the existing “employees”, they were immediately given leadership status over the existing “employees” without knowing what they were in for. They were given technical training to handle the operations, but no leadership skills in how to work with people. In essence, they weren’t trained to be “managers”, thus they didn’t know what to do when events took place that were beyond their purview.

5. The new “management team” had no idea of how to communicate their ideas or plans to the existing “employees”, nor the proper forum to do it. They had no plan for shoring up the infrastructure of the existing organization, which brought nothing but dissension from the existing “employees”. Damage occurred because of the “takeover”, and though the new “upper management” team knew that was going to occur beforehand, they didn’t take into account how much the existing “employees” were going to not only need those services, but were going to rely on the new “management” team to get things accomplished.

6. There was a perception of the new “management” team based on rumors before they ever showed up, and the “management” team was now at a loss to explain to the existing “employees” that they were not miracle workers. Those involved in the “takeover” didn’t try to dispel any of the rumors that they would sweep in and take charge and fix everything, even when they knew there was a major mess that they had to get through first. The expectations may have been unjustified, but the “management” team and “board of directors” allowed those thoughts to germinate.

7. The new “CEO” had no practical experience in what was needed for the new overall “organization”, nor enough background in the “employee” structure of the organization that was “acquired”. He had to be replaced pretty quickly by a new one, who hasn’t proven to be any more effective than the previous CEO.

Some companies never learn from their own examples and keep hiring ineffective personnel for the wrong reasons. In this particular case, the new overall organization needed a strong and charismatic leader, one who knew how to communicate a vision to the “employees” and the “managers”, and was willing to sit down and listen to the concerns and thoughts of the existing “employees” to see if they could offer ideas helpful to the overall operation.

8. The “middle managers” were brought into a bad situation, were unfamiliar with the layout of the land, unfamiliar with the particular “language” and “office structure” that already existed, weren’t taught how to read the “reports” that were already being created, were allowed to have a false sense of security when none existed, and weren’t properly trained to resolve the issue any other way than by applying a “marshal” law system, more for their own protection than those of the company.

Nothing says that every one of these steps would have worked perfectly in the real world, but if someone had looked at some of these issues before the “takeover” and had given them some consideration, the “takeover” might have been much smoother, and ended up looking more like a “merger” of sorts, with a blend of the best of the old and new working together.

This is only part one, looking at what went wrong. I believe things could have gone much better overall, and I tackle that in the next article in the book… which I hope this encourages you to check out.

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