If you are banking on corporate executives to make the high-level market decisions that will pull the world out of this spiraling recession, you’re betting on a nag. Most executives not only don’t know how to do executive-level work, they couldn’t do it if they did.
Executive work is not line work, nor is it very similar to that of lower-level managers. Executives should be looking out past two years — out beyond to five, ten, even twenty years out — looking at how to manage the strategic uncertainty of the corporation. It’s a tough job that requires a type of thinking that few can do. Current executive managers, even C-level ones, are simply not up to the challenge.Even where executives have the capability to manage the strategic uncertainty of the firm, they don’t do the work. The vast majority of executives don’t even know how. They keep on trying to do the work of their subordinates, work that got them to where they are, the day-to-day decisions about “real work”. Or they simply do nothing and enjoy the “executive club perks”, playing long rounds of golf, taking long lunches, taking the corporate jet for meetings in far-flung resorts, now and then showing up onsite to “inspire the troops” by berating them.
This gets hammered home when, as I have over the last decade, talk with some of the world’s top consultants, people who have helped executive offices reorganize into effective groups. Their experience appears to be that for the most part the executives that they encounter are either incapable or ignorant.
The ignorant may seem surprising, considering how much corporations spend on “developing” their top management staff. But time and time again, I hear case studies where they have to work for months (or even years) to explain to the work of the executive, and work with the CEO to weed out the ones who simply can’t do the thinking necessary to getting that work done.
And of course there is always a story about people who just don’t want to actually work. The idea of the executive offices being like a country club are all too often not hyperbole at all.
Regardless of how you look at this — whether the problem is simply ignorance or inability or incompetence — the result is these people have no idea how to work together to bring the economy out of its mess. They aren’t doing the the work in managing the strategic uncertainty out past two years. If they even do that. They are simply responding.
If you are waiting for business to pull us out, you’ll be waiting a long time because they simply aren’t up to the job.
We can now turn our attention to the governmental sector. Not that this will fill you with confidence, either.