Posts Tagged ‘Xerox Corporation’

The Buck Stops Here….Or Does It?

A few years ago, I interviewed two of Lee Iacocca’s speechwriters for an article on how the former Chrysler CEO used speeches as a powerful management tool. One of the factors they stressed was that Iacocca always made it a point to get out front on issues. In particular, he took responsibility for problems and moved quickly to fix them.

A recent article in Chief Executive points out that too many of today’s executives take a much different approach. The author, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of the Yale School of Management , starts out by noting the tendency of current political leaders (citing both President Trump and Hilary Clinton) to blame others for their setbacks.

Turning to the corporate world, he indicts high-profile CEOS, such as BP’s Tony Hayward and Wells Fargo’s John Stumpf, for also trying to wriggle out of responsibility for mistakes. This tendency is so widespread, psychologists have even given it a fancy label: “self-serving bias in attribution.”

I guess that sounds better than “being gutless.”

The good news is that there are still a lot of gutsy executives on the job. Sonnefeld reports that many corporate leaders “have shown us how to beat this bias through confession, courage, contrition and correction.” He cites James Burke of Johnson & Johnson confronting the Tylenol-tampering crisis, GM’s Mary Barra’s handling of the ignition-switch safety crisis, and Anne Mulcahy’s pulling Xerox back from the brink, among others.

I’ve been lucky to work for clients who are more like Iacocca than Trump. Here’s hoping the recent rise in self-serving bias in attribution is a blip, not a trend.

Lesson’s from Xerox’s Turnaround CEO

This summer, Anne M. Mulcahy retires as CEO of Xerox Corporation, after turning what looked like a moribund company into a success story. When she took over in 2001, the company had almost $19 billion in debt, revenues were in a double-digit freefall, and the stock was taking a beating. She turned things around quickly, with earnings reaching $978 million on $15.7 billion in revenue in 2005, and core debt eliminated by 2006.xerox-annemulcahy_2008-12-02podium2

One of the most important reasons for her turnaround success was her ability to inspire two absolutely critical audiences – Xerox customers and employees. Both were alienated –to say the least– when she took over.

MIT has a fascinating video of Mulcahy sharing the lessons of the Xerox turnaround (part of the Dean’s Innovative Leader Series at MIT). It’s well worth a look.

In her talk, Mulcahy links just about everything to her focus on customers and employees. She started by actively listening to what they had to say, looked hard for critical feedback, and acted on what she learned.

She stressed that even in the midst of a crisis , a CEO must articulate a vision for the company, one that goes beyond just coping with that day’s crisis. Employees must feel that the company is worth saving. She says, “When people ask me how this company made so much progress so quickly.. .The reality is: it was the alignment of the people around a common set of goals.”

Mulcahy will be succeeded by Ursula Burns, who will make history as the first female African American CEO of a Fortune 150 company. As  Robert Bruner, dean of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, says, “Ursula has very big shoes to fill.”