Picking Sides: A Tough Reality
I spent a fair amount of time over the last two weeks speaking with a prior colleague about a choice he will be making very soon. He must pick a side in a battle over control and future direction of a company. The company in question happens to be his employer, so he has a very vested interest in the outcome.
I was in similar situation a long time ago, and it was not a pleasant place to occupy. He must choose wisely or the last six years of his life’s work may fall by the wayside, as he will join the ranks of the unemployed.
This is a struggle of “new” verses “old” management with senior and middle management taking sides and drawing battle lines. It will end soon with a “corporate restructure” and those on the losing side “will be leaving to pursue other opportunities.“
I fear their will be no neutrality honored in this fight and victory will only be declared by capitulation (resignation) of one the candidates or the final appointment of a permanent CEO by the Board.
- The “new” management usually has the upper hand in these battles
- Look at candidates past track records and see who has the bigger success track record. Google searches are great to dig up information on people’s professional careers once they reach senior positions.
- Look at the interactions of the senior management team. Where are their battle lines drawn and is one side more heavily weighted than the other?
- Research the Board members and find out who has supported who in the past. If possible, you want to see which way the board is leaning. You may find out that one candidate only has two supporters on a Board of eight. You want to pay close attention to this and you may have to be a little sly with colleagues to get this information.
- Most Board members run other companies so try to find out what their management style is like and see if their style is similar to one of the candidates. In a tight, all-things-being-equal, vote, people will vote for candidates they identify with the most.
- How long can you play both sides and get away with it? Is it possible to throw enough support both ways to straddle the fence for a few weeks if it is all coming to a head quickly?
- Have their been any recent events or near-term future catalysts that will make one candidate shine or tarnish over the other?
Ultimately, you will get a feeling on who has the upper hand. Now, you have to decide if this is the person you want to lead the company.
If you find the leading candidate acceptable, then attempt to get as close and tight as possible with them. Work through supporting senior management if needed. This will serve you in two areas. First, if it works out you will be one of their allies, with possible admittance into their inner circle, and your loyalty should be rewarded over time. Second, if it does not work out, you may have an opportunity to follow them to their next position. This happens more times then most people think.
If you find the leading candidate unacceptable then you have picked your side as well. You want to do the exact same thing. Get in with the underdog for the exact same reasons. Be mentally, and financially, prepared to leave should your candidate flame out. You do not want to be run out of a company. Leave on the best terms possible so as not to damage your track record or reputation. I have not seen reconciliation with the new management team work if you supported the losing side. I am not saying that it is not possible, just that I have never seen it.
Both of these paths have risk, and I mean real risk! If you cannot take the risk, your only choice is to attempt neutrality. If this is the path you are going to attempt, then you must stick to your guns. Follow strict adherence to corporate policies and your job function. No one gets any slack.
Corporate power struggles are never easy and require extensive thought and consideration. No matter who you support, you must be ethical in your actions! This is so critical as winning for the wrong reasons will come back and bite you at a later date. If you supported the winning candidate and did the dirty work, you will loose trust, and if it gets out, your reputation will be damaged. It takes twenty years to build a reputation and twenty seconds to destroy it. No job is worth that risk.
These battles are rare but do occur in corporate life. Welcome to the real world.