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Published: February 23, 2010
 / Spring 2010 / Issue 58

 
 

Jack’s Right Fight

He looked at Danita and Andre and their teams. Everyone had been poised for a winner and a loser. Now both teams were silent, looking at each other. And then, to Jack’s surprise, Andre spoke first.

“Danita,” he said, “I’ve been putting marketing first because I really believed it was the way to go, and I haven’t been entirely open with you. But Jack’s just asked us to do something that’s important. I don’t fully understand it yet, but if Jack is willing to think beyond what’s worked for him before, I am, too. And I can feel this will fly. Of course it will save lives, and it could be really big for us. That’s why I got into this business, and I know you care about it, too. What do you say? Can we work together on this?”

Danita looked at him in silence for a long minute. Finally she said, “Welcome back, Andre. I was hoping the genius marketer I know and love would get back in town. Let’s get to work.”

Jack realized he had been holding his breath. He let it out. “Danita, your plan makes sense,” he said, “because we need to roll out the new machine in stages. You’re right that the standard models get us the margins we need at first to keep this ball rolling. And that we should do much more with existing models, especially in certain regions. But Andre’s right, too — we’ve got to bet on the new machine, and bet big, or there will be no tomorrow.”

He looked around the table. “We’re going to do both plans. We’re just going to intertwine them and implement them gradually. What this means is that we won’t have one easy answer, like a formula, for how we decide priorities. We’ll have to work this out every step of the way — encouraging different views and sorting out competing ideas as things emerge and we learn more. This will take the combined focus and attention of the three of us, and I’m committed to giving this as much of my time and attention as it needs. This is still a big bet, but it’s the best of both worlds.”

Jack sat back and waited, as both teams considered the implications of what he had just said. Then Danita spoke. “I’m ready to get to work. Andre, you’ll have my input on which geographies to tackle first by tomorrow. We can set up a rolling training program that will take us around the world. What do you say?”

After a moment, Andre slowly nodded his head. “Let’s get started,” he said.

“Great,” said Jack. “Let’s see the new plan on my desk in three days.”

The Right Ending

Over the next few months, the two teams got going on the new direction. Danita and Andre continued to disagree on details. But working closely with Jack and the other members of their teams, they solved the problems, one by one.

The two SVPs found they enjoyed working to­gether and were able to quickly heal the open disruption of the previous weeks. The tension between them was now jocular, creative, and energetic; it drew in people from operations, logistics, and distribution as well.

The double-stranded plan and ensuing rollouts were an extraordinary success, and the team went on to make a larger bet on the portable machine in Year Two. Jack and his team delivered the numbers.

After the second year, Jack was promoted to group president, overseeing multiple divisions. There were three group presidents, and Jack was clearly in the running to take over when Franz retired. Danita moved up to head the division, taking Jack’s old job, while Andre traveled with Jack to become group SVP of marketing.

 
 
 
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Resources

  1. Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, Confronting Reality: Doing What Matters to Get Things Right (Crown Business, 2004): How to look clearly at the issues facing you, rather than live in a cocoon of comfortable assumptions.
  2. Saj-nicole Joni, The Third Opinion: How Successful Leaders Use Outside Insight to Create Superior Results (Portfolio, 2004): To navigate the complexity of right fights, you need a strong inner circle and advisors who will tell you the unvarnished truth.
  3. Saj-nicole Joni and Damon Beyer, The Right Fight: How Great Leaders Use Healthy Conflict to Drive Performance, Innovation, and Value (Harper Business, 2010): A guide to constructive conflict and its benefits.
  4. Zia Khan and Jon Katzenbach, “Are You Killing Enough Ideas?” s+b, Autumn 2009: Informal but candid battles that help companies focus on the right innovations.
  5. Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (Viking Penguin, 1999): Why you can’t fight right fights without the personal capability of having straightforward conversations.
  6. 12 Angry Men. Directed by Sidney Lumet. MGM, 1957: Classic film about a fight worth fighting.
  7. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at: www.strategy-business.com/strategy_and_leadership.