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May 26, 2008

The New CEO and the Jeans Day ‘Issue’


I hate when clients get new CEOs, because they always tell me they’re excited to work with me, and they always can me within four months.


But I don’t think this guy is going to do that. He is addressing bigger issues than the ubiquitous question of “Why are we wasting money on D.F. Krause’s company?” He’s even asking me for help doing it.


“D.F., one of the first things I need to do is address the jeans day issue.”


Why couldn’t he have fired me?


I wasn’t aware that there was a jeans day “issue,” and I know this company pretty well. Every time a particular department meets a certain performance goal, the employees get to wear jeans. You can quibble about whether jeans days are good ideas. I suppose I’d rather have employees who perform at their highest possible level just because that’s their work ethic.


But if all you can find are slugs, hey, dollars for denim are better than no dollars at all.


Or so it seems to me. The new boss has other ideas.


“I think it’s important to act decisively on this issue early on,” he explained. “If I let it go for long, I’m sending a message that it’s OK. Then it gets harder to take action down the road, because people will say, ‘Why did you let us do it all this time?’ It’s a risk I can’t take on an issue like this.”


Yes. Of course. You can’t take that risk. Not on an issue like this!


Then again, there was no “jeans day issue” until he decided there was. I assisted the board with the CEO search (although I didn’t get a vote). Their concern with the last guy was that he wasn’t decisive enough – but with respect to stuff like product rollouts, marketing and dealer programs. I never heard anyone express their concern that denim was stunting productivity.


But the new boss has chosen his defining, take-charge issue, and now he’s looking for input from a wide variety of people – both inside and outside the company – on how to re-tool jeans day.


Now, you may wonder, why not make his first impression by making a major decision about a new product, approaching a new market or maybe setting new profit goals, accompanied by some ideas on how to achieve them? These were the things he was hired to do, after all.


But it’s not that easy to do those things – at least not if you want to do them right. You’ve just joined the company, you don’t know the people, you don’t know the customers. You could pull a plan out of your butt, but plans like that usually stink.


Still, he’s the new boss, and he has to do something bossish. Change something! Anything! It doesn’t matter what. You could slightly alter the colors to the logo, but that costs money. You could move the desk in the CEO office over to the other wall, but then someone could see you picking your nose from the hallway.


So. Jeans day. There’s your target. Send out a companywide e-mail. Express your concerns. Ask for input. Form a committee. Start typing up new guidelines. Show them you’re serious and you won’t hesitate to make changes!


This is what they sometimes call the low-hanging fruit, which is an appropriate metaphor considering the way jeans hang off people these days. I’ve seen more underwear in the past couple years than the Fruit of the Loom guys.


But if you want to show that you’re decisive, you might be better off just declaring, “No more jeans days!” He’s clearly not a fan of the concept anyway, and this would save a lot of time you’d otherwise waste “building consensus” on an issue that is, when it comes right down to it, trivial.


Then again, how do you incentivize your departments to perform at a high level if they know they won’t get to wrap themselves in denim? I bet they’d play ball if you decided to just start handing out $100 bills. Not that I would. Those are my $100 bills.


But then, I wouldn’t pick an irrelevant policy, declare it an “issue” and study it to death as a way of trying to show I’m in charge. No one cares what I think, though. They’re just glad, and rightfully so, that they can’t see my underwear.

© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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