Naked Emperor – Part 4: The fish rots from the head

Categories: Innovation Insights

One day, not so long ago, a Chief Innovation Officer looked around her vast organization and smiled at the difference she had made over the past three years. Innovation had become a strategic initiative, one with tangible results yielding millions of dollars of net benefit, and a more engaged, enthusiastic workforce to boot.

The one cloud on the horizon was R&D. “R&D is broken”, she sighed to herself, “and no one knows how to fix it”.

Time for someone to spot the Naked Guys.

You can typically trace the root of a broken organization to two to three people at the top of that organization. You know their names, you know where their offices are, you speak to them on a weekly basis. These people are the broken element in the R&D group, no one else.

There is an old Swedish saying: The fish rots from the head (for some weird reason, one method of preparing fish is to put it in the ground for two or three days – it is over-done when the head starts rotting – ugh!).

Broken organizations, functions or departments are highly likely to be due to the leadership. Not all leadership, a select few. These people have ‘tried’ to remake their organization time after time, perhaps, but it is still broken. They are part of the problem, and ultimately should only be part of the solution if it involves them being removed from the premises or offered early retirement.

Very senior leadership need to recognize this. It is a sign of weak leadership to allow a broken function to persist. Strong leaders know that they need to crack some heads every once in a while. Yes, you might be losing a couple of long term, faithful, productive employees. But if these people are stymieing organization-wide change and the fulfilment of the overall vision, they have to go.

So, back to the young boy: “Look, there are a couple of naked guys, one of them is wearing a net to pretend his is not naked. Any, hey, what’s that funny fishy smell?”

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