What Should You Do When The Boss Says No?

“Bring us up to your level.” the CEO said to me when he was recruiting me to join his company as a division general manager.

I was flattered. I also thought I could really help the company. I was eager to get started. After all, the company was very successful and very profitable.

However, the division I inherited was in dire trouble. Revenue was down significantly. Product pricing was too high. New products were being developed with no thought to the skills of the engineering team. Collateral development was a mess – some products went two years without support documentation.

I knew exactly what needed to be done. I was excited to walk the CEO through how we were going to make the division profitable and growing again. So, I scheduled a meeting with him to review my findings and to present my plan to fix the division, to bring the company up to “my level”.

I loved meetings like this.

A good CEO loves hearing about problems…as long as the person presenting the problem also presents a solution. No good boss or CEO likes to be dumped on. You need to present the solutions, not just the problems.

As for me, I had a simple plan to fix the problems, and I had a killer plan to revitalize the division.

I explained the revenue problem to the CEO and how to fix it.

The CEO’s response: “Now you’ve done it.” (Translation: “I built this company, and you’re telling me that I built it poorly.”)

I explained the pricing problem to the CEO and how to fix it.

The CEO’s response: “Now you’ve done it.”

I explained the new product development problem to the CEO and how to fix it.

The CEO’s response: “Now you’ve really done it.

“Brett, I never make a mistake,” the CEO said to me.

I thought to myself, “OK. I’ve got a problem.”

“Brett, I never want to have another meeting like this again.”

I learned my lesson: The CEO has no clothes on.

My life was going to get a lot more complicated.

I would have to fix the problems without the CEO’s support or help. I couldn’t say a word about what I was doing to him, and I had to hope he wouldn’t find out about what I was doing. Or maybe the CEO would just look the other way.

The engineering and product problems were limited to my division, so they were easy enough to fix.

The pricing issue resided with sales. Sales owned all pricing decisions, not the divisions. In fact, the VP of Sales quoted all pricing without consulting the divisions. The VP of Sales quoting all business would be OK in a startup environment, but this was a company doing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue a year. Pricing should have resided with the divisions by this time in the company’s evolution.

I started working with the sales organization to fix the pricing problems. Not surprisingly, the CEO phoned me about what I was doing:

CEO: “Brett, I understand you want to quote all the business yourself. Why would you want to do that?”

Me: “Pricing, as I explained to you, needs to be adjusted based on market conditions. I need to quote the pricing to ensure we are priced properly.”

The CEO and I went around and around for over 45 minutes, the CEO arguing that I should just do what he wanted me to do. I, of course being very stubborn, would not relent.

Finally, the CEO said the one and only thing I couldn’t say no to:

“Brett, you haven’t tried it my way yet, have you?”

“No, I haven’t.”

Fixing pricing would have to wait.

Fortunately, I caught a break. The Sales VP retired, and a new VP of Sales joined the company. He agreed to give my organization pricing authority. The pricing problem was quickly fixed.

I fixed the other problems without the CEO knowing what I was doing. I turned the division from the worst performing division of the company to the most profitable in three years. It was rewarding, but much more painful than it should have been to go through.

That’s all for now,


Photo: Fotolia

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