Early in my career when I was at Morgan Stanley, the head of my department gathered a handful of us “next generation managers” into his office.
There was a big issue that needed solving by fresh, young, brilliant minds…but he called us in instead
He wanted an action plan for solving the problem by the time the next senior officer meeting occurred in two months, at which we’d present the solution.
The division needed a solution. I can’t get into the details, but funding money for our division was riding on this solution. Not to mention the confidence of the people giving us this money.
And it was a tough problem that the senior managers couldn’t solve. But we were young, not affected by past failures and had energy. So a group of us met weekly for two months to draft a solution.
We talked to in-house experts to test ideas. We did the prototypical late-night Chinese-food-fueled brainstorming that you see in bad movies about corporate life.
Yet as confident as we were, we didn’t want to set a line in the sand at that meeting. What if we were wrong? Then the senior managers would laugh at us. So we kept it high level, putting our toe in the water with enough room to change course without appearing naive if they found a hole in our plan.
A week before the senior officers’ meeting, we presented the solution to the head: a forward-looking, 6-page document that outlined on a high-level what the next steps may be as we gathered more practical evidence.
Honestly, that thing was jammed-packed with SAT words and pushed the envelope on grammatically-correct sentence construction. Because honestly, we didn’t have a solution. But if we wrapped an idea with enough language, who would have the balls to say that they didn’t understand what we were talking about?
The next thing that happened demonstrates why business-types run businesses that make money, and government officials run the government which doesn’t have the same bottom-line accountability standards.
The head of the department ripped into us, pushed the senior officers’ meeting ahead two weeks, and demanded a precise plan that could be put into action the next day after that meeting. He wouldn’t even let us present what we had. It had to be a concrete plan.
Forced to develop a precise plan, we did–we drew the line in the sand. And you know what? At the meeting, it didn’t matter if we were precisely right or wrong. We demonstrated that we understood the problem well enough to present a solution that addressed the issues. That engendered a great deal of confidence–that hey, there’s a precise path forward that will lead to the discovery of something that may really work.
My jaw dropped when Secretary Geithner gave such a high-level speech on February 10th with the next steps in solving the financial crisis from the bank perspective. And the fact that he’d been on the job for 2 weeks doesn’t fly with me because you’re put in a senior position to deliver on day 1 based on your experience.
Put him in a Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs and he would’ve been ripped on even harder than the media has.
And don’t think poor Tim. We’re only pushing him because we know that he can deliver. He probably just needs to believe that he can.
So draw that line in the sand. Put together a Microsoft Project plan with dependencies, budgets and a timeline. And if you need help drop me a line. You can do it.