Are You a Comfortable Frog?

We all know the story of the frog in the pot of water; you put the pot on the stove, turn the burner on, and the frog just comfortably swims around.  Since the temperature rises gradually, the frog doesn’t notice and it peacefully passes away.  No jumping out of the pot.

I think the board and management of New York Times, Inc.(NYT) have been behaving just like the frog!  In 2002, the stock price was $50/share, and since then, it has been in the straight-line decline to its current price of $6/share.  While comfortable, no doubt they must be getting close to joining our frog in the afterlife!  Seriously, wouldn’t you think at some juncture on the way from $50 to $6 somebody would press the panic button and do a major overhaul that would put the company on a success path?

So how does an organization on a steep decline find a great new direction that has a good chance of turning things around?  Here are the steps that have been used successfully by some gutsy leaders:

  1. Form a small group of highly talented, creative problems solvers, none with extensive experience in the current business, and charge them with coming up with a plan that they believe has a strong chance of reversing the decline and providing an exciting future.
  2. Have them get input on their plans from all the key stakeholders, but make it clear that this is not a concurrence process.  If they don’t agree with input they are getting, they should feel no pressure to reflect it in their plans.
  3. Launch the plan on a very tight and aggressive schedule, monitoring progress carefully and making appropriate course corrections along the way.

Currently NYT is busy trying to recruit a talented, web-experienced leader to find a plan for the future.  The effort is probably a decade too late.