Allstate Corp. announced the departure of Joseph Lacher, the head of its home and auto insurance businesses, and the Wall Street Journal blames comments Lacher made about company CEO Thomas J. Wilson. According to the Journal story, Lacher used a multi-syllabic phrase with lots of F’s and K’s and S’s while complaining about the company’s financial results.
Apparently Lacher has been under scrutiny for a while — the second-largest U.S. insurer pointed to less than-expected results in Lacher’s unit for his abrupt departure, which the Journal says came a couple of months after the vulgar commentary.
Why is this worth discussing?
A Wall Street analyst said that Lacher had been brought on board as “an agent of change,” with an eye toward revamping the company’s culture and improving operations. This is familiar. Large, older companies often have proud histories and well-established cultures that can be (well, nearly always are) resistant to change, particularly if the change is coming from “an outsider.”
I have no idea what sort of leader Lacher was (or is) — but I know of several cases where external talent is brought to a company to shake things up and change the status quo, and the status quo rebels. We know that senior leaders can be a little, well, arrogant. They’re here because someone thought enough of them to pay them the big bucks and hand them a bunch of responsibility, that mostly, they earned via a track record of accomplishments.
Confidence isn’t in short supply, and many believe they’re fixing something that’s broken, especially in companies with recent operational and performance issues. That can lead to abrasive personalities and griping managers.
But who cares if they gripe? You hired this person to make change, and nobody likes change. What winds up happening is that the reactionary forces inside the company overwhelm the change forces. You can’t get things done and the regression to “what’s always been done before” drags down performance.
In most cases, the conventional wisdom says that a new leader needs to establish a specific plan for his/her first 100 days. Many say that outlining priorities for change during that time is essential, but I disagree.
The first 100 days should be spent asking questions and listening.
What are the main issues that hold down performance? How have you addressed them in the past? What was most and least effective? Who are your stars? What makes them successful? How do you and your team work together? What are your personal strengths and weaknesses?
Describe a time when you’ve had to make a difficult change to your work, your life or your team? What did you think you did well during that time? What would you do-over if you had the chance?
You can’t assume that the changes you plan to make are right for the new organization. You need to learn and tailor your recommendations to your new company.
Joe Lacher had been at Allstate for a while, two years this fall, and the Journal cited sources that claimed he was getting frustrated with his boss’s style. It could be that Lacher used his first 100 days wisely, or perhaps he got everyone peeved and wore his ambition on his sleeve.
Change can’t be imposed, it has to emerge, and it needs the right conditions to thrive. You won’t make change by telling your team that the CEO is a F’ing A$$.