Tim took over a nonprofit after the death of its revered founder. Along with good programs and development, Tim also found a mess: out-of-control expenses. The founder either had kept his board in the dark or passed along a profound sense of denial.
Tim’s goals: Acquire the next round of government grants, prepare everybody for a layoff and instill a cost-conscious mentality … all without blaming the founder.
He scheduled an off-site meeting to prep his direct-reports, to be followed by a town hall-style meeting with the whole staff. But when Tim met with his VPs, it became obvious that their eyes were closed.
“And because I was the new guy,” Tim says, “they weren’t going to believe it just because I said it.”
So, Tim asked two people for help. One, a former trustee, had been a friend of the founder and executor of his estate. The other had co-founded the institute.
In 18 months, Tim was able to go through with a layoff, replace the CFO and speed the retirement of a spendthrift executive. Within a year, he cut operating expenses and started a cost- system. He credited the new CFO and his advisers.
Tim’s advisers had kept his eyes on the prize — fixing the organization — instead of letting him stew. They convinced him that, for all its problems, the organization did a great job and could do even better. They also made him see that if it failed, people would be hurt. He could save it.
Lesson: The key to solving a crisis is admitting that you need help and getting over the fact that you don’t have all the answers.
—Adapted from Taking Advice, Dan Ciampa, Harvard Business School Press.
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