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Will change at Thorntons lead to sweet success?

By Richard Ferguson

Foodbev.com – 07.06.2010

Thorntons recently announced the imminent retirement of Mike Davies as chief executive. Here’s part of the statement …

Davies will remain in place until a suitable candidate has been identified. A search for his successor has been initiated. Until a new appointment has been made, John von Spreckelsen will act as executive chairman.

Since the last trading update issued on 20 April 2010, the company has continued to experience a tough trading environment in own stores together with a temporary decline in commercial channel sales.

It’s interesting to reflect on what happens when a leader at the top of the organization moves on, especially when the announcement is made and the successor not yet found.

At these times, the potential for organizations to lose focus and miss opportunities is at its highest; there will be natural uncertainty as people fear the worst rather than focus on the opportunities of the future.

Typically, regardless of the capability and esteem in which the outgoing leader is held, human nature amplifies the negative aspects of their tenure and projects that onto the incumbent. We fail to balance that view by ‘imagineering’ a future state where the positives are amplified and the new CEO is greeted with hope and optimism.

It’s at times like these that leaders (with a small ‘l’) throughout the organization must take on the mantle of leadership, because as uncertainty increases productivity falls. People will be debating, discussing and speculating at coffee machines, water coolers and printers around the organization, and while they’re doing this, they’re not working!

So how can those with positions of leadership and authority deal with this challenge when they themselves are uncertain and unsure about their future. Two things must be observed, in my opinion.

  1. Clear, regular and consistent communication from the top of the organization. Even if the message is “we have no new messages”, keep talking and keep sharing with the rest of the organization. This creates the momentum and raw material for the second thing.
  2. Open recognition of the uncertainty – time, effort and resources invested in creating the opportunity for authentic conversations between staff members as they do what comes naturally: talking about it and working it through. Better to do that in a managed way than allow the spread of disharmony and disruption.