Craig Ferguson on Informed Deconstruction

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When I speak with newly hired leaders, I find myself advising them to avoid bashing their new company. This may seem counterintuitive, but it is actually quite common. The newbie was brought in to “fix” a problem so there’s a sense of empowerment that the current system is wrong and their way will be right. Craig Ferguson had a similar experience.

Craig Ferguson is a comedian, director, and author who hosts the game show Celebrity Name Game and History Channel’s Join or Die with Craig Ferguson. In his former role as host of the Peabody Award-winning The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Craig wanted it to be different, unlike the other late night talk shows. As discussed in a recent interview,

You realize that you can’t throw out things until you know why they’re there. So like the convention of a talk show, I kept as much as I thought was of any use. And there was some that they made me keep. They said, ‘You gotta do a monologue. You have to have that piece of you every night at that time.’ And then they give you reasons like, ‘We’ll fire you if you don’t.’

He relearned this when he started Celebrity Name Game:

You have to learn how to do the format. I thought I was going to be a wise ass. I went into it thinking, ‘I’m not going to do a traditional game show.’ And I watched the first episodes back and I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and I was like, ‘Who’s in charge?’ You couldn’t tell. There were a bunch of people moving around and they all looked the same.

What Craig and every leader must understand is that we must understand the structure before deconstructing it. Here are three ways to begin your deconstruction.

Start with data gathering. To make any substantial changes, we need to know why the process flows the way it does, how decisions were made, and who set the priorities. Then we can begin to draft informed, strategic solutions to correct or enhance the system.

Depersonalize the problem. When someone joins an organization with immediate critiques, they find out too late that their disparaging comments alienated the team and lost some much needed support. Find a way to deliver the negative comments in a softer, less disparaging manner. Justify why it needs to change with facts and make the team part of the solution.

No one care about your past job. I’ve told many leaders to avoid the phrase, “At my last company…” This brag does not impress anyone, nor does it validate your argument. Own the idea and sell it on merit. If you get pushback, maybe say, “I’ve seen this work before.”

Like Craig, we must understand why things are the ways they are before making changes. A wrecking ball approach may feel good, but processes, priorities, and programs were instituted for a reason. They are ingrained in the culture and some individuals feel personally accountable for developing and maintaining them. This may feel like it will slow you down, but cleaning up your botched efforts will take much longer.

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