When turning around an organization, the first battle is for hearts and minds

PR angle aside, SAP's new co-CEOs deserve some credit for their achievements during their first three months on the job

Dear Bob ...

This article makes no sense ("Global CIO: Inside SAP: 10 Factors Behind Its Dramatic Turnaround," by Bob Evans, InformationWeek, April 30, 2010).

[ Also on InfoWorld: Bob suggests another strategy after an acquisition in "When taking over a business, begin with the basics" | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

It lists 10 reasons for SAP's turnaround, all of which were either far too big to do in 100 days or are mostly PR related.

Bob, do CIOs and CEOs really believe this kind of stuff? Who believes it?

I have a theory, and it is that the reasons people have for their success tends to mostly be wrong, especially when they attribute it to one or two factors. One of the worst managers I ever had got one thing right -- he said successful companies tend to do lot of little things right. I suspect this is why the average successful entrepreneur fails seven times (or whatever it is) -- the learning curve is just so steep to get all the necessary things in place.

I know you know all this stuff. I just thought this article was particularly obviously nonsensical. Or am I missing something?

- Skeptical

Dear Skeptical ...

Looks to me like SAP's co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Snabe have done an admirable job of persuading everyone how great it's going to be. Three months clearly isn't enough time to execute a new strategy for a product and company as complex as SAP. However, it is enough time to figure out where it needs to go and to shout the battle cry from the rooftops. Certainly, the re-energized sales picture suggests prospective customers find the direction both compelling and convincing.

So give them credit: Setting a clear direction and re-energizing a company the size of SAP in three months is no small feat.

I suspect their predecessor, Leo Apotheker, did a better job of setting the stage than he's given credit for, but an awful job of communicating it and rallying the troops. Hasso Plattner, SAP's co-founder and chairman of the board, likely had an accurate picture of Apotheker's limitations and took the necessary steps.

My shot, based just on this article and not on any inside knowledge: McDermott and Snabe deserve credit for what they've achieved in their first three months -- though not as much as the author gives them, considering that what we're looking at thus far are mostly promises, not successes. But they should be lauded, nonetheless, for a promising work in progress and for getting the buy-in necessary to turn it into a working reality.

As Sun Tzu said, the battle is always for the hearts and minds.

- Bob

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