A Lesson at Time Inc: How Long Do We Keep Those Out of Touch With the Culture?

Jack Griffin only lasted six months as CEO of Time Inc.
Jack Griffin only lasted six months as CEO of Time Inc.

It was like a surgeon strategically wielding a scalpel taking out the organ that the body rejected.

“I concluded that his leadership style and approach did not mesh with Time Inc. and Time Warner,” Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes stated in a memo. And with that, it was over and done with.

The Chairman and CEO of Time Inc, Jack Griffin was fired on Thursday evening by Bewkes. Six months was all it took and the decision was made.

As I worked out on Friday morning, this announcement flashed across the TV screens. My reaction? Wow.

How many times as HR professionals have we seen that happen? Yes, we have seen it at lower levels but not at the top of the mountain. That does not happen very often. There have been times that you have seen employees that you would have cheered for the opportunity to wield the scalpel to, as was done over at Time.

When is it enough?

You have done everything humanly possible in “developing” this employee and it just does not seem to get through. Problem is, sometimes this employee is the “fair-haired boy/girl” and is, quote/unquote, “untouchable” by the powers that be.

We have had employees that we knew we should have done this to, but we waited, and waited, and in some cases they left on their own. In a lot of cases, however,  they stayed on and just infested the workplace.

I give Time Warner credit for acting swiftly, if you consider six months swift. They let it play out until they knew that had to make the move.

What is not surprising is that 40 percent of senior-level external hires fail within the first 18 months of their transitions. But that is not what this is about. I am sure the CEO will be second guessed and people will wonder how he picked this guy in the first place.  Still, hiring is an inexact science and if you make a mistake, it is better to cut your losses and move on.

Culture raises its head

That thing called “culture” reared its head in this case, and for once, culture won.

Just think of the message that sends throughout the organization. That should give everyone “cover” if they have to make a similar decision.

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There will be an aftershock over just what happened. All the Monday morning quarterbacks will weigh in the same as I am doing here. A few newspapers I read gave what they said were an accurate count of the prevailing issues at play here. But that is not what this post is about.

Culture rejection

My question is how should you handle a new hire that is clearly out of touch with your culture? The manager knows it and all the team members know it. Do we keep hoping there will be a turnaround? When does culture win out?

Every company has one, and everyone working there may not be able to explain it ,but they know it when they see it. Culture, however, is extremely important for any type of enterprise-wide change. It has been noted that change efforts fail the vast majority of the time because the culture was not taken into account —  especially the role that it plays within the organization.

If the effort is not put forth in identifying the aspects of your culture that may impact what you are trying to achieve, rest assured you will have a moment like this where culture will raise its head.

Driving change

For new hires that are looking to drive change, it may help to learn the culture to get a clear picture of what you are facing first. You can’t parachute in with or without fanfare and lead without understanding the landscape. You must be able to synch up, at least initially, until you have gotten your “sea legs.”

The other side of the coin revolves around what was missed during the recruiting process? All signs pointed to much success for Jack Griffin at Time Inc. given his prior role in the same industry. It was assumed that his past success could be transferred into a the new environment. But remember that telling statistic again, because what is not surprising is that 40 percent of senior-level external hires fail within the first 18 months of their transitions.

I said that this is not an exact science, but the grass on the other side is different. You must understand the flow, or the culture just may get the better of you.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.