Timing Of Boeing’s Management Changes Raises Crisis Leadership Issues

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It can be a tough call for boards of directors to know when to make leadership changes at companies that are in the midst of dealing with one or more crisis situations.

Today’s announcement of major leadership transitions at Boeing adds another headline-making issue to the others the troubled company is facing.

‘Better Late Than Never’

“Boeing’s management changes are a ‘better late than never’ scenario, a path that is always the least desirable for any management team,” Joel Richman, founder and partner at Escalate PR, said via email.

“The issues with Boeing’s MAX program, which have been ongoing for more than five years, have created a trust gap eternity in an industry where the public’s lives are part of the equation. The long rope Boeing has given its CEO (and itself) to rectify its issues while the door blowout and other recent quality control gremlins have plagued the builder has figuratively hung them,” he observed.

A Critical Move

“Changing leaders given the disasters that plague Boeing was critical and can be a lesson to other organizations needing to make similar decisions,” Catherine Rymsha, a leadership lecturer at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, said via email.

“Don’t wait. If a leader isn’t performing or addressing business needs, a change needs to be made,” she advised.

Risky

“Changing top leadership in the midst of a crisis is risky,”Jessica Whidt, managing director of Warner Communications, observed via email.

“A major crisis can leave an organization very vulnerable to uncertainty and chaos, [and] needing clear and consistent leadership and direction….In order to be effective though, the transition should come with a documented plan for philosophical and organizational change, along with measurable milestones. Leadership change alone is not enough,” she counseled.

‘Can Be Exactly What’s Needed’

“Changing leaders in the midst of a crisis can be exactly what a company needs to show accountability and to realign with its mission and goals, Penny Zenker, a business strategy coach, said in an emailed message.

“If leadership remains, people get the impression that the company is not taking accountability for the quality control issues and the health and well-being of the community.

“This change in leadership psychologically acts as a reset for the company and in the eyes of employees, customers and investors, giving new leadership a chance to show corrective action and grow from the event,” she noted.

Sending A Message

Prompt leadership transition at Boeing is imperative, according to Amy K. Rotenberg, a crisis management attorney, said via email.

“Not only does this demonstrate that Boeing will hold accountable those in leadership that have failed to meet expectations, but they are showing a swift commitment to regaining the trust of its key stakeholders. In the end, the leadership transition will only be as good as who is tapped to replace these outgoing leaders,” she predicted.

Plan For the Unexpected

Unexpected changes in the top leadership of companies and organizations should be included as worst-case scenarios in crisis management plans and exercises.

Indeed, there may be times when a crisis strikes, and there is no CEO is help steer an organization through rough waters. When this happens, board members may need to take control of the situation themselves, or hire outside consultants to ensure the job is done right—and right away.

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