Monday, February 10, 2014

New leader at Metro-North? What's your best message?

While driving in to catch a Metro-North train, I heard that the railroad had named a new president. His voice came over the radio: "I know this organization, I was here from its first days in 1983, I worked here for decades."—That was the gist of the new Metro-North leader's message.

Why would he say that, I wondered. This railroad has a terrible reputation right now. 2013 was a year of derailments, commuter deaths and power outages. Why would they pick an insider, and why would the insider emphasize his role in shaping the status quo?

I parked, got on the train, googled the new president—Joseph Giulietti—and discovered that he spent the last fifteen years as head of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority. Ahh, so Giulietti was trying to reassure people that he was not a carpetbagging outsider but a guy who knows the ropes—and where the bodies are buried.

I quickly devised the following model. When announcing a new leader, your options for messaging depend on the intersection of organizational track record and your leader's perspective. Thus:

You can see that in two quadrants your job is easy but in two others, tricky.

Let's put it like this:
You can finesse three situations, while one of them is just, well, hopeless. If you run a railroad that has recently had derailments, deaths and power outages—and you still hire a veteran insider as its new president—then you just have to admit that you're completely screwed... as is your ridership.

Boiled down to your basic options, the four possibilities are these:

Now, if you've paid attention, you notice that the new president of Metro-North is both a veteran insider and a successful outsider—presumably with insider's knowledge and outsider's objectivity. He is perfectly positioned to champion change without frightening the troops.

Doesn't fit my paradigm, I see. But the main message is that my train arrived on time without incident.



Anonymous said...

I'm quite certain that the PR department did not create a smart chart like yours. But, fearful of getting on the wrong side of the new boss, simply listened to his ideas for announcing his arrival, nodded at the right moments, then drafted the memos and scripts. As you well know, every communication is strategic -- especially when there is recent underperformance at the organization. In this case, to tip my hat to Bob Dylan, there is actual blood on the tracks. At least Mr. Giulietti could have hinted that he had a plan to make the daily commute less deadly.

brandsinger said...

Hi Anonymous one --
I agree -- the radio sound-byte could have been much more artful -- and much more reassuring."I've been around a long time" is what I heard from the press conference. Not very impressive.