26 Feb 2012

“I Feel A Change Comin’ On…” – Bob Dylan

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Not even 90 days into the new year, several substantial shakeups are happening at the C-level in major blue-chip companies. Johnson and Johnson, Blackberry-maker RIM and Yahoo! all announced seismic shifts at senior levels amidst failures and controversy. As a public relations executive in the healthcare space, J&J’s announcement of Bill Weldon stepping down in April didn’t come quite as a shock to me, but it did spotlight the increasingly tarnished image of a once nearly worshiped brand, as well as the company’s recognition of the need to take major steps to prove to its stakeholder communities it will reestablish its brand.

Despite the dozens of product recalls that have frustrated the company during the last two years and the millions of products removed from the market, J&J’s states its leadership transition has been a “thorough, multi-year succession planning process.” Vice chairs Alex Gorskey and Sheri McCoy will succeed Weldonas CEO and vice chair of the executive committee, respectively. Still, one would be hard pressed tobelieve that this leadership change was not fast tracked due to all of the product and manufacturing challenges that occurred under Weldon’s watch. With a company that’s “bigger than the population of some countries,” says a member of the financial community, this leadership change will take some to prove impact on the company seeking to regain consumer confidence.

In perhaps a more black-and-white move, Blackberry-maker Research in Motion (RIM)’s co-chiefexecutivers stepped down at the end of January as RIM has struggled to compete with major rivals Apple and Google. Mike Lazaridis, who founded RIM in 1984, and Jim Balsillie will be succeeded by Thorsten Heins, a RIM insider.

RIM had its worst service outage in 2011 and has been losing market share to its competitors in the smart phone markets. Shares have tumbled 75 percent during the past 11 months and sales have dropped, and, with the financial community clamoring for change, the company that once led the smart phone industry and cornered the corporate market made a move to make a fresh start.

And in a third shift in power, Yahoo! chairman Roy Bostock announced just a few weeks ago he is stepping down from the board of the Internet company along with three other directors, just weeks after Jerry Yang, a Yahoo! cofounder, resigned from his positions with the organization. The board room shakeup was a signal the company is trying to breathe new life into the pioneering Internet firm struggling to find its footing. Yahoo!’s revenue and net profit dropped in the fourth quarter of 2011, capping off its third straight year of declining results.

Organizational change, particularly at the C-level, is often accompanied by a great amount of confusion, suspicion, concern and angst. As communicators, these are moments in time when our jobs are critical to help external stakeholders understand the goals to be met during and following the transition and to help inform internal stakeholders of the appropriate details of the change, and help ensure they continue to be focused on the vision of the organization. Having a seat at the executive level table is important to be able to fully understand and communicate change to the myriad of influencers and communities who will be watching – and waiting – to see how this important change will impact the brand.