CEOs, The Hardest Decision, Dr. Kevorkian, and the Coming Squall

Posted by Walt Brown on Jun 10, 2020 9:30:00 AM


I believe The Hardest Decision we make as a CEO or Owner is letting “somebody go.

Let me share why: When you think about it, this is the least informed decision we make, an information black hole that is really hard to fill.

Example: No CEO is going to walk up to somebody and say: 

“Hey, I’m thinking about letting you go, can we make some time for you to help me understand exactly what you are doing every day so I can see who might take over for you when I ask you to leave?” 

This information gap and the inability to easily fill it causes fear. As humans we tap the brakes when there is uncertainty, we become fearful, head trash fills in, emotions rise and we do not think clearly, this causes us to postpone the Hardest Decision. 

The fact is, in most organizations, we really do NOT know exactly what our “somebody” is actually accountable for and responsible for.  We really do not know exactly what all of their roles and positions are, and deeper, we are not crystal clear what processes they are following and what relationships they are carrying… could this be you?


Add to this recipe a coming squall:

There is a Squall Line on the horizon, a squall that is going to require CEOs to live the Hardest Decision life.

We can look at this squall line in two ways (+) and (-). 

(+) There will be an opportunity to upgrade our team with people who’s ship will sink during the storm. 

(-) We need to prepare our own ship for the storm by clearing the decks of the “somebody(s)that need to go, that we can not afford to carry through the storm, who will cause our ship to sink.

Good news: + and - require the same approach.


What can you do right now? How can you fill the information gap to turn the Hardest Decision into a Straightforward Decision?


A.  “Walt, you can NOT post that, people will see you as the Dr. Kevorkian of business coaches, that is a terrible idea!”  (From Anne, my beautiful wife of 30+ years, I always listen to her.)

-- Or --

B. “Walt, share the Dr. Kevorkian message right now, CEOs need that message and your execution tips!”  (From “My Sparkers”, the 24 trusted advisors of business owners that I have been meeting with every month for the last 12 years. I met with them Thursday, May 14th 2020, and “share” is what they said.)

So, we are going with B, I am sorry Anne.


Step 1: Make a list of your Dr. Kevorkian candidates (the “somebody(s)). - Now is a perfect opportunity to reflect and make the most important list of your life. As the Covid 19 Tide goes out we see more clearly than ever who is "bringing it” and who has been “hiding it”/ “mailing it in”. Make your list, loosely prioritize it top to bottom.

Step 2: Do a Flower-Power exercise on each of these  Dr. K candidates starting near the top of your list. [See steps below that I have shared with you]

In normal times, we do Flower Powers with the individual that we want to get their head around what they are doing and why, and we include them. But, for now, including the candidate is impossible and it will work just fine. 

Who to include in the Flower Power exercise for each candidate: 

Only people who will be left on the ship. If you can find one who is doing the exact thing a Dr. K candidate is doing, that will be a bonus but should not hold you back. A good number is 3 or 4 people who really know what our candidate is doing.

When you finish the Flower Power exercises you will have a very good list of the Positions and Roles candidates are filling and from that list you can map the backfill requirements.  Knowledge gap erased, the Hardest Decision is now a Straightforward Decision and all that is left is legal and the 36 hours of pain you suffer before the deed is complete. Sorry, I can not take those two away for you.

Prepare for the Squall, protect and strengthen your ship, execute your decisions NOW!


Modified from Book: Death Of the Org Chart

Best method for determining Dr. K Candidate Positions

Here’s how the Flower Power exercise works:

  1. Gather a group. Get together with people that will be left on the ship and who know what our candidate is doing. Include a supervisor or manager in this meeting to facilitate, but make sure it’s someone close to the work, with direct knowledge of what’s going on. Caution: bringing in someone who is two levels removed can do more harm than good here.

  2. Write the candidate’s name or the Job. If you want to be less direct, in the center of a circle on a whiteboard. Let’s say that Skippy is going first. 

  3. Can't Drop Through the Cracks Questions. Now ask the team to reflect on what Skippy does, everything that she’s thinking about and doing – every second, minute, hour, day, week, month? What are all the things on Skippy’s plate that have to get done or thought about, that can’t fall through the cracks? Have everyone make a list.

  4. Extract and Group on the Board. Next, go around the group and have each person share one thing off their list that Skippy does. The first person might say, “answering client calls.” Write that on the board. The next person might say, “sending welcome packets to new clients.” Write that in another area on the board. If the next person says, “answering client emails,” you might decide as a group that this belongs in the same area as “answer client calls.” Jot it down there.

  5. Keep going around. Keep going around the group, jotting down list items and grouping similar ones in the same area on the board. By the time you’ve gone through everything that Skippy does – all that she thinks about and every task she completes every second of every day – and grouped them in similar areas, you might have half a dozen or more of these buckets / groupings.

  6. Petals. Finally, loop each group back to Skippy with an oblong line that surrounds it anchoring both ends on the central circle. The resultant diagram will look like a flower with long petals – thus the name of the exercise. The petals are Skippy’s Positions, each of which is looped back to the center, to Skippy, where they overlap with each other to form her Job. 

  7. Number the petals.
    DANGER: Resist the urge to cut the list down, grouping and eliminating numbers / petals. This exercise is all about getting granular.

  8. Name the Petals. The Petals we've established are the framework for our Positions, which need to be named. Once every item is numbered, ask each person to take a sheet of paper and write the numbers down the middle, creating a left column area and a right column area. Label the left column “Humorous Position Name” and head the right column “Serious Position Name.” Have everyone take a few minutes to think about and assign names to the numbers / petals on his or her list. Often, the humorous column will follow a pattern, movies, cartoon characters. Why have a humorous column? The point is to stretch your brains, stretch your thinking, naming them twice, from two perspectives, to drive deeper understanding and to create better outcomes; don’t skip it.

  9. Refining the Petal Names. Next, pair people off by having them turn to the Team member to their left or right to discuss and compare lists. Each will typically agree to change a name or two as they compare their lists. Then have everyone turn to the person on his or her right or left side to discuss and compare lists. This gets people really focused and hurries things along. DO NOT skip this step.

        1. Split the group in two and have each half meet and come up with their favorite humorous and serious names.

        2. Set a whiteboard up with 4 columns and have a scribe from each group write his group’s choices for these bucket names on the board. 

        3. Discuss the ideas with the whole group to find agreement on the best names. You might have to put some to a vote. Also keep in mind that sometimes the humorous name is selected because it actually captures the essence of the position. 

        4. Serious name tip: I have some clients who like to add “This is how we (fill in the blank)” to describe the essence of the position.

  10. Assign or Reassign Positions. Now you will be equipped to assign new positions you discovered, because this will often happen, and to reassign positions that are held by the candidate to remaining people via their Jobs. 

An example board of a Flower exercise showing all the things that make up Skippy’s day. 

skippy flower


Topics: Belong, Accountable, Measured

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