When GM went bankrupt, Ed Whitacre (former AT&T CEO) took over as chairperson.  Approaching his first meeting at GM headquarters, although he was excited by the new opportunity, Whitacre was nervous, perhaps justifiably so.  He did not know Detroit, he did not know anyone at GM, and he did not understand cars.  Upon meeting Fritz Henderson, the new CEO, Whitacre was impressed with the man’s intelligence (Edward E. Whitacre Jr. with Leslie Cauley “GM On The Brink” [book excerpt], Fortune, 2/4/13 pp. 115–122):

“Fritz was an encyclopedia of facts and figures.  He also knew the global car business cold—he could quote numbers backward and forward, which was impressive.” (p. 115)

That is when things became a little less impressive.  Whitacre explains:

“How a business is organized is fundamental to me, so I asked for a copy of GM’s organizational chart.  But Fritz didn’t have one.  He said GM had done away with them.  He was tracking everything in his head.  That was the first red flag.”

I think I would agree—a big red flag.  Failing to get organized regardless of the level is a major mistake.  Without proper organization, effectively deploying resources cannot happen.

Many years ago, I remember seeing a cartoon of a couple exhausted workers practically horizontal sitting in an office that was a complete mess.  The clock on the wall showed 5:00 p.m.  The caption read, “Tomorrow, we have got to get organized.”

Organization does not guarantee you will be a success, but you can only maximize your success with organization.  What Whitacre faced was the red flag of disorganization.  Henderson was replaced very quickly.  Organization improved.  GM was able to move forward.

When you face the red flag of disorganization, that means it is time to make a change—at least if you want things to improve.  You can work harder or you can work smarter.  Organization lets you work smarter.

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About James Meadows

Currently I serve as a training team manager for Tyco Integrated Security at a customer-care center in Kansas City. Additionally, I am a business consultant, a freelance corporate writer, an Assembly of God ordained minister, a Civil Air Patrol chaplain, and a blogger. I believe we are living in the most fascinating times of human history. To maximize the opportunities these times present, I have a passionate interest in leadership development and organizational success, both of which I view as inextricably linked.

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