Category Archives: Playing the Game

When Your CEO Dies


man-76202_640I’ve been interested in succession planning since my early years in Human Resources—and particularly in succession planning at the top of the house. Perhaps that’s why my novel, Playing the Game, begins with a CEO near death and the impact that has on the corporation. So I read with interest a recent article that dealt with how to cope with the death of a key executive. Of course, the most important point is to be prepared.

“What Would Happen If Your CEO Died?”, by Branigan Robertson and Sean Reis, published on February 2, 2017, on the always excellent TLNT.com, asks what HR should do to minimize the impact of the death of a key executive.

Here are the recommendations the authors make, along with my commentary:

1. Purchasing life insurance on high-ranking managerial employees

For most companies, this is a matter of balancing cost against risk. In my opinion, insurance will only make sense for some companies—typically larger companies, or those in which an executive’s passing could end the organization’s existence. For other companies, particularly where a successor is in place, insurance may not be necessary.

2. Knowing who is next in command for each critical position, including the CEO, to fill immediate leadership gaps

This is critical. Everyone should have a back-up, just as stage actors have stand-ins. In some cases, this will be a deputy or assistant to the executive. In other cases, power will devolve up the corporate ladder, and the deceased executive’s boss may need to act in an emergency. In still other situations, a former executive might be called back into the role. And in the case of the CEO, a Board of Directors member may need to fill in, if there is no executive the Board trusts.

The important point is that stakeholders need to know immediately who acts in place of the deceased (or incapacitated or otherwise unavailable) executive.

3. Having access to all critical information

Arranging for ongoing access to critical information is part of any good crisis management plan—and the loss of a key executive is certainly a crisis. Part of the issue is making sure someone has access to corporate information, such as server passwords, financial records, tax returns and payments, bank account and payroll information, debt instruments, shareholder and Board member information, key contracts and insurance policies, critical vendor and consultant contact information—the list goes on.

And each business will also have critical systems of its own, and all of these need a crisis management plan. What systems in your organization have only one key person with access to the data?

In addition to critical corporate information and documents, it is important to know how to access contact information for employees’ family members—at least one next-of-kin or emergency contact for every employee.

4. Dealing with emotions

The loss of a key employee will impact the morale of the entire organization—the more respected and liked the individual, the more the rest of the employees will grieve. And the more critical the person was to the organization, the more employees will worry about their future.

Other leaders need to recognize, validate, and overcome employees’ sense of loss—often when these leaders knew the deceased the best and are most devastated by the death. It is probably a good idea to bring in grief counselors (usually from the company’s Employee Assistance Program, if one is in place), to help the organization mourn the loss and move on.

5. Having a succession plan in place to speed filling the position on a long-term basis

Beyond the immediate need to deal with the crisis and keep the business running, it is important to get back to “business as usual” as quickly as possible. The only way to do that is if the position is filled or the duties of the deceased executive are otherwise distributed. The more planning done in advance, the easier this will be.

Is your organization prepared to lose a top executive?

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Book Review: The Last Days of Night, by Graham Moore


moore-coverI haven’t posted many book reviews on this blog. Most of the business books I read aren’t that compelling. Most of the fiction I read doesn’t pertain to the themes of this blog. But I recently finished a novel that provides a fascinating look at corporate and legal culture in the 1880s—The Last Days of Night, by Graham Moore.

The protagonist in Moore’s novel is Paul Cravath, a fictionalized version of the attorney who later founded the New York law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore. Other major characters include Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, J.P Morgan, and Nikola Tesla. None of these men comes across very positively. In this novel (and the author makes it clear that the book is fiction, though well-researched), Edison obtained his patent on the electric light bulb fraudulently, Westinghouse ordered a fire set in Tesla’s warehouse, J.P. Morgan switched his allegiance from Edison to Westinghouse for financial gain, and Tesla was a complete kook (albeit brilliant).

The book is engaging. There’s enough science in it for science lovers, but it’s easy enough for non-aficionados of science to gloss over it and still enjoy the story. Cravath’s character clearly is representing Westinghouse without really understanding direct current and alternating current, giving readers permission to do the same.

What I enjoyed the most was the look into early corporations—the forerunner of General Electric owned by Thomas Edison, Westinghouse owned by George Westinghouse, and even Morgan’s banking firm—as well as the development of the modern law firm associate structure created by Paul Cravath. There were plenty of corporate and financial shenanigans depicted in the novel, as well as one-up-man-ship between Cravath and his partners. The story could easily have taken place today in the internet world. In fact, many of the chapters open with quotes from Steve Jobs and Bill Gates that are eerily relevant to the electrical industry of more than a century ago.

What I didn’t like was wondering what was true and what wasn’t as I read. Moore confesses in his author’s note,

“This book is a Gordian knot of verifiable truth, educated supposition, dramatic rendering, and total guesswork.”

He offers a chronology of the actual events on his website. However, his changes to the true chronology and the unverifiable actions attributed to the primary characters ultimately caused me to be more skeptical of the book than I wanted to be. Had it been a novel not using real people as primary characters, I could have accepted it much better.

I’ve had some experience at incorporating historical characters into novels (though not in Playing the Game; I’ve written books under another name as well), but I have never depicted true personages as murderers, thieves, frauds, and corporate moles. And when I’ve written historical fiction, I’ve kept my description of events as close to their true chronology as I can.

Still, the author’s note gives me some satisfaction that Moore has accurately described the flavor (if not the chronology) of the invention of the light bulb, the “battle of the currents” between direct current and alternating current, the development of the modern law firm, as well as the implementation of the electric chair for the death penalty. I do recommend the book. But take it with a grain of salt.

What books depicting corporate intrigue have you enjoyed?

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A Novel Idea


For all of you who received new tablets, ereaders, or other devices that can handle reading apps, I recommend my novel Playing the Game to you as a true-to-life diversion.

The book revolves around a business in trouble and the people who lead it. The CEO and the Vice-President of HR and a host of other corporate officers—some well-meaning and some not—try to save their toy company from bankruptcy. Along the way, murder and mayhem result, along with a reorganization and a major product launch.

Playing the Game is not only good fun, but useful as a case study for corporate training exercises.  Click here for a list of discussion questions about the book.

Enjoy your holidays. We’ll all be back playing the game soon enough.

PTG Rickover cover

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Leadership—Expressing Gratitude to Your Followers


thank-you-515514_1280“Thanksgiving is not a day” Leonard Pitts, Jr., wrote in his November 23, 2016, column.

It certainly is not. The dictionary defines “thanksgiving” as the act of giving thanks. As we return from our family holiday, this point is worth thinking about in the context of our work organizations. Giving thanks should be an every day activity for everyone, but particularly for managers and leaders.

There is one month left in 2016, one month to achieve the remainder of your goals for the year. And how will you do that without your organization? You can’t. Your people will work better if you are appreciative. One month is still 8.33% of the year. That’s enough for your gratefulness for your followers to make a real difference.

Mary Jo Asmus of Aspire Collaborative Services, Inc., goes even further in describing the importance of giving thanks. She says “Gratitude is a verb.”

“When practiced on a daily basis, [gratitude] becomes a verb, with potentially significant impact on your leadership and your life.”

In a November 23, 2014, guest post by Neamat Tawadrous on the Empowerment Moments Blog, Ways In Which Gratitude Can Transform Your Leadership and Influence, the author says:

“Gratitude sees what is good and right with the world . . . . Leaders who see their followers through the lens of gratitude will always see the untapped potential in people and inspire them to achieve what others think is impossible.”

This author says leaders should practice gratitude because gratitude develops success, leads to opportunities, brings peace, and increases trust. For me, this last point is most important:

“When we show others that we value their hard work and contributions, their trust in our leadership and direction increases.”

As leaders, we cannot achieve success without the trust of our followers.

Tom Stevens at Think Leadership Ideas wrote in a post on November 25, 2013, entitled Gratitude Leadership, that

“It’s willing followers who manifest acts of leadership. . . .

“No individual, no leader, does it alone. Great accomplishments, great organizations, and great endeavors exist due to the efforts of multiple people. Often lots of people. Savvy leaders not only feel gratitude, but communicate it effectively.”

We all know that. We just forget sometimes.

To help us remember, Mary Jo Asmus suggests choosing one person to focus on each day.

“Ask yourself, what is it about this person that makes you grateful? Be specific about what you observe.

“What do you sense in yourself as you consider the gratitude that you feel for this person?”

Do this exercise daily, and repeat it when you have run through your entire organization. You are likely to find new insights each time you think about a person. Moreover,

“As you practice this exercise, you may find yourself noticing your gratitude for others in the present moment as you go about your day. You may also notice that you see them differently, and that your relationships with them strengthen. Gratitude for others may begin to become a part of your life.”

Then, once we realize our gratitude for those around us, we must express it. As Ron Thomas wrote in Leadership 101: The Most Powerful Words You Want From Any Leader on TLNT.com on October 1, 2012,

“Thank you! These are welcome words to all of us. . . . an expression of thanks can make all the difference in a business relationship.”

He suggests being specific in your thanks, and using a handwritten note to provide a personal touch to your appreciation.

As for myself, I am thankful for everyone who reads this blog. I first posted over on Blogger in November 2011. I moved to WordPress.com in November 2012. So as November ends, I’ve been blogging for five years. I’ve made new contacts and found old ones through blogging. Along the way, I wrote a novel, which many of you have read and even reviewed. I am grateful to each one of my readers, and especially to those of you who have chosen to follow this blog.

Now, go thank the people with whom you work, particularly those who report to you.

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How Realistic Do You Want Your Fiction To Be?


I don’t post much about my novel, Playing the Game, but I thought it would make a nice Labor Day diversion.

Recently I was asked whether the book is true to life. My answer: Yes and no.

Playing the Game is fiction. None of the events in the book happened—at least not the way they are depicted. The facts and faces have been changed to protect the innocent. But the plot is realistic. It deals with issues that many corporate executives face, such as managing budgets and people, planning new product lines, deciding who will succeed departing key personnel, and integrating work and family time. And, of course, dealing with the personal peccadilloes of the colleagues we encounter in the hallways every day.

But the plot is realistic. It deals with issues that many corporate executives face, such as managing budgets and people, planning new product lines, deciding who will succeed departing key personnel, and integrating work and family time. And, of course, dealing with the personal peccadilloes of the colleagues we encounter in the hallways every day.

One reader told me after reading the book, “I know these people.” This reader and I have never worked together, and we have only a few common acquaintances. In other words, the characters are like co-workers we have all known, with common foibles and insecurities.

I market Playing the Game as a thriller, but it isn’t a thriller like Dan Brown’s or Brad Thor’s novels. It is a thriller in the same way that Arthur Hailey’s books such as Hotel or Airport were thrillers. The business is going through a make-or-break time, and the question is whether it can be saved. There are criminal activities in the book, but the thrill is not from solving the crime but from the highs and lows of living through difficult circumstances.

Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park and other far-out thrillers also wrote Disclosure, which dealt with sexual harassment in the workplace in a very realistic setting. While I enjoyed Jurassic Park and his other fantasies, I was captivated by Disclosure, because “I knew those people.” I had dealt with similar situations in my job. That’s the kind of fiction I aspired to write in Playing the Game.

So, as a writer, my question to readers is:

How realistic do you like your fiction? Do you want to read books that deal with things you know, or do you want to explore worlds of fantasy to escape your daily routine?

Happy Labor Day

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MURDER U.S.A. Anthology now available! Features My Novel PLAYING THE GAME


Murder USA final cover

Kristen Elise of Murder Lab Press has edited an anthology of mysteries with U.S. settings. This anthology features excerpts from a number of writers, including my novel, Playing the Game, as well as mysteries by several other authors I know. The anthology is free on most platforms and offers readers the opportunity to explore some recent mystery novels.

Here are the particulars:

Murder, U.S.A. contains excerpts from thirty-one full-length crime fiction novels. Each novel features a location in the United States. Thus, the collection offers a “murder tour of the nation” to readers of all sub-genres of crime fiction.

Organized by U.S. location and labeled by sub-genre, the collection features excerpts of romantic suspense, cozy mystery, legal and corporate thriller, paranormal mystery, historical mystery, dystopian suspense, near-future thriller, medical mystery, traditional mystery, political procedurals, hard-boiled/noir, international thriller, and psychological suspense.

Something for everyone.

My novel, Playing the Game, is one of the books excerpted in the anthology. Playing the Game is set near the Rocky Mountains. The book is about a business in trouble and the people who lead it. The protagonist is Maura Ramirez, head of Human Resources. (Who says HR can’t be a hero?) Maura battles the egos, incompetence, and backstabbing of her fellow executives while the CEO of the company is comatose. Meanwhile, a murderer lurks among them.

Murder U.S.A. features a fine cast of authors: Patrick Balester, Stephen Brayton, Joyce Ann Brown, Craig Faustus Buck, James R. Callan, Lance Charnes, Sue Coletta, G.G. Collins, Diana Deverell, Lesley A. Diehl, Pam Eglinski, Kristen Elise, Ph.D., Elaine Faber, Sunny Frazier, M.M. Gornell, Michael Hebler, Dorothy Howell, Gay Kinman, Tracy Lawson, Sheila Lowe, Janet Elizabeth Lynn, Kathy McIntosh, Kelly Miller, Cathy Perkins, Sara Rickover, Carole Sojka, Linda Thorne, and Will Zeilinger.

The book is free on all platforms except Nook at this time, but the free Smashwords EPUB version will work on Nook ereaders.

So go ahead and download Murder U.S.A. at the following links:

Amazon (free)
Kobo (free)
iTunes (free)
Smashwords (free)
Nook (99 cents)

The anthology offers you a great way to expand your reading horizons for free. If you like any of the excerpts in the anthology and want to read that complete novel, each excerpt contains links to buy sites for that book.

Download Murder U.S.A. for free and enjoy! (Perfect spring break reading.)

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A Plug for PLAYING THE GAME


What does it mean to play the game? Winston Churchill said:

“Play the game for more than you can afford to lose . . . only then will you learn the game.”

That is the theme of my novel, Playing the Game. Which of the characters play the game to Churchill’s standard, and which do not?

I have been focused on other work in recent months and have not posted about my writing. So today I am putting in a shameless plug for Playing the Game, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in both paperback and ebook formats.

Here are quotes from some of my favorite reviews of the book:

On Amazon: “This is a fascinating, fast-paced novel about the issues facing the modern corporation . . . . The characters are sharply drawn and the plot is full of interesting twists; I lost a few hours of evening sleep reading this one, as I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended!”

On Barnes & Noble: “I loved this book from beginning to end . . . . It captures the nuance of corporate shenanigans and gives unexpected insight into the closed boardroom, a place where there really are no winners. Sara Rickover is impressive in her understanding and portrayal of the company.”

On Amazon: “Just finished Playing the Game. As an HR person, I think the book really nailed it. For those interested in an insiders view of life in human resources, it is a great read!”

On Amazon: “As other reviewers noted, this book is fast-paced, entertaining, and wonderfully written! . . . . fully fleshed out characters with psychological traits and flaws . . . . If you don’t know anything about the details of how organizations and HR operates and you don’t want to pick up a dry textbook, pick up Playing the Game . . . .”

On Goodreads: “A wonderfully written novel. Although it deals with a corporate crisis and chaos, it reads like a thriller. It kept me up nights to find out how the Playland team would manage through all the problems that surface. Rickover obviously understands the corporate world.”

PTG Rickover coverPlaying the Game would make a great gift for corporate managers and professionals you know, and would also be a fun discussion or training tool for a Human Resources or management staff.

I encourage anyone with an interest in a fast-paced story of corporate intrigue to take a look at Playing the Game. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble provide the first few chapters for free. So check it out!

Thank you for your consideration.

 

P.S. Playing the Game will be featured in an upcoming anthology, Murder U.S.A., to be published by Murder Lab Press.

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