The Dog Ate My Plan for Citibank

The least-favorite book on the White House reading list this season is undoubtedly Confidence Men, a look at the presidency of Barack Obama by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind. It depicts an overwhelmed chief executive at the mercy of strong-willed subordinates.

Among the allegations making the most waves is that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner disregarded President Obama’s order to draw up a plan for the breakup of Citibank in 2009. As the Associated Press summarizes it, “Geithner and the Treasury Department ignored a March 2009 order to consider dissolving banking giant Citigroup while continuing stress tests on banks, which were burdened with toxic mortgage assets.”

(Unlike some of the charges in the book, which have become mired in controversy, this one seems beyond much question. Obama himself told Suskind: “The speed with which the bureaucracy could exercise my decision was slower than I wanted.”)

While it’s possible that simple subordination was to blame for what happened between Obama and Geithner, Peter Drucker would probably have seen something less straightforward. For one thing, Obama had asked the wrong person to draw up such a plan, since Geithner supported a different policy altogether.

“Whenever Roosevelt tackled a problem, he would ask three, sometimes four, of his cabinet members each to think through the problem and come to him individually with a recommended decision,” Drucker wrote.  This would yield a variety of well-considered alternatives. But just as important, it would also reveal who on the team “would be most in tune with the decision and would therefore be most likely to put it into practice.”

[EXPAND More]A second problem was that Obama’s decision to get a plan for Citibank on the table wasn’t made effectively. “A decision will not become effective unless the action commitments have been built into it from the start,” Drucker warned. “In fact, no decision has been made unless carrying it out in specific steps has become someone’s work assignment and responsibility. Until then, it is only a good intention.”

The commitment to action becomes “doubly important when people have to change their behavior, habits, or attitudes if a decision is to become effective,” Drucker added. “Otherwise, the organization people will get caught in a paralyzing internal emotional conflict.”

What do you think: What is the best way to get your decision implemented when you have a reluctant employee?[/EXPAND]