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Jim Prentice's first week heading the corporation of Alberta

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Image: Flickr/daveberta

"As of this moment, Alberta is under new management."  -- Jim Prentice, 16th Premier of Alberta

Transition. There's nothing more unsettling; no, strike that, nerve-wracking, for an organization than a change-out of senior leadership, particularly when the old leader is universally regarded as an abject failure (will I be condemned by association?) and the new leader is hailed as the messiah (am I within his orbit of influence?).

Mr. Prentice knows that the burden of a successful transition, in this case from the tired old PC party to the shiny new PC party, rests solely on his shoulders. He needs expert advice in order to make this transition successfully.

Based on the events of last week it looks like Mr. Prentice turned to the guru of corporate transition, Michael Watkins.

Mr. Watkins wrote the book, literally, on how to avoid transition failure when taking over a complex organization. It's called The First 90 Days, Proven Strategies for Getting up to Speed Faster and Smarter.

Think of the Alberta government as a $40 billion organization in desperate need a turnaround and Mr. Prentice as a new CEO parachuted into the top job to make it so.

How is he going to do it?

Mr. Walters recommends seven steps. Shall we lay bets on where Mr. Prentice will succeed and where he'll stumble?

Seven steps to a successful transition

Preparation: The tricky thing about a transition is that the skills that served Mr. Prentice well as a CIBC executive and MP in Stephen Harper's government may fail him here. It's that "unknown unknowns" trap that Donald Rumsfeld blathered on about (which incidentally is respected theory in the corporate world).

The problem with "unknown unknowns" is that what Mr. Prentice doesn't know he doesn't know really will hurt him, if for no other reason than the Opposition knows it all too well.

"Drinking from the firehose." This is corporate-speak for accelerated learning. Mr. Prentice needs to get up to speed very fast and he needs his team does likewise, especially the newbies.

Mr. Mandel (health) and Mr. Dirks (education) are responsible for the two biggest portfolios in government. Mr. Mandel has no experience in healthcare whatsoever. His first order of business should be to understand why the AHS centralized healthcare delivery model is dysfunctional, however Mr. Prentice cut Mr. Mandel's legs out from under him by saying he'd reinstate the AHS board. So expect more tweaking but no major changes in healthcare delivery.

Mr. Dirks's track record in public education is less than stellar. He approved the Calgary Board of Education's decision to build an opulent new administration building. Construction costs tripled (from $34 million to $130 million) and the CBE was saddled with lease payments of $285 million. All the while children and teachers were packed into portables.

Match strategy to the situation: Peter Lougheed swept into power like the CEO of a successful start up. Mr. Prentice crawled into power over Alison Redford's lifeless body -- the CEO of a turnaround. Mr. Prentice's task will be to identify killer problems and develop and implement a problem-solving strategy. It's not going to be easy.

"Low hanging fruit": This is corporate-speak for identifying something that's easy to fix, fixing it and gaining credibility and momentum in the process. Mr. Prentice's biggest challenge was figuring out which of Redford's failed policies to tackle first. In one week Mr. Prentice re-opened the Mitchner Centre, grounded the government planes and ditched the new license plates. Mr. Prentice will milk this one for as long as possible...and so he should.

Build a solid relationship with the boss: A transitional leader must manage his boss's expectations. This will be huge challenge for Mr. Prentice because his boss (as Mr. McIver was fond of saying) is us. And a good many of us have deserted the PC party for good while many more of us were never there in the first place. Good luck with this one.

Build and align the team around a strategic vision: Mr. Prentice has yet to unveil his strategic vision for the future of Alberta. Any effort to divine his strategy from his Cabinet choices is pointless. The three key portfolios, energy, health and education are in the hands of newbies -- Messrs. Prentice, Mandel and Dirks -- and what they plan to do with these portfolios is anybody's guess.

Build outside support/form coalitions: Mr. Prentice is Big Oil's kindred spirit...and that's about as far as he goes when it comes to building outside support. It is highly unlikely Mr. Prentice or his team will give equal airtime to the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Alberta Teachers' Association or the United Nurses of Alberta, let alone the leaders of the Opposition. This increases the risk that Mr. Prentice will lose perspective and make bad decisions.

Bottom line

It's not enough to say "This is a new Progressive Conservative government with new leadership, new voices and a new way of doing things".

Mr. Prentice should give serious consideration to all of the steps laid out in the corporate playbook if he hopes to deliver a shiny new government. Failing which Albertans will cut their losses and liquidate the company, er, government.


Image: Flickr/daveberta

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