When QVC CEO Mike George hires top executives to join the $8.5 billion West Chester-based television and internet retailer, he gives them an unusual first order: Do nothing.
"I"m going to give you the greatest gift you could ever get in your life," he said he tells them, as they listen with mouths agape. "For six months, I want you to accomplish absolutely nothing except to learn."
My mouth was also agape. "Are you serious about that," I asked him during our Leadership Agenda interview.
"Oh I’m dead serious," he said, as we sat, oddly enough, on an empty set decorated for Christmas. "I’m so serious. I get animated when I talk to the folks about it. I’m really serious about this. I need you to do this. Resist the temptation to do anything."
George said he wants the executives to take the time to learn about the QVC culture, its business practices and its people. The company has designed a rigorous six-month process and George said he checks in, as often as weekly, to see how the new exec recruit is absorbing the lessons.
"I tell everyone: I want you to write down all the things you are thinking about. I want you to write down all the things you think are terribly wrong -- things that are QVC could do better.
"If you keep that list – do it, keep it, but don’t tell people about it," he said. "Then, come back in six months and sort it. Sort it into three buckets: `Here’s a bunch of stuff that I thought QVC was doing wrong, but it’s actually like the secret sauce that’s amazing.'
"There will be another bucket: `I’m not sure I would do it that way, but it’s working, it’s fine. It’s not an issue.' And then there will be a bucket of stuff that I could help with the company here.' These are things that could be done different or better."
George warns the take-charge Alpha Dog types that it will be a struggle for them to adjust to the accomplish-nothing mandate from their new boss. "They are used to having an impact," he said.
With $8.5 billion in revenues, QVC isn't lacking in money, but even I was wincing when I thought about these top executives getting paid their massive salaries and not producing. What about that? "This is the best investment we can make," George replied. "This is really a marathon. What I care about is the impact [they'll] have in five years or ten years."
There's another plus to this approach, George said -- and kudos to him for admitting it. Sometimes he blows the hire. At his level, it's not because they aren't smart enough, or because they don't have the skills, he said. It's because, despite all that, their personalities don't mesh with the QVC culture -- a culture he describes as "low-ego" and collaborative. If the new hires can't restrain themselves, or if they approach this learning period with too much arrogance, it'll be clear within the six months. Meanwhile, they won't have had a chance to gallop in and trample time-honored QVC practices.
"If it’s not going to work, you know it within the first six months," George said. "And when it’s a hiring mistake, probably no amount of good onboarding would have changed it. And they won’t have had an opportunity to screw things up."