Leadership Lessons from the Spectacular Rise and Fall of Avon’s Andrea Jung / Book Summary of “Beauty Queen” by Deborrah Himsel

When companies do well, their CEOs are often heralded as outstanding visionaries and brilliant innovators. In particular, when macroeconomic conditions are favorable, these CEOs are sheltered from scrutiny because the spoils of their success deflect attention from their leadership shortcomings (see my previous article on how success often conceals wickedness.) When the tide turns, however, the leadership deficiencies are exposed for all to see. The CEOs are the first to get the blame, even if they may not merit it.

Deborrah Himsel’s Beauty Queen offers an insightful tale of the spectacular rise to the top and the tumultuous fall from grace of Andrea Jung. Beauty Queen divides Jung’s tenure as the CEO of cosmetics company Avon from 1999 to 2012 into two halves: Jung led six consecutive years of double-digit growth initially and then presided over a series of operational missteps that led to her resignation. Alas, Avon has never since recovered—its numerous restructuring efforts have failed, and its strategic and financial performance has severely deteriorated.

The Rise of Andrea Jung and Avon (1999–2005)

'Beauty Queen: Inside the Reign of Avon's Andrea Jung' by Deborrah Himsel (ISBN 113727882X) Promoted at age 41, Andrea Jung brought glamour, charm, and personal style to her CEO’s role. She quickly reshaped Avon’s image and articulated a powerful purpose for the company. She injected energy into a decaying cosmetics brand and pushed Avon into new profitable markets in China, Russia, and other countries. When Jung became CEO, 60% of Avon’s sales were in the United States; by 2011, only 17% of sales were in the United States and 70% were in developing markets.

Jung’s revival of Avon’s fortune catapulted her fame; she became one of America’s most recognized chief executives. Fortune magazine named her one of the most powerful women in the world. Jack Welch recruited her to General Electric’s board of directors.

Beauty Queen attributes this initial success not only to Jung’s inherent strengths in marketing and branding, but also to her right-hand person Susan Kropf. Kropf was a brilliant operations person, who balanced Jung’s acute lack of skills in running the day-to-day operations of a global company.

The Fall of Andrea Jung and Avon (2005–2012)

Avon’s sales started to slow down in 2005. And, Susan Kropf’s exit in 2006 corresponded with the dawn of Avon’s misfortunes. Andrea Jung never replaced Kropf; Avon was left without a chief operating officer.

As Avon started to struggle, Jung’s inadequate operations experience became a serious liability. A streak of self-inflicted problems resulted in strategic and operational disasters that took a huge financial toll and resulted in a flight of Avon’s top talent. Jung failed to deal effectively with failures of computer systems in Brazil, inadequate inventory and supply-chain management, poor management of working capital, and a staggering bribery scandal in China.

Jung’s lack of expertise to deliver results went up against her bold projections about the business’s future. Straying from Avon’s door-to-door direct selling roots, Jung experimented with a direct-selling channel, but quickly abandoned her strategy of running Avon retail stores. Her attempts to start baby-goods and other new product lines foundered after just two years. Avon’s many acquisitions failed; a silver jewelry company (Silpada) that Jung bought for $650 million had to be sold back to the original owners for $85 million.

Avon never recovered from the blunders that Andrea Jung presided over

Avon Beauty Products After Jung’s several turnaround efforts had failed to take hold, she resigned in 2011. Her replacement, former Johnson & Johnson executive Sheri McCoy, has since struggled to turn the company around.

The bribery scandal in China impaired Avon. In 2014, Avon settled the case with the Justice Department and the SEC for $135 million. To boot, Avon not only spent $350 million on legal fees, but also lost ground in the burgeoning cosmetics market in China.

Avon’s market value fell from $21 billion (1-Mar-2004) at the height of Jung’s success to $1.1 billion (15-Jan-2016). The company’s stock price fell from $44.33 to $2.50.

Lessons from Andrea Jung’s Leadership Style at Avon

Some of the most instructive leadership lessons from Beauty Queen are,

  • “Studying the trajectory of the Avon CEO is a great way to learn leadership. Andrea’s career … offers invaluable lessons about finding the right balance between substance and style.”
  • “Her story is a cautionary tale, one that suggests the critical importance of being aware of your weaknesses and how they can sabotage you.”
  • Leaders should know when to go. “If Andrea had departed in 2008, she would have left with her reputation and halo fully intact … CEOs that are successful early on often err on the side of staying too long.” [See my previous article on why leaders better quit while they’re ahead.]
  • Companies should pair up their leaders with deputies who have complementary skills to offset the Achilles’ heels of the leaders.

Recommendation: Skim through the first six chapters of Beauty Queen for an informative quick read on Andrea Jung’s rise and fall at Avon. Thumb through the next five chapters for an uninteresting discussion of broad leadership lessons and action lists in dry PowerPoint style.

Don’t Push Employees to Change

Don't Push Employees to Change One of managers’ most common complaints relates to their failure to persuade their employees to change.

Having high expectations of employees can lead to bitter disappointment. The frustration that comes from employees not wanting to change causes many managers to focus on their employees’ negative qualities. Such an attitude makes it easy to find errors in employee behavior, leading to more disappointment—even resentment.

Even when an employee wants to change, he often fails to because he is pulled in two directions: by a motivation to change and by a motivation to maintain the status quo. Since change is seldom as easy as we think it will be, the motivation to maintain the status quo often triumphs.

The real reason employees (and people in general) don’t change is that underneath each employee’s commitment to change, he has an underlying, even stronger commitment to something else, as identified his intrinsic motivation.

Employees Resistant to Change For instance, an employee who expresses a desire to earn a promotion may avoid tougher assignments on his current job because he may be anxious about not measuring up. This employee may not even be fully aware of his own opposition. Therefore, managers are best served by understanding what truly motivates (and limits) each employee—i.e. his elements of intrinsic motivation. Only then can managers, through coaching and feedback, impel the employee to change by channeling the levers of extrinsic motivation (rewards, salary raise, fame, recognition, punishment) through one of the employee’s elements of intrinsic motivation.

Idea for Impact: Trying to change people will result in frustration and futility. Employees may change for a short time, but unless they have a compelling reason for change, they will go back to their natural state. Managers must temper their expectations about changing employees. As the Buddha taught, one way to lessen disappointment in life is to learn to lower your expectations of others.

Eight Ways to Keep Your Star Employees Around

Eight Ways to Keep Your Star Employees Around

Every manager should make employee retention a priority and regularly inquire, “How many of my star employees would leave my organization if they could?”

Employee turnover can be expensive. Managers must find and hire replacements, invest in training the new employees, and wait for them to get to up to speed—all while suffering productivity shortfalls during the transition. The more talented an employee, the higher the cost of replacing him/her.

Here’s what you need to do to keep your star employees around.

  1. Identify them. Find key attributes that distinguish top performers from average performers. Then rank your team against these attributes and identify those employees who are critical to your organization’s short- and long-term success.
  2. Perform salary and compensation research within your industry and offer an attractive-enough benefits package. Beyond a particular point, compensation loses much of its motivating power. Consider flexible work arrangements.
  3. Understand what your star employees value and help them realize their values and regard their work as meaningful, purposeful, and important. Often, the risk of losing employees because their personal values don’t correspond with the team’s values is far greater than the risk of losing them because of compensation.
  4. Get regular feedback from your star employees. Ask, “What can I do as your manager to make our organization a great place for you to work?” Let them tell you what they need and what they like and don’t like about their jobs. Adjust their assignments and their work conditions accordingly.
  5. Invest in training and development. Give star employees opportunities to develop their skills and increase their engagement and job security. Hold frequent and formal career discussions to determine employees’ goals and aspirations and coach them.
  6. Give your star employees the autonomy, authority, and resources to use their skills and do their jobs in their own way.
  7. Keep them challenged and engaged. Make work more exciting. Set aggressive, but realizable goals. Move your star employees around into positions in the company where they will face new challenges and develop critical skills. Employees would like to be challenged, appreciated, trusted, and see a path for career advancement.
  8. Appreciate and give honest feedback regularly. Make timely and informal feedback a habit. Don’t disregard employee performance until the annual review. Help employees feel confident about your organization’s future. Earn their trust.

To Inspire, Pay Attention to People: The Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne Effect: When managers pay attention to people, better morale and productivity ensue

The Hawthorne Experiments

Sociologist Elton Mayo’s Hawthorne Experiments marked a sea change in industrial and organizational psychology. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Mayo led this famous series of experiments on workers’ productivity at a Western Electric factory in the Chicago suburb of Hawthorne.

The experiments’ initial purpose was to study the effects of workers’ physical conditions on their productivity. The lighting in the work area for one group of workers was dramatically improved while another group’s lighting remained unchanged. The productivity of the workers with the better lighting increased.

The experimenters found similar productivity improvements when they improved other working conditions, viz., work hours, meal and rest breaks, etc. Surprisingly, the workers’ productivity increased even when the lights were dimmed again. In fact, even when everything about the workplace was restored to the way it was before the experiments had begun, the factory’s productivity was at its highest level.

Recognition and even simple acknowledgment can give people a boost

When Elton Mayo discussed his findings with the workers, he learned that the interest Mayo and his experimenters had shown in the workers made them feel more valued. They were accustomed to being ignored by management.

Mayo concluded that the workers’ productivity and morale had not improved because of the changes in physical conditions, but rather from a motivational effect—the workers felt encouraged when someone was actually concerned about their workplace conditions.

'The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilisation' by Elton Mayo (ISBN 0415436842) The Hawthorne Experiments understood the individual worker in a social context. The resulting insight was that employees’ performance was influenced not only by their own innate abilities but also by their work environment and the people they work with. Mayo wrote in The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilisation, “The desire to stand well with one’s fellows, the so-called human instinct of association, easily outweighs the merely individual interest and the logic of reasoning upon which so many spurious principles of management are based.”

Over the decades, the methodology and conclusions of the Hawthorne experiments have been widely debated. Yet the key takeaway is profound: when managers pay attention to people, better morale and productivity ensue.

Idea for Impact: Employee engagement is the very heart of effective management

Inspire your employees by asking them how they are doing. Let them in on the plans for your organization, seek their opinions, recognize them, appreciate their work, and coach and give them feedback.

Even a little appreciation and praise can go a long way to boost employee morale. The desire for recognition is a basic human need; and managers can easily fulfill this need with the aim of bringing out the best in people.

How to Promote Employees

How to Promote Employees

Job Promotions Can Be Stressful

A job promotion is generally cause for celebration and gratification. However, it can be a source of deep anxiety for many employees: they tend to suffer additional mental strain and are less likely to find time to go to the doctor. Research at the University of Warwick found that “the mental health of managers typically deteriorates after a job promotion, and in a way that goes beyond merely a short-term change.”

Promote Employees Who’ve Shown Some Evidence of Success

Before you decide to promote an employee, ask yourself the following six questions about the candidate. The more affirmative answers to these questions, the better the chances for the promotion to succeed. Examine and resolve any “no” answers before considering the employee for other job transitions.

  • Is the candidate performing her current duties well enough to justify a promotion?
  • Can she hand over her current responsibilities to a new person?
  • Does she possess a sound understanding of the fundamentals of a business and have the requisite operating experience?
  • Is she keen to take on a new job? Is she familiar with the responsibilities and priorities of the new job? Is she willing to make decisions and be accountable for results?
  • Is she qualified and experienced enough to do at least part of the new job? Is she adequately trained or ready to be trained in the new job’s requirements?
  • Are her interpersonal skills adequate to work with employees, customers, suppliers, peers, and bosses in the new job?

Idea for Impact: If employees are not entirely prepared for new assignments, you are unintentionally setting them up for stressful transitions, bitterness, or eventual failure. Beware of the perils of promoting people too quickly.

People Cannot be Perfect

“Each person is an idiom… an apparent violation of the syntax of the species.”
Gordon Allport, American Psychologist, in Becoming

“People Are Like Apples”

People Are Like Apples - 'Root for their better angels' Some of the best advice I’ve ever received relates to managing people. Many years ago, as I was getting ready to hire my first employee, I prepared a long list of ideal competencies. My manager laughed at my list and remarked that I was looking for a perfect candidate, one that I wouldn’t be able to find. He told me a metaphor about how “people are like apples” and encouraged me to look for a good-enough employee instead.

When you buy apples in a market, don’t look for spotless apples, but rather for good-enough apples. Spotless “choice” apples are not only difficult to find, but may cost more. Instead, look for apples that are good enough and may have one or two bad spots. When you get an apple with a spot on it, you can either remove the spot with a knife (almost always, the spot is not very deep) or simply eat around the bad spot, thus enjoying the rest of the “near perfect” apple.

Employees, bosses, colleagues, friends, relatives, parents, kids, spouses, and all people are like apples. Use a metaphorical knife to work around their imperfections, flaws, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies.

“Root for their better angels”

Last year, the ever-brilliant Ben Casnocha wrote a fascinating essay reflecting upon his “10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman,” the founder of LinkedIn and a Silicon Valley investor. As Hoffman’s chief of staff, Casnocha worked on various strategic aspects of Hoffman’s professional and personal initiatives. He also co-authored two books, Start-up of You (on career management) and The Alliance (on talent management).

Casnocha’s “What I Learned” essay is full of helpful management and leadership insights. Here’s one on people-skills:

One of Reid’s underrated gifts … is that he maintains very complicated portraits of the people he knows. He appreciates the full spectrum of strengths and weaknesses of a particular person. He’ll comment on a friend’s character flaw—say, self-centeredness—but in the next breath note one of their unique strengths. Flaws that cause others to completely disengage are, for Reid, “navigable” (to use a Reid-ism) en route to their better side. … If you make a mistake (or three) or if a weakness of yours gets exposed—you’re not dead to him. It’s just another data point in a rich tapestry in a long-term relationship.

Work around Others' Faults

Idea for Impact: Work around Others’ Faults

A Chinese Proverb reminds, “Gold cannot be pure, and people cannot be perfect.” People differ greatly in their capacities: some are stronger than others, some are better looking, some are better at science, some draw and paint better, and some are better athletes. Some make decisions through logic; others rely on intuition. Intelligent people are sometimes not physically very agile and are frequently socially awkward. Great artists sometimes cannot do enough math even to balance their checkbooks. Most people are smart in their specific spheres of competence, but are clueless in many other areas of human endeavor.

When working with people, work around their idiosyncrasies. Overlook and compensate for their imperfections, or coach them and help them work on their weaknesses. Being skilled at working with people in all aspects of life involves being able to fortify their strengths and making their weaknesses irrelevant.

How to Address Employees with Inappropriate Clothing

How to Address Employees with Inappropriate Clothing

Inappropriate dressing is one of those workplace concerns that is often ignored or forgotten until it becomes a problem. Revealing clothing can be an all-day distraction while a sloppy or untidy employee can project an unprofessional image about the entire company.

Some employees simply don’t get it when it comes to clothing choices for work. Inexperienced employees may walk into their offices wearing miniskirts, low rise jeans, baggy jeans that keep falling off the waist, baseball caps, spaghetti strap tops, low-cut blouses that expose the midriff, sandals, flip-flops, inappropriate tattoos, body piercings, or a three-day stubble.

Sadly, managers often avoid talking about inappropriate clothing because the highly sensitive and personal nature of those discussions makes them uncomfortable, especially when the offending employee is of the other gender.

Letting the problem fester makes the situation worse: each day the offending employee doesn’t hear an objection only reinforces his/her assumption that the clothing is appropriate and increases the prospect of a defensive reaction when a manager decides to finally address the issue.

How to Tell an Employee Who Is Dressed Inappropriately?

Dealing with unprofessional dress can be awkward, but it’s crucial to intervene directly, tactfully, and discretely.

  • Begin by having an official company policy on the expected work attire and making employees aware of it. Not only does a dress code set the standards for appropriate clothing, but it also provides a legal basis for addressing a problem without making it an issue of personal judgment. Given the modern-day relaxed rules concerning office attire, try to be specific as possible instead of using vague terms such as “business casual.” One best practice is to include pictures from dress stores for what is appropriate and what is not. Make sure the dress code is consistent with your company and industry’s culture and what your customers expect. Include policies regarding hygiene, personal grooming, tattoos, and piercings. Update the dress code to keep up with the latest professional, social, and fashion trends.
  • Inappropriate Dressing for Workplace Meet the offending employee discretely and ask, “Aaron, are you aware of our dress code?” Then, mention the specific instance of the problem, “Some of your clothes are a bit more provocative than appropriate for our workplace.” State facts and not judgments. Relate any rebuke to a business purpose, viz., the need for a professional workplace or dress-appropriateness in customer-facing roles. Ask the employee how he/she could rectify the matter. If necessary, remind that employees must accommodate the employer, not the other way around.
  • Be sensitive about religious, cultural, and gender-related aspects of office dressing. A male manager who needs to speak to a female employee (or vice versa) should consider having the problem subtly and discretely addressed through another female employee. Consider including another coworker in the conversation as a witness to prevent a discrimination claim. Seek guidance from human resources.
  • If the problem persists, try to converse again but have someone from human resources present.

Idea for Impact: A manager can forestall a great deal of employee problems by being proactive about setting expectations. Managers can and should create an appropriate work environment by defining hard boundaries on office etiquette, respectful interaction, and dress codes and then actively addressing concerns before they become problems.

The Difference between Coaching and Feedback

Coaching vs. Feedback

Perhaps this is a matter of semantics; but in my leadership consulting, I help managers identify the following nuances between coaching and feedback.

In the following discussion, ‘feedback’ refers chiefly to corrective or “negative” feedback. Appreciative or “positive” feedback in the form of honest praises, approvals, and compliments are just as essential as corrective feedback. As I’ve written in previous articles, great managers communicate corrective feedback and appreciative feedback distinctly instead of interspersing them in the form of “feedback sandwiches.”

Differences between Coaching and Feedback

  • Coaching is preparative. Feedback is corrective.
  • Coaching focuses on possibilities. Feedback focuses on adjustment.
  • Coaching is about future behavior. Feedback is about past (and current) behavior.
  • Coaching is inquiry-oriented. Feedback is scrutiny-oriented.
  • Coaching stems from developmental needs. Feedback stems from judgmental needs.
  • Coaching is about assisting employees reach their goals for the future. Feedback is about helping employees understand what prevents them from reaching their current goals.
  • Coaching is about advocating optimal performance. Feedback is about reinforcing appropriate behavior.
  • Coaching is more about helping employees grow. Feedback is more about helping employees not fail. (Both coaching and feedback are about helping employees succeed.)
  • Coaching guides employees in the direction that suits them best. Feedback ensures that employees uphold espoused values and meet expectations.

Four Telltale Signs of an Unhappy Employee

Telltale Signs of an Unhappy Employee A skilled manager understands how to get work done through her staff under all circumstances. She makes herself available, delegates effectively and provides appropriate feedback. She works hard to sustain an effective work environment in which her staff feels motivated and takes pride in their achievements.

The skilled manager accurately discerns what her employees think and how feel about their work; she also assesses their happiness on the job. She recognizes unhappy employees through these four noticeable behavioral changes over time:

  • Tardiness: The unhappy employee tends to arrive late, leave early and takes longer breaks. He is often elusive and hard to pin down.
  • Disdain: The unhappy employee can be grouchy, whining, or may complain excessively. He tends to be oversensitive: he sulks at even the slightest criticism, gets defensive, or accuses supervisors of picking on him.
  • Indifference: The unhappy employee cannot focus on his responsibilities. Consequently, his work tends to be disorganized and incomprehensible. His workload is a struggle. He fails to update management on a regular basis, rarely has a say in important matters, and resists new assignments.
  • Aloofness: The unhappy employee is inclined to distance himself physically, socially and emotionally from his coworkers. He is likely to be uncooperative and refuses to accommodate others’ requests.

General Electric’s Jack Welch Identifies Four Types of Managers

Jack Welch's Four Types of Managers

Four Types of Managers

Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric Jack Welch, Chairman and CEO of General Electric from 1981 to 2001, described four categories of managers in General Electric’s year 2000 annual report.

Type 1: shares our values; makes the numbers—sky’s the limit!

Type 2: shares the values; misses the numbers—typically, another chance, or two.

Type 3: doesn’t share the values; doesn’t make the numbers—gone.

Type 4 is the toughest call of all: the manager who doesn’t share the values, but delivers the numbers. This type is the toughest to part with because organizations always want to deliver and to let someone go who gets the job done is yet another unnatural act. But we have to remove these Type 4s because they have the power, by themselves, to destroy the open, informal, trust-based culture we need to win today and tomorrow.

We made our leap forward when we began removing our Type 4 managers and making it clear to the entire company why they were asked to leave—not for the usual “personal reasons” or “to pursue other opportunities,” but for not sharing our values. Until an organization develops the courage to do this, people will never have full confidence that these soft values are truly real.

Live by Corporate Values

Keep the company values front and center in people's mind Organizations face the challenge of developing and sustaining a culture that is both values-centered and performance-driven. They begin by developing mission and value statements that, in due course, become little more than wall decorations because the organization’s leaders and managers fail to uphold these values.

Nothing hurts morale more than when leaders tolerate employees who deliver results, but exhibit behaviors that are incongruent to values of the company. For instance, an organization that thrives on teamwork will suffer, over the long term, if a manager habitually claims all credit for his team’s accomplishments.

Idea for Impact: Core Values Matter!

As a manager, drive accountability. Hold employees responsible for their behaviors. Reward employees for proper behaviors and publicly discourage behaviors that do not uphold values. Do not make exceptions—exceptions signify your own indifference to the upholding of values.

As an employee, understand that an essential requirement for your success in your organization is your fit. Your behaviors must be congruent with the character and needs of your organization. Even if you are talented, you will not fare well if your behaviors are inconsistent with the values of your organization. Reflect on your behavior. On a regular basis, collect feedback from your managers, peers and employees. Seek change.

Keep the company values front and center in people’s mind.