You have just been thrown into a new role – to lead the turnaround of a division of your company or perhaps the entire company. You have your work cut out for you and your team. Here are some tips to think about as you embark on this exciting challenge.
DON’T throw stones at previous management.
Everyone knows that there has been a leadership change and that you are in and your predecessor is out. The fact that you are leading the team now is statement enough. Throwing stones will not build trust with your new team and build bridges to individual team members that will be required to successfully turn the business around. Not to mention there may be times when you are simply wrong. And lastly, be the bigger person.
DON’T assume your idea is the right idea.
One of the keys to a successful turnaround is new ideas and collaborative thinking. Realize this first – most of the ideas will come from the team and that the decisions will come from you. In an effort to stimulate the largest possible number of team members it is best to get as many people involved as the turnaround will allow. One of the biggest turn-offs to your team is the boss always thinking she/he has the “right or best” idea. Admittedly, many times you may have the right idea but take a more grass roots approach to idea generation.
DON’T talk to much……listen.
From the moment they announce your new leadership role everyone will ask you questions. People will probe you for “how you feel” about this, that and everything. Become adept at turning questions directed at you to questions back to the team. For example, an employee asks: “Hey boss, what are your thoughts on our bonus program?” A good response: “What about our current bonus program do you feel we should retain and what new components should we consider?” Not only will you get valued input, you will send the message to employees that you care about their input and one additional benefit – with each answer you will learn more about what makes your employees tick.
DON’T form allegiances or inner circles.
Before you are even formally announced the “jockeying” for becoming the new boss’ confidant will begin. Your leadership team will all be the natural suspects but keep in mind that each organization has its informal network as well. Resist aligning with anyone. Resist continually seeking input from the same few. Resist the easy temptation to fall victim to an individual or individuals sneaking into your inner circle and decision making process. It’s hard to stop this from happening but this is perhaps the largest pitfall of new executives in a turnaround role. Months into your assignment you may find out that your new confidant has had performance issues that you were unaware of, isn’t truly a supporter of the turnaround but is focused on self-preservation or worse is simply giving you bad advice. Not only have I seen it happen, I have fallen victim to it. During meetings, keep your door open. Keep company external social events to a minimum and short. And don’t mix your personal life with your professional life.
DON’T move too slow or push to hard……bend but don’t break.
Each of us has a natural speed by which we work, gather information, process options and make decisions. In a turnaround you will need to set the pace and rhythm for the entire organization. You will need to determine the pace by which results are required and change is possible. From experience, push yourself to increase the pace you normally work at but don’t make the pace hyper-kinetic whereby your team doesn’t understand why you are making the decisions you are making. I like to say push and “bend” your team but do not “break” them. Once you set the pace, and this is the key point, make the entire organization work at this pace. No different than running a foot race, some will run faster and some won’t be able to keep pace. But one thing is clear, you are the pacesetter.
By using my “guess-timator” I estimate that in the first six months of your turnaround you will make over 1,200 decisions. Break it down – that is about twenty a business day. Of these 1,200 an estimated 60 will be mission critical to the overall success of the organization. When faced with making these many decisions you need to gather, dissect and process information efficiently and have a decision making model established that guides you to congruent decision-ing. You are not expected to get 1,200 right! However, you are expected to know which are the 60 most important and focus intently on those decisions. AN analogy for this is the discussion of “pebbles” vs. “big rocks”. Big rocks are the strategic and tactical decisions, challenges and issues that will set your company on a successful trajectory. Pebbles are small decisions that will support the successful trajectory but not necessarily set the trajectory. For example, establishing the right leaders in the right roles is a big rock. Determining the appropriate job codes for a specific function is a pebble. Build your decision making model first and then use that model as your light-post and litmus test for your decisions.
The business is in trouble. If you don’t execute successfully the company will suffer great consequences – lost revenue, clients, employees, market position and so on. This is not the time to “run for Mayor” and glad-hand everyone you meet. There will be employees you meet that will need to exit the business or be demoted in the business. There may be a client that is hurting your business dearly that you may need to re-negotiate their contract or end the relationship. You will have many people lined up with their needs listed as a priority – external people like bankers, accountants, government agencies, regulators, clients and board members. Not everyone can be a priority and you need to find a pleasant, professional and direct way to communicate that. If something in the business is just wrong, you need to say that. If someone does not fit the business going forward, you need to confront them. Remember, being direct does not meet being confrontational or being a jerk – it does mean focusing on your big rocks and addressing them in a professional and straight forward manner. If you are able to achieve this you will win the respect of many onlookers.
You are the leader. Your colleagues will look to you to take their ques from. Sometimes you will be naturally confident because you are focused on a big rock, your decision making model is working and you are setting the pace. You will have other days or moments where you truly don’t know which direction to go. There will be times when you feel overburdened and overwhelmed. And there will be a couple of times you question if the turnaround can be accomplished. It is in these moments that you must lead with the same confidence as when everything is running smoothly. This doesn’t mean you don’t discuss your thoughts and challenges with your employees. It does mean though that you address the challenge with a confident approach. Let’s say you have to make a decision to maintain or exit a market and the decision needs to be made this week. It is perfectly ok to start a meeting by saying something like this; “We all have a big decision to make this week in regards to market X. At the current moment there is no clear cut decision and simple answer on what to do. We will need to wrestle this one all week and probe the data from every angle. We will need to think both conventionally and unconventionally. We will probably have some uncomfortable moments this week and may not all agree on various sub-points. But by week’s end, I am confident we will have made the right decision for our company that proves valuable for the next 3 to 5 years”.
As the new leader you have won the meetings contest. Lots of people and organizations will want to meet with you – employees, clients, market influencers, partners and on. You need to take the time to meet with a diverse group of people to gain important insight and information by which you will lead the company. You also need to leave yourself some “available time” to be able to react to various constituents that you had not planned on meeting with. An existing client brings an issue to your attention that sheds light on your performance that sends you down a new path of discovery. A partner that proposes a new relationship between your two firms. An unexpected employee informs you of some news that opens your eyes wide. Or you simply sit down with a group of employees in the cafeteria over lunch and learn a few gems of what is on the minds of your rank and file. Don’t let yourself live in a conference room, behind closed doors or tethered to a polycom. Make some time to simply be available.
Throughout your career you have met and often exceeded the expectations of your leadership. You were selected for this assignment because you are a problem solver and clear thinker. You have a tough job to do and there is a formula to drive your success. But don’t let the formula, the decision making process, the challenge, the pressure or stress, the 1,200 decisions or anything else change who you are and what got you to where you are. You may need to tweak a few of your characteristics – working different or longer hours, making decisions faster, listening more, being more or less collaborative. But do not try to be someone or something you are not. You need to be authentic. If anyone senses this is not the “real” you, then you are cooked! People naturally want to believe in you. They want to be led. They want the company to be successful. They need to align with your pace. They need to understand your decision making model. They need to feel and feed of your confidence. But most importantly they need YOU. The real, authentic and unique you!
About Brendan P. Keegan
Brendan P. Keegan is Founder & Managing Partner of velocityHUB, a leading management consulting firm. He is a 5-time industry leading President & CEO of large, private-equity-backed companies and served as the Fortune 100’s youngest Chief Sales Officer for EDS, a $22-billion technology industry leader. Brendan has raised nearly $1.0 billion in capital and returned over $2.2 billion to investors through successful exit strategies. He has trained over 100,000 leaders, led nearly 50,000 employees, driven sales of over $100 billion and worked globally in over 150 countries. Brendan was named a Distinguished Fellow by Dartmouth College, a Fast50 Executive by FastCompany, a successful entrepreneur by Enterprise Bank, Best-of-the-Best CEOs by Incentive, 100 Fastest Growing Companies by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Business of the Year by NH Business Journal, Top 10 Coach of the Year by USA Football, and Volunteer of the Year by & Youth Coach of the Year locally for his commitment to community service. Brendan is a sought-after speaker by companies across the globe on leadership, sales and performance. He has authored over 200 articles and been published in global publications including the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Business Week, Fast Company and InformationWeek.
Brendan serves on corporate boards to include Revolution Armor, Merchants Auto Group, ExpressIt Delivery, Olaeris, velocityHUB and nashuaHUB. Brendan and his wife Dana founded the Keegan Courage & Faith Foundation with the goal of giving back $1.0 million for youth education, athletics and at-risk youth across Southern New Hampshire.
velocityHUB delivers results-oriented training programs, high-value consulting and targeted executive coaching to many of the world’s leading companies, small and medium businesses, and non-profits. Our vision is to build one million leaders to drive performance, sales and revenue growth.
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