Oh, The Pain and Agony of a Successful Turnaround

woman presenting on chart paper in business office

Lessons Learned from Ms. Fix-It

I didn’t realize it while I was doing it, but upon reflection of my career, I realize I’m Ms. Fix-It. There have been multiple situations where I turned bad situations into good outcomes with stellar performance. There were also a few that were fall-on-your-face failures. Here are the lessons I have learned from both sides of the track.

  • Disruptor: Let’s face it, if you’re asked to go in and fix something, know that you’re walking into disarray, big egos, and even some scratch-your-head craziness. You are there to disrupt all that and you are probably not welcomed by those that are in the midst of it. That is OK.
  • Objectivity: Being an outsider and being asked to go in and fix something means that you did not cause the problem. Therefore, it is easy to keep yourself removed from the personal drama that is involved (and believe me, it IS involved). You are not there to develop personal relationships, so don’t. Keep yourself separated as that is the ONLY way you can be objective.
  • Trained observer: Before you can fix anything, you must understand everything. Keep an open mind and become a trained observer. This means being an active listener and an active observer without prejudice. Often what you have been foretold about a situation is a manipulation tactic by those that either do not want you there or those who are trying to steer your recommendations in their direction. Often foretold information is accurate. You won’t be able to tell the difference until you verify.
  • The goal: A book entitled “The Goal” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox is a good resource for process and process improvement. The point is to know what the goal actually is and find the most efficient process to reach the goal. In every action, ask yourself “will this action get us closer to the goal?”. If not, then the action should be ignored or at worst, tabled.
  • Collaboration: The greatest human emotional need is to feel appreciated. To affect change, you need the team to buy-in or it will be an uphill battle you do not want to fight. Take the time to recognize the team members and their individual contributions. They will then know you are on their side and you will be successful to move them over to your side and help in the process.
  • Communicate: The first three rules of a turn-around is communication, communication, communication. You cannot over-communicate. This means communicating up the chain of command and down the chain as well. Plan your communication strategy. Get agreement from key stakeholders regarding the type and frequency of communication and then adhere to the plan. In the absence of information, they will form their own opinion. This is your way to manage their expectations and opinions and subsequent chatter about what is happening.
  • Human factor: While process and process improvement are very important to a turn-around project, never forget the human factor. Human beings are complicated and emotional creatures and it is a monumental mistake to lump the team into a single category of personality. I cannot express enough how important it is to get to know each individual, their strengths and their weaknesses and then utilize that knowledge to the best performance toward the goal.
  • One solution doesn’t fit all: One of my biggest mistakes was to apply what worked before to a current problem. I learned that what works for one situation may or may not work for another and that, in retrospect, I was taking the lazy way approach and not completely understanding my current problem. There are no shortcuts. If you’re going to do the same thing over and over, it is to understand everything first.
  • Tools: Keep your saw sharpened. Be an avid reader and keep current. Attend seminars and webinars. Go to conferences and actually sit in the knowledge sessions. If you’re going into an industry you know little about, become a student and learn as much as you can.
  • Networking: Keep your network active. You would be surprised how often you need to call upon someone for guidance or advice. Take the time to stay in contact with your network and offer your help to them we well.
  • And finally….reach for the stars. One of my favorite sayings is “When facing a difficult task, act as though it is impossible to fail. If you’re going after Moby Dick, take along the tartar sauce.” I would establish my plan, get confident with it, and then fearlessly go about executing it.


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