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As a seasoned turnaround leadership consultant, I can tell you that shifting negative momentum takes dedicated effort with authority. In my role, teams and companies typically bring me in when in crisis mode.
There are few things more challenging or rewarding than turning around an organization’s negative trajectory. But it’s possible — and it’s worth it. These are the five steps I have found consistent with the successful turnarounds I have experienced.
1. Perform an honest evaluation
Take time to evaluate your situation honestly. You must first observe, learn and face reality. Teams that are in trouble share some common characteristics.
If you see any combination of the following, your team is off course.
- Lack of trust: Trust is the foundation of team relationships. The level of trust each person has with one another will dictate what the team can achieve and how fast it can achieve it. When the people on the team don’t genuinely believe that the others have their best in mind, you have a problem. When the team doesn’t trust the leader, the situation becomes an epidemic.
- Avoidance of accountability: It starts with letting the little things slide. Like a festering wound, a lack of personal responsibility and accountability erodes a team at the core. Teams are held together by shared values. When people stop caring about the shared standards, the ties that bind them together dissipate.
- Inattention to results: Progress thrives in areas that are measured. When we aren’t paying attention to what the results are, the team is in trouble. When we don’t define them to begin with, it’s a recipe for disaster.
- Lack of commitment: This starts with the leader. It’s unreasonable to expect anyone to be more devoted to the team than the owner. When healthy delegation degrades to apathy, the team will wither and eventually die.
- Fear of conflict: Procrastination is born out of fear and laziness. When there is a fear of conflict, inevitably, it’s a sign that trust is thin or non-existent.
2. Actively rebuild trust
Rebuilding starts with changing behaviors. Leaders must model behaviors before they have the right to teach and reinforce them in others. The hardest truth? The leader is responsible.
To change, one must swallow the ego and put people over profits. Your goals aren’t more important than the humans you serve with. Own your part. Apologize where and when appropriate. Rebuilding trust takes a dedicated effort.
In a service business, 20 percent of your value comes from your competence. Eighty percent is experience. Neither is measured by the service provider, by the way. Experience starts with the care and concern you bring to the table. It then continues with the level of obsession you put into meeting and anticipating their needs.
Too many times, I see leaders treat their clients with one standard and their staff and team with another. To actively rebuild trust, obsessively focus on caring about your people. This extends beyond the workspace and seeing people as people.
3. Commit to a measuring stick
In Step 1, we clearly define the starting point. Step 2 is about fixing the foundation. Step 3 is where we look to where we want to go.
Leaders must launch the vision, embrace guiding values, establish plans, and set goals. Building on the foundation of trust and care, they then clearly and collaboratively define roles and responsibilities.
Have a single metric that represents the most meaningful contribution they make to the team for each person — usually something like closed transactions, service quality scores or files processed. Then pull out two metrics that offer the most significant contribution to their metric. The triad of these three numbers becomes the person’s key performance indicators (KPIs).
4. Nurture a culture of excellence
Excellence starts with accountability. Participation trophies strip the meaning out of the ones awarded to the winners. Gold stars for showing up only apply to little kids in kindergarten. There is a significant difference between those who show up and those who come to win in the real world.
Accountability to KPIs should be transparent. Teams should celebrate people when they hit or surpass their targets. For those who don’t, engage the team to help struggling team members.
Nurturing a culture of excellence is a team effort. Keep the metrics simple. Engage everyone to do their part. Transparently track the KPIs. Celebrate the wins, and address the areas where improvement is needed.
5. Embrace the suck
I often get asked: What is the one quality that is the greatest predictor for success? Although dozens of attributes contribute and are worth listing, the single greatest one is grit. Grit gets it done. It might not be elegant or efficient. But the person with grit won’t be denied.
Turnarounds are hard. They don’t always go as planned. There are bumps along the way. Leaders will find themselves facing difficult decisions. Turnarounds force people to face their inner demons and failures. Turning a team’s negative momentum around isn’t easy. But it’s worth it.
Leaders must turn challenges into growth opportunities. They must demonstrate and build resilience. Those who genuinely want to excel don’t look for ways to make things easier. They look at problems as opportunities to get stronger and better. The best leaders know the stronger they are, the higher they can climb.
Leadership is a game-changer for any organization. The leader’s skills and ability define how high the team can go. Character defines how long they can stay at that height.
Turning around a team’s negative trajectory is possible. But it isn’t easy. It starts with a leader who is committed to taking an honest evaluation of the current situation. They then have to be committed to the complicated and humbling work of admitting mistakes and rebuilding trust.
Once you rebuild that foundation, you must commit to the measuring stick, and a standard of excellence comes into play. To finish the job, the leader has to embrace the suck and continue the lifelong growth journey, both personally and for each person on the team.
Chris Pollinger, partner, Berman & Pollinger, LLC is a senior sales and operational executive skilled in strategic leadership, culture building, business planning, sales, marketing, acquisitions, operations, recruiting, and team building.