There’s a lot of commentary around Business Turnaround strategy. Some strategies are quite complex, some are quite simple. I’m a big advocate of keeping things simple. The simpler a plan, the more chance it has of being executed to a high level. That’s why whenever I coach senior leadership teams I have a go-to method for getting clarity and movement.
What is this go-to method?
The Power of Questions
“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think”Socrates
Questions are one of the most powerful forces in the universe. Questions are the beginning of progress. Questions are the beginning of creativity. Questions lead to answers…
In a business turnaround, the key is to ask good questions. There have been books written about the art of asking good questions. Some professions are built on the ability to ask good questions: lawyers, therapists, police etc. And also, business leaders.
In my experience, the best business leaders ask great questions. They ask questions and listen.
Great questions lead somewhere. Great questions take people somewhere. Quite often, people don’t want to be told what to do. As humans, we have a natural defence mechanism in the form of pride, insecurities and doubt. By far, the most effective way to get people to the answer you want and obtain their buy-in is to use the Socratic method – asking people good questions to get them to the answer.
The Socratic Method
The Socratic Method is a way of teaching by asking questions and getting the student to learn through exploration, discovery, questioning, challenging and debate. The student will get to the finish line through a good line of questioning and reasoning which makes them feel a sense of accomplishment and makes them feel empowered because they feel they came to that conclusion.
Which Questions Should I Ask
I have turned around many failing businesses, departments and even individual’s performance. In all my years, there are 2 fundamental questions we all ask in a business turnaround every year, every month, every week and even every hour.
These 2 questions come from the ‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD) methodology by David Allen.
Are you ready? Let’s dive in.
What is the Successful Outcome?
Countless successful business leaders, sports champions and successful people talk about starting with the end in mind. Too many of us go through business and life not knowing what we are moving towards. When you don’t have a clear outcome, you coast.
Having a clear definition and picture of the outcome is the starting point for a business turnaround.
What is the successful outcome? What are we trying to achieve? What does ‘good’ look like?
Let’s look at an example. Someone is trying to lose weight. They begin a diet and an exercise regime. However, they have not clarified the successful outcome in their minds.
Are they trying to lose 2 stones? Are they trying to fit into that pair of jeans? Do they want to achieve a six-pack? Or do they just want to be able to walk up a flight of stairs and not be out of breath? What is the goal? What’s the outcome? At the moment, the outcome is not clear, and most likely they will not achieve their goal.
No outcome. No clear outcome defined.
But what if they did this?…
What is the successful outcome?
I want to decrease my weight from 14 stones to 12 stones by September 15th, 2020.
How does that sound?
Why is it better? Because now, there is a clearly defined outcome.
It’s very specific because it has numbers. If you want to get clarity on your outcomes/goals then simply add some numbers.
Now let’s look at this in a business turnaround context.
You’re in a business turnaround. What is the successful outcome? Here are some good examples:
- We achieve £[X] EBITDA by November 2020
- We reduce operating expenses from [X] to [Y] by 31st August 2020
- We reduce human capital costs from [X] to [Y] by 30th July 2020
- We increase current assets from [X] to [Y] by December 2020’s accounts
Don’t they seem like better outcomes? Here’s the kicker, your staff crave clear outcomes! They want you to give them confidence! Having clear outcomes makes people feel better that there’s some kind of plan. Clearer outcomes mean that there is no room for misinterpretation and most importantly, you know when you’ve done the job.
What is the Very Next Action?
So you’ve got your defined outcome. Now what? Pretend that this was the only thing on your plate. Imagine you only had this project on and nothing else. What would your very next action be?
The discipline of thinking about the very next action is not as easy as it looks. Notice, I’m not saying the ‘next action’, I’m saying the ‘very next action’.
Let’s look at an example. Let’s say your car needs new tyres. The outcome is to get new tyres (you don’t have to be so detailed for simple things). Now, if you had nothing else on, and your only job was to get new tyres, what would the very next action be?
Typically when I do this exercise with people they’ll say something like, “Take it to the garage.” To which I respond, “No.”
After they look at me like I’m an idiot, I say, “Do you know which garage?”
If they don’t know a garage, then the very next action is to Google, or talk to someone.
If they do know the garage then surely the very next action is to ‘Call the garage and book car in for new tyres?”…
The very next action gets movement. It will always be a verb:
- Talk to
- Schedule etc
There you have it. The 2 most crucial questions you should always ask in a business turnaround situation:
- What is the successful outcome?
- What is the very next action?
If you use these questions in any project, you will get clarity, buy-in from your staff and you will get movement and results.
- Gather your team and ask, “What is the successful outcome for our business turnaround?”
- Once you have that clearly defined then ask, “What is the very next action?”
- Do it!