I have worked with many failing businesses over the years. In my experience, when it comes to setting a business turnaround strategy, we cannot overlook the people. Your people are the business. Too often we can get tunnel vision and make it all about the numbers. That is right in a way, however, we must never forget that people drive the numbers. Therefore a good business turnaround strategy has to have a human element to it as well. The human element involves conversations. Conversations are driven by questions. So without further ado, here is the best question to ask in business turnaround situations.
The Human Part of a Business Turnaround Strategy
If you’re in the middle of a business turnaround, then you have to go 10,000ft. By this, I mean going to a higher altitude and looking at things from above. Once you are elevated, you can begin to ask some important questions such as:
Why has your business gone downhill?
Is it because the people are crap at their jobs? Or is it something else?
Are the people motivated?
When setting a business turnaround strategy, it’s your job to find the root cause with your people.
The temptation (and short-sightedness) of a lot of CEO’s is for them to say their people are crap, lazy and don’t care. When in actual fact, people aren’t crap, they aren’t lazy and they do care.
We must first find the root cause of what’s going on. (See this post on how to find the root cause).
In most instances, the issue is training. For the most part, your people (and you) have not been in a situation like this. You’ve never had the experience to deal with a growing or failing business, how to navigate market forces or market changes, regulations etc. Therefore how will you know what to do?
So now, the business turnaround strategy is becoming about training people. But train them on what?
Changing Your People’s Language
Before you try and guess what I’m going to say, just read on. I’m not going to say your people need positivity. They do need that. However, what I’m talking about is something more practical.
Many businesses have adopted a certain kind of language. I first learned this from agile businesses who practice lean methodology (e.g Lean Six Sigma) which seems to have been birthed in Japan.
Smart, lean and agile businesses have a way of talking. The things they say show that they might not have all the answers, but they demonstrate a methodology of getting to the answers.
The Best Question To Ask In Business
By far, the best question to ask in business turnaround situations is…
What does 'Good' Look Like?
As per David Allen’s advice in this bestseller, ‘Getting Things Done’, we must always start with the outcome we want to see. The temptation is just to get to work and ‘get busy’. But this approach, although well-intentioned is rather ineffective.
Successful businesses and successful people always start with the outcome they want. Here’s a typical conversation I have with people when I’m training them on this principle.
“What are we trying to achieve here?”
“We want to turn the business around.”
“OK, so what does that mean?”
“We need to be more profitable.”
“What does ‘good’ look like?…”
This is where people struggle. Think about it. The above is very vague. They know they want to be more profitable, however, that isn’t enough. You could make £1 profit and be profitable. If your original profit was 50p, and you achieve £1 profit, then technically you have become more profitable.
So by asking the question, “What does ‘good’ look like,” we force ourselves to get clarity on the outcome.
“Does ‘good’ look like £1?” I’ll ask.
“Well of course not!” They’ll usually reply.
“OK, so £1 is not ‘good’. So what does ‘good’ look like?”
Now they get it!
I continue further, “Is £10,000 ‘good’? Is £100,000 ‘good’? What is ‘good’ for this business?”
How To Drive Performance With This Question
Now you have the best questions to ask in business, how do you use it? Teaching people the discipline of asking the question, “What does ‘good’ look like” is fundamental in your business turnaround strategy.
If you get this right, then your people will be enlightened. They will be able to approach any project or task and understand the importance of getting clarity on the outcome.
When you’re having a meeting and you assign someone a task, ask them, “What does ‘good’ look like?”
For example, let’s say you’re having a Sales meeting. Sales are down (because it’s a business turnaround) and your Sales Manager says that this week he is going to focus on securing more customers.
“What does good look like by the end of the week?” you may ask.
“‘Good’ looks like, I have secured 3 new customers and they are at contracts stage by end of play, Friday.” they should reply with.
Now, how clear does that sound? Fantastic right?
The outcome is, “we need more customers.”
‘Good’ looks like 3 customers at contracts stage by end of play Friday.
This may seem simple for a business turnaround strategy, and it is! But the best strategies are simple. by installing this habit and discipline in your people, you will see tremendous movement and real results! Your people want clarity! They crave it. They just don’t know how to get it. Help them get it.
So let me ask you a question, “You’re turning around your business. What does ‘good’ look like?…”