Hands up if you’ve ever been overwhelmed whilst trying to turn around a failing department or business. (If you didn’t raise your hand then I’ll cast lying devils out of you at the next church service.) But seriously – during a business turnaround, it can be very tricky to get overwhelmed by the countless things that need fixing. Where do you start? What is critical? What can wait?
During a business turnaround, you will no doubt be bombarded by things going wrong, relentless requests and everyone claiming that their problem is urgent or critical.
Here is how to know what to focus on in a business turnaround:
That’s right. Stop! I know this sounds so counter-intuitive but hear me out. You’re in the proverbial ‘whirlwind’. You are being bombarded left, right and centre. If you start reacting, then you’re dead.
The key is to take a leaf out of Michael Hyatt’s amazing book, ‘Free to Focus’. The first step in this focus and productivity system is to (you guessed it), stop!
There is power in stopping. By stopping, you are able to take a step back, reflect and think. Stopping helps you find perspective and find your centre. Stopping helps you to relax, breathe and achieve a calm state. If you’re not calm during a business turnaround then you will find it very difficult down the line.
2. Ask Good Questions
According to David Allen’s classic book, ‘Getting Things Done’, Executives and senior professionals must ask 2 questions every day:
- What is the successful outcome?
- What is the very next action?
You’d be surprised how many so-called professionals muddle their way through their careers by not having clarity. Having clarity ensures you get movement and results. During a business turnaround you need to be crystal clear on what you want. If you’re not clear, then you will reduce your chances of success.
What is the Successful Outcome?
When you ask, “What is the successful outcome”, what you’re really asking is what is the goal? Remember that successful people start with the end in mind. They picture the end result first, then plan how they will get there.
Example: Your company is failing and needs to be turned around. The successful outcome could be many things:
- Better cash flow
- Fire the bottom 10% performing staff
- Get clients that pay on time
- Get clients that pay more
- Reduce operating expenses
- Move into a new value proposition etc
There are so many things that could be classed as a successful outcome, but you need to be clear.
The above list is still not clear enough though. “We need to be profitable” is not clear. By how much and by when?
Another great question is, “What does ‘good’ look like?” This has been my go-to question for years. It forces people to think with clarity.
If the successful outcome is profitability, then ‘good’ could look like:
We achieve £100K EBITDA by September 2020
Did you see that?
The successful outcome was ‘profitability’.
What ‘good’ looks like is £100K EBITDA by September 2020.
That seems pretty clear to me.
What Is The Very Next Action?
This is where we get practical. You’ve defined the successful outcome. You’ve defined clearly, what ‘good’ looks like. Now, what is the very next action to move towards that successful outcome?
Notice, I’ve not said the ‘next’ action, I’ve said the very next action.
The very next action will always be a verb:
- Talk to
- Find etc
By defining the very next action, you take the first step in moving towards your successful outcome. It’s not complicated. Who said it needs to be?
3. Define The Wildly Important Goals
According to ‘4 Disciplines of Execution’ the 1st step to executing a strategy is to define the most important goal. Everything is urgent, but not everything is important.
You could do 100 things at the same time, but I doubt you’d get very far. The most successful companies do a few things and do them well. Some people refer to this as a ‘narrow focus’ or ‘chunking down’. Whatever you call it, the principle is to look at all your goals and ask yourself, What are the 1-3 most important things I can do right now that will have the biggest impact?”
Once you’ve narrowed down the goals, you’ve reduced your stress. If you’ve picked the right goals, then you should feel confident that these will have the most impact.
Whenever I have conducted business turnarounds, it sometimes can seem odd to people on the outside. Often people think I am not working hard enough, or I don’t have a plan. Quite the contrary.
By using the above questions, I have done the thinking and established the most important things to get done at that time. Sure I can be a busy fool and run around not getting results. Or I can stay calm, be clear on the outcome and do a few things well and get results.
Which one would you prefer?