LOVE is the secret ingredient of leading turnarounds


Late on Wednesday night, I got an email that essentially said we moved from #5 to #1 on a certain important metric . This was a big goal for our team, and we were all working hard for it. So I shared the news with my leadership team right away . Thursday morning, one of them (who is new to the team) asked how we managed to pull it off . And my reply was that our secret ingredient was LOVE, and cued in the Barny song . Of course it sounded terribly cheesy 🙂

In any case, here is what I meant by LOVE in this context

LOVE = Level Set + Operational Efficiency + Valor + Execution Excellence

It’s a simple formula that has served me well throughout my career

Level set

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There are three parts to doing a good level set – starting point , destination, and the first couple of milestones.

You need to know where you are starting from – what works , what doesn’t work , strengths and weaknesses of the team, existing relationships and all that. More important – a good honest hypothesis on WHY we are where we are, and WHY we need to change. The trick here is not to get bogged down in details . Get a good enough starting point and have the confidence that you can tweak along the way as you progress and learn more .

You need to make sure everyone else knows the starting point too , and that they are bought into the first upcoming milestone – and the long term vision . Strength of leadership is in making sure you have both an actual vision and at least a few initial milestones in place before you start . One without the other does not go anywhere far.

Operational Efficiency 

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I grew up in a culture of being metrics driven. It has its definite advantages – but also some problems that need to be addressed. I like to be a metrics minimalist. Any measurement that does not give me a chance to change the outcome is a metric I can live without.

I am a big fan of keeping things simple so that everyone gets what they need to do. Complexity does not scale – and your job as a leader is to encourage your team to simplify everything that can be simplified. You need a simple way to track progress – and the process needs to be tweaked as you learn more along the way.

You need to be pragmatic about metrics. Metrics is not the end – it is just a means to an end. If you don’t realize that – you and/or your team will just find ways to game the metrics. Fascination for metics at its extreme is also the primary cause for premature optimization.

Valor

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The very fact that you are in a turnaround should indicate that some things were messed up in the past. The starting point to a turn around is that you need a lot of courage to take it on – simply because you don’t really know if you have actually hit the bottom, and it might sink further on your watch. But your own courage is just a starting point. Your team needs to find the courage to face the hard problems , and look at them differently in a positive frame of mind. And they won’t do it until they see their leaders have their backs – which goes back to the point of the leader having the courage to begin with.

This is also why it is important to celebrate successes – however small, and even if the net result is still in negative territory. Positivity breeds more positivity and eventually gets you the collective momentum you need . A lot of turn arounds fail because people feel their efforts went thankless for a long time. That is squarely on leaders – if you truly care, you need to express your sincere gratitude to the people who trusted you and put in the effort. In the same breath I will add that if you don’t mean it – don’t put on a show, as your team will see through it quickly and it only does harm .

The true tests of courage is the trust and transparency of the leader. Most people can see through the BS if you try to spin the message. Also, it is a lot less stressful for leaders to be transparent and admit that you don’t have all the answers and that you need their help to find solutions, than to pretend that things are rosy and make up some convenient answer.

Execution excellence 

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This is where everything comes together. Planning and preparing only takes you so far – the real test is what you do every hour of every day. You have to clearly say what you are going to do to your stakeholders, and then go do exactly what you said you will do. And when things don’t work the way you thought – you need to tell them what did not work, and what you are going to do about it, and then go do that. Success of a turn around is due 99% to perspiration , and just 1% to inspiration .

True excellence means that you don’t need to drive this top down any more, and that the team does it as their routine work and grow into leaders themselves.

Post script

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Looking back over a long period of time, we all realize that turning around a problem is perhaps the relatively easy part in hindsight. Things can go south at any point – either because you slacked, or because there were others who put in more effort and thought into it than you did, or because the environment changed externally and internally and you did not see it coming, or maybe just plain bad luck. That is why its important to iterate- and why you have to celebrate success, say thank you to people who made it happen, level set to a new baseline and start all over again.

 

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