Business Performance Consulting

Seven keys to pivoting a troubled organization

Reversing the status quo and negative momentum is to go against the grain. It’s a difficult thing to do but is where change starts. Based on the hundreds of organizations I’ve worked with, pivot opportunities offer huge value gains and pathways to sustainability.

In turbulent times, increased change is an increasing reality. Combined with the threat from technological innovation, the requirement for constant change is not leaving us any time soon. This applies to all organizations and not just the ones in trouble. Some organizations need to be rescued from the brink; others need a course correction or a momentum shift because of disruptive new technology or iterating competitors.

When combined with Lean, the following lessons should be taken to heart by boards of directors and CEOs if considering a pivot initiative.

1) Prepare for the worst:
Facing the facts on day one is essential and it’s almost always worse than anyone admitted to. Too many things go unsaid for too long. Corporate taboos emerge over time. Often information is withheld and decisions are made behind closed doors. Bringing light and transparency to what is really going on is key to understanding the bigger picture of what needs to be done. Pivoting the culture into open dialogue gives everyone an opportunity to come clean and understand what role they will play in the future.

2) Plan the plan: This is about putting a stake in the ground. No more missed deadlines or slipped timeframes, no more excuses. By putting a realistic and firm transition plan in place with dates, measurable outcomes, ownership accountability, support and action items will go a long way to helping the organization get to where it needs to be in six months. It also communicates expectations and direction.

3) Get a handle on the finances: Without situational awareness, an aircraft pilot doesn’t know if they’re over an ocean or about to fly into a mountain. The same goes for any organization. Understand the trajectory of the organization by listening to customers and understanding the finances, follow the money. Once situational awareness is attained, put small but deliberate course corrections in place in accordance with the transition plan.

4) Establish a unifying reason for change: The arguments found in most organizations between sales and delivery can become calcified overtime, creating deep divisions that prohibit collaboration. Negative momentum builds walls that kill communication. Ask the question, why does this organization matter? If no one can give a compelling answer, further soul searching is required. A single unifying reason and robust purpose for being must be communicated and understood as the mantra for change. Openly engaging customers in this process will help pour fuel on the fire.

5) Identify the assets that create value for customers and bolster them: Activities and assets that do not directly contribute to the creation of value for customers should be questioned. Assets that create irrefutable value must be restored and invested in. Often organizations have gotten themselves into a position such as operating two offices for reasons that once made sense but no longer do, or producing products that don’t support what customers really want to purchase. If your organization is going to pivot, use this is an opportunity to focus on the 20% that generates 80% of value.

6) Invest in collaboration: When done strategically, investing in collaboration can pay off in spades by healing old wounds and aligning people towards future performance, working together on a new chapter. It is an opportunity to introduce new values such as openness, commitments and accountability, discouraging high control mindsets, encouraging a spirit of accomplishing things and serving others, instilling collective responsibility and getting your leaders to become stewards of accountability.

Don’t underestimate the power in this. A dinner is usually not enough to shift culture. People need a chance to socially interact and engage with each other on a deeper level as people first, not just with their professional personas. The deeper the divide the more work that’s needed here to rebuild a top performing team.

7) Unlock buried treasure: Each part of an organization has something to say about how to improve customer value. Depending on the situation, the mail clerk may have more insight than a VP of Sales. No one’s ideas trump anyone else’s when it comes to increasing value for the customer. By combining both small and large initiatives, all dimensions of renewal can be addressed. A couple favorite techniques include:

  • launching internal competitions for customer service and innovation
  • implementing a staff committee (paid) to identify cost savings and growth opportunities
  • implementing a customer advisory panel and inviting staff to be silent observers


What techniques have you seen that work to help an organization renew itself?

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