If it’s become clear that your business needs a turnaround, where do you start?
Well, my friend, if you go down this path, you’re about to build an airplane … as you’re flying it!
Eric is a self-made man. He started as a sales rep and became the top producer at his old company. Sensing a bigger opportunity, he left to start his own business. That was 10 years ago. When I first met him, he was still giggling at the fact that he had turned a simple idea into a $3.5 million business. But he was also frustrated. He felt like the business was stuck, and he was seeing some trends that worried him.
• He felt like quality control was dropping.
• Two senior guys had recently retired, and this was impacting production and customer service.
• His market had naturally evolved to be much further outside his service area than he was comfortable with.
• Working harder hadn’t given him the same results it did in the beginning.
This is very commonplace for me as a coach to enter the conversation with a business owner. Eric asked me point-blank, “What do we do?” Let’s dissect his business turnaround and see how you can rebuild an airplane, while flying it — and keeping all the passengers safe!
We Need A Map (A Plan)
Eric needed a map to get his company to the destination. I’m not talking about a dusty business plan that sits on a shelf. He needed a living strategic plan that outlined what he wanted the company to look like over the next five years and who will do what by when.
As often happens, Eric rolled his eyes when I brought up this step — but I proudly stood my ground on those pink, fluffy clouds.
Eric realized his company had to clearly know its culture, vision and values. Those are like the flight rules that keep his company safe, his customers happy and the team doing what needs to be done.
Who Is Your Ideal Customer?
It’s such a simple question, but it has a huge impact. Eric invested the time to get really clear on this.
With a bit of digging, Eric found out that the company had slowly been pulled away from working with high-profit, easy-to-serve customers. He had to get back to them ASAP!
A Phone Call From The Airport
I showed Eric a cheeky exercise called “I’m calling from Hawaii.” I had him imagine that he and his family were finally on vacation.
Wednesday at 1 p.m., he leans over to kiss his wife and says, “I only have one call to make back to the office this week, and I’ll be back with you and the kids in an hour.” If you only had one hour, what are the questions you’d ask your staff?
Eric wrote this out as a list — and quickly figured out the most critical numbers in his business (also called key performance indicators — KPIs).
The Control Tower
This one will surprise you. It might even make you mad. But companies that have mastered this are the ones that make it all look easy. I told Eric he needed to have more meetings.
Yes, to reinvent the company, Eric needed more, shorter, better meetings. At his manufacturing company, he now has only 5.75 hours of meetings a week — and that includes a three-times-a-week production meeting at 20 minutes each! Watch this huddle for an example of a quick, effective meeting format. (Full disclosure: Several years ago, I coached the internal support team at 1-800-GOT-JUNK, which is one of the brands under O2E Brands.)
Follow The Map
Once Eric and his top managers had built the strategic plan with the numbers, the meetings and the accountabilities, the turnaround already had momentum. His company was ready for takeoff.
Stick The Landing
This is Eric’s job as the owner. Using the plan as a guide, he had to make sure that communications and accountability became part of the skeleton of his business.
Eric has become really good at recognizing that when an important action or question comes up, he should always ask his team the simple question: “Who will do what, by when?”
That’s how a business turnaround happens. It’s not magic, and it’s not even rare. It’s a well-defined, proven process. Just like flying an airplane, most of the work is in the takeoff. The rest is just checking the map and course correction to get to your destination.