Great Business Ideas: Managing a turnaround

Great Small Business Ideas to Start: Managing a turnaround

Undergoing a corporate transformation is fraught with danger, but guidelines can be used to make sure that it goes to plan and your organization gets the most out of the change.

The idea

Robert Reisner, former vice president of strategic planning for the US Postal Service, is well placed to talk about the pitfalls of managing organizational change. Amid soaring profits in 1999, the US Postal Service made an attempt to revolutionize its business technologically to allow it to compete in a new “wired” era. Although this effort to better integrate into a technologically advanced society was met with initial optimism, it soon began to stall. In 2001, the company was facing a $3 billion loss, motivation was falling, and the General Accounting Office described the turnaround as having a “high chance of failing.”

Reisner identified key steps that led to the transition stalling, which provide important lessons for corporate transformation:

  1. Not missing your moment. Time your change initiatives to coincide with market opportunities and high morale among employees.
  2. Connecting the transformation with the core of your business. Make sure employees understand how the changes are relevant to the mainstream operations of the company.
  3. Telling the difference between incremental improvements and strategic transformation. Don’t let temporary business success distract from the need for a strategic reinvention.
  4. Setting realistic goals. Creating unrealistic expectations is detrimental to the motivation of employees and managers, and distracts from the goals that can be achieved.

Although you can never guarantee that a major business transformation will proceed as planned, you can guarantee that you will be prepared to deal with the challenges it presents, and to navigate your way around them.

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In practice

  • Help employees deal with the stress they face during the transformation.
  • Take advantage of the contributions that current employees can make to the turnaround.
  • Create lists of what needs to be done, communicate priorities, and implement the changes.
  • Focus on one initiative at a time—trying to do too much will overwhelm your organization.
  • Take control of the situation by asking productive, practical questions on how to make the transition succeed.