As Managing Director of Schneider Downs Meridian, I work closely with companies facing financial or operational issues. Together, we work to find solutions to restore the company to an improved state.
Often, when first engaged with a client in our business turnaround practice, I find myself wishing I had met the client under a different set of circumstances. Specifically, while their business was successful and growing. Under that scenario, our interaction would be open and comfortable for all.
In a troubled situation, the individual – as well as their company – is more likely to feel vulnerable. Why? Because it’s human nature to want to put our best foot forward when meeting new people. We want others to see ourselves as successful and competent. Regardless of what we say, if we are experiencing a business challenge, many of us will experience discomfort. Many who might usually be open to suggestion or input when feeling successful, will be less open to input from others when facing this challenge - particularly if the person offering advice is an “expert” in the areas where we are vulnerable. Asking for help or needing help in this culture may be interpreted as weakness or failure. It does not matter if an objective assessment shows that the challenges are beyond the control of the management or the business merely needs to recognize that success and growth will require changing tactics and strategies. It is that self-critical mindset that automatically seems to change the relationship I may have with the individual. That feeling of “less than” changes the nature of the relationship. Unfortunately, this dilemma may put the life’s work of the business owner at risk by impacting clear and candid communication just when it is needed the most.
Introductions made during situations such as this bring challenges and emotional dynamics that require special relationship skills in order to forge a strong working relationship. Personalizing the situation can increase the businessperson’s skepticism and reticence to allow others to provide support. But success is never a solo process, even if the business owner is a sole proprietor. Business success is team-driven, so set-backs are always about re-evaluating strategy and realigning team goals and action plans.
These “human nature” variables can generate barriers to accepting new external resources on the strategy team. These same barriers slow the natural progression of a working relationship with the consultant. The question becomes: how can business people re-frame these “barriers” to increase the ease and success of these kinds of partnerships?
There are four primary barriers which can diminish the probability of success. Being able to re-frame these barriers will increase the probability of success. They are:
- Recognize the present.
- Organizational and family dynamics.
- Independence and control.
Recognize the present –This is the need to objectively evaluate the current state of the business. Too often, we see only what we want to see rather than what is there. Too often, we think if we wait long enough, the problems will solve themselves. We ignore the immediate crisis and decisions that should be made, hoping that a solution will present itself if we work hard enough. In reality, it never does and precious time and options are lost. One needs to be confident of prior success yet humble enough to break through the state of denial. Recognizing the facts of the current situation can lead towards solutions as opposed to litigating the past. A third party can provide an unbiased perspective, allowing the organization to move forward.
Organizational and/or family dynamics – Every organization has it owns patterns of how members of a group or family interact. These dynamics create their own set of unique challenges and barriers. Perceptions can be skewed because not everyone may be privy to the same facts and circumstances or have the same objectives. Mix that into a business environment with emotions, jealousies, conflicting personal goals and objectives, and this can lead to a fractured leadership team and significant conflict. The conflict and imbalance drains energy and consumes time. A third party can help mute the noise and provide clear thought while blocking, tackling and removing barriers.
Optimism – Too often people focus only on the positive. Two primary positive concepts rationalize that either history will repeat itself or there is no reason to be concerned, since the next big order or transaction will solve everything. Too often, we rationalize without any real concrete evidence. Statements like: “We have done it before and can do it again” or “Once we get the order” prevail and we shift into neutral to wait. Consequently, alternative plans are never developed, and that consumes time. A third party can enable recognition of the situation, ground the businessperson in fact, and guide them to an action plan while the clock is still ticking.
Independence and control – Many business owners and leaders naturally believe that their business is so unique and special that no one else can understand what is needed. This is a natural assumption, because they are the ones who have been there from the beginning or are immersed in the functioning business environment. However, take another look at these commonly heard phrases:
“only our way”
“the ramp-up time is too long for someone else to support us”
“if someone else comes in, I will be giving up control”
All of these statements are, in reality, insecurities, fears and myths.
Essentially, all businesses have common fundamental foundations – people, process and technology. We have customers, vendors, professionals, material, products, services, etc. We are not all that different. What is different is the culture, attitude and approach – and sometimes on a rare occasion something that is unique – be it big or small.
While independence may have enabled historical success – something changed in order to experience “distress.” Recognizing the change dynamics requires a different approach. Collaboration with an objective consultant can reduce the cycle time to solution, paving the path to sustainability sooner rather than later. Allowing a third party to help support you does not mean giving up control, but it does mean being open to embracing support. Strong leaders ask for input.
A quote by H. Jackson Brown, Jr. captures the humble approach to success: “Every person that you meet knows something you don't; learn from them.” Allowing oneself a breath of humility and openness to reach out for help from an independent third-party professional can enable efficiency both in terms of solutions and cycle time.
My thought is to be humble and absorb all you can like a sponge – from many perspectives, but in the end, reserve the right to make the honest decisions that lead forward to success. For more information on our turnaround management services, contact us.