Matt Shoup, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member from Colorado, is founder and CEO of MattShoup.com. He helps inspire and encourage CEOs and leaders around the world with life, love, and leadership advice.
Everybody loves a turnaround story where a dysfunctional company, organization, or family pulls together and comes out on the winning side. When people come together under a common purpose, vision, or mission, it takes monumental effort to see things through. And since organizations are comprised of fallible human beings, they will become dysfunctional to some degree over time.
It will happen. I have seen my share of it over the years. However, I have also witnessed a corporate turnaround and seen what it takes to fix a failing organization.
My wife and I were ecstatic to send our oldest son to kindergarten at one of Northern Colorado's highest-rated elementary schools. Our excitement lasted until another school came to town. Global Village Academy (GVA), a Colorado-based charter school focusing on bilingual, multicultural education hosted a meet-and-greet night in the spring of 2013. They would be opening a Northern Colorado location in fall of 2013. My wife and I were immediately impressed by the vision and purpose the school had, as well as the leadership that was making it happen. We were also aware of the issues a new school of this type will have during its inception.
Nonetheless we unenrolled our son from his top-rated school and enrolled him in GVA Fort Collins. The honeymoon phase started and everything was phenomenal; then the inevitable happened. Lack of enrollment, lack of funds, and internal disagreements led to the dismissal of the school's first principal.
The school was in shock and the transition of new leadership emerged. It had invested in and built its permanent location to open in the fall of 2014. With millions of dollars and hundreds of students' futures at stake, the second principal arrived, only to be removed soon after. As I witnessed these transitions, I also saw the continued dysfunctional relationships, drama, bickering, gossiping, and rumors that almost destroyed the school's future and my son's opportunity.
Diane Houghtaling--the third and final principal, leader and turnaround specialist--has been in the process of turning what was pure dysfunction and potential failure to a flourishing school that is deeply rooted in the Northern Colorado community. Any leader can take a page from her book:
- Plant your flag. Immediately enter and declare who you are and what you stand for. This is your foundation of realignment around the organization. Plant it for all to see and watch others respond.
- Be prepared to fight. When you make your stand, be prepared to stay in that space and fight. Some will align with you and some will oppose you. However, it's important to stand your ground and make sure your vision and purpose remain aligned.
- Some will leave, so dismiss them kindly. As you stand for a positive and passionate purpose, those who oppose you will eventually see they must leave, as you make it clear you will not be opposed. While some will leave quietly, others won't. Dismiss them kindly and with respect. You may lose revenue or growth in the short term, but it makes room for the right growth moving ahead.
- Expose what is right, excellent, and functional first. There will be many things that a failing organization is actually doing right. Highlight, address, and encourage their continuation and do not fix what's not broken. Then begin addressing the dysfunction.
- Remind everybody why they initially joined. In the midst of corporate upheaval, emotions can run high. Many forget why they were originally aligned with you. This is the time to drive home what, how, and why everyone came together in the first place.
- Create a system and process. Hold others accountable and ensure that everyone from top to bottom is aligned with your position.
Turning around an organization is no easy task. A proper plan and firm stance in what you believe can go a long way to helping a floundering organization rise again.