Turning a Negative Into a Positive: A Corporate Culture Odyssey
I've been on-site with a client for the last two weeks. We're in the middle of a turnaround on a 45-plus-year-old brand that was once the world leader in its industry. Today, due to competition and other factors, the company's image is "dusty" and in need of a major boost.
Shortly, I'll give you some great takeaways I've learned from this brand over the past two weeks, but first let me set the table. It's been through a tough time lately, with two rounds of devastating staff downsizings, along with service cutbacks that are clearly noticeable to its customers.
Turning this leaky, gargantuan ship around will be a monumental task!
I sat in a staff meeting with the brand's employees last week, and I could see the fear in their eyes. When was the axe going to fall? When is the next cutback? I was invited into the staff meeting to rally the troops, motivate the staff by relaying to them that we were indeed seeing early results from our efforts. Sales were up slightly. Social engagement was improving. Essentially my message was that the ship was able to be turned around with their help.
When I got done with my speech, I received a polite thank-you from the team. In the days after, however, it became clear to me that my message didn't resonate. I couldn't help but think why. Here's what it comes down to:
1. Momentum and inertia are powerful forces that can literally tank a business. It takes more than one cheery speech from a marketing consultant to provide the proper stimulus for people to re-energize and re-engage. In order to turn a company around, you must first turn around the minds of all key stakeholders. For mind-sets to change, corporate culture needs to change. Leaders need to reinforce positive "energy" continually and with great care.
2. Resignation is another powerful force in business. People accept their fates. People just do their jobs. It takes great courage to NOT accept fate and do things differently. People need to work in teams, with leadership setting the example, to look at all facets of a business and see what can be done to plug the leaks. Leadership needs to be open and in listening mode so that everybody in the organization can feel as if they're making a difference in the turnaround.
3. Engagement is key. People who are engaged in the turnaround will drive the process better than any rah rah speech can ever do!
4. Leadership needs to understand that people are always going to be resistant to change, even if this change will be for the better. As such, a turnaround can bring out the worst in people, causing infighting and even coup attempts. Leadership needs to be always looking around corners for employee issues that need to be addressed.
When I asked everyone to contribute to the meeting, some bristled. If you ask someone to do tasks outside their comfort zone, even if they have excellent intentions, they still feel the "heaviness" of the environment that they work in. Even if they're not working to capacity, the atmosphere of a sinking ship can cause people to psychologically feel overworked, thus creating a situation where extra work, no matter how meaningful, might be a big strain. At the end of the day, it may be a big thing for leadership, but to employees its still their day-to-day job.