Nothing is more important to a turnaround than rolling up small, quick victories that build positive momentum and give everybody the feeling that things are indeed looking up. That change in attitude lays the foundation for bigger victories later on.
Financial advisers, when helping their clients get out of debt, often encourage them to start by aggressively attacking the smallest debt, paying only the minimum on the larger debts, even if the smallest debt has a lower interest rate than some of the large debts. Now from a strictly mathematical, financial perspective, you should always start with the debt that has the highest interest rate. In terms of pure finance, paying off a high-interest credit card balance is more important than paying off a twelve-month same-as-cash television purchase. But we don’t live as strictly mathematical or financial beings. We are also driven by emotional and psychological forces, and there is something very motivating about making that last payment on the television and applying that payment to the next-biggest debt, and snowballing up from there. A similar psychological momentum is important in organizational change as well.
But while the emotional boost of quick, early success is important, from the perspective of the turnaround leader, that boost is not the most important thing about early successes. Those quick hits give you the opportunity to show your team members that they can indeed trust your leadership. It is vitally important that you not only put your people in a position to succeed, but also connect the dots for them, showing them that they succeeded because they did what you told them to do. That may sound self-serving. Whether it is or it isn’t, I can tell you that connecting the dots for your employees serves them. It gives them confidence; they know that they didn’t just get lucky. They succeeded because they are part of a team led by an able leader. They succeeded because your plan is working.
When I coached football, I found that one of the hardest things to get a new lineman to do is to keep his head up when he blocks. It’s natural to look down as you engage your opponent. But a blocker who keeps his head up enjoys a huge advantage. It was one of the great pleasures of my coaching career to see one of my linemen get his first big pancake block after he learned to keep his head up. And every time it happened, I took great pleasure in saying, “See what just happened? You kept your head up like I taught you, and you see the results!” The real point wasn’t “See, I told you so,” but, “See, you can trust me when I tell you how stuff works.” That reminder made my player a better, more teachable listener.
So don’t be shy about taking a certain amount of credit for your employees’ successes. When members of your organization succeed, congratulate and praise them. Then connect the dots for them; remind them that they succeeded because they listened to what you were telling them. This empowers those who follow you by giving them more confidence in your leadership. They listened this time and success was theirs. Now they are more likely to listen next time.
RELAUNCH: HOW TO STAGE AN ORGANIZATIONAL COMEBACK
by Dr. Mark Rutland