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Ken Keller: How one company turned it around

Posted: April 21, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 21, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Ken Keller

 

This week I’d like to introduce a company in a far different place compared to just a year ago. The organization has gone from despair to celebrating success. At the end of the first quarter of 2013, the owner said his company had “…Increased sales, reduced costs and improved our overall financial position in terms of positive cash flow and profitability, as well as reduced debt.”

The change wasn’t just financial. His company is now focused on taking care of clients, doing things right the first time and making sure that promises made are promises kept, not just to clients and suppliers but internally as well. Customer satisfaction is up; employee morale is high and vendors are delighted. What made the difference? How could a formerly successful company turn things around relatively quickly?

There were five key ingredients in their success recipe. The first was the attitude of the owner. He had to make the necessary changes personally and professionally before anything else could take place. He made the choice to reinvest his time and presence back into the business. This started the positive, forward momentum.

The second was having inclusive goals. Goals in the past had been set at the top with no input from management or the employees. This time it was different, input was solicited from the start without the owner interfering.

The third was planning. To achieve the goals, a plan was necessary. This was a novel concept; the company had never created a written plan before. All previous plans had been in the head of the owner, and he never shared the information with anyone.

The fourth was individual goals. Employee goals were set in alignment with the company goals. People came to understand that what they did each day was important. This created a sense of belonging and a sense of worth.

The final ingredient was accountability. The company found it essential to hold people accountable for getting their work completed on time and at a high quality level.

None of this happened overnight. There were plenty of missteps and confusion. Initially, people worked at cross purposes. Some goals lacked ownership; some goals were not achievable; some goals could not be addressed until intermediate goals were achieved. It also turned out there were some “on board terrorists” fighting the new direction of the company.

The company had to literally “get out of its own way” to see these all of these changes come to fruition.

Note the company did not start over, didn’t hit “reset”; did not toss everything out. But the company was ruthless in tossing out what wasn’t working and tinkered where necessary to strengthen what was.

As those who did not buy into the concept were identified, coached and then counseled, tough decisions were made about those employees that had to be told “good bye.”

It is not easy to tell people that they have to leave a place where they no longer were willing to make a contribution, but the owner and his management team determined early on that if anyone fought the new culture, the choice to stay or go was that of the employee and not of the company.

What the internal terrorists feared the most was accountability. Yet for the company to succeed accountability was essential. Every single employee had to be held accountable for keeping promises that were measurable and specific, with assigned due dates.

A byproduct of this transformation surfaced unexpectedly: employees started to learn what they didn’t know, forcing the company to become a learning organization.

Turning around anything starts with a change in attitude. Is it time to change yours?

Ken Keller is CEO of STAR Business Consulting Inc., a company that works with small and midsize business owners to grow top line revenue. He can be reached at KenKeller@SBCglobal.net. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

 

 

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