Business turnarounds are one of the biggest challenges a leader can face during their career. As a result of poor leadership, inadequately skilled employees, and inefficient workflow systems, a company will find itself in massive chaos and disarray.
In order to successfully transform a business, a leader must have the determination, focus, and skills to go the long haul. Most business turnarounds take time and a plan. Many leaders will not take on the risks and challenges of a turnaround, so there are few leaders who have what it takes to successfully transform a business.
The leaders that are willing to take on the extensive work involved in a business turnaround know that there are a significant number of risks and a finite number of rewards with each turnaround.
Throughout my 35-year corporate career, I was involved in leading and consulting on at least 12 turnarounds. These organizational transformations ranged from ten employees to more than 2500. I mainly focused on turning around business operations and human resources training and development departments. The approach to both was the same even though the business units were different.
As a result of accepting the numerous turnaround challenges and successfully completing them over and over again, I had the opportunity to reflect on my experiences and come up with my short list of three risks and rewards of leading business transformations. I found that in each challenge no one else wanted to do the job, no one else had the skills to do the job, and most often others were afraid of failing.
The risks associated with taking on a job that no one else wanted were evident each time I was recruited and hired by a company to take on a turnaround. The pool of candidates was small, and I fortunately rose to the top on a number of occasions.
Given the small number of leaders who were skilled to do the job, there was the risk of staying current on the leading edge of organizational development best practices. The risk of not being completely equipped to do the job drove the quest for continual learning.
Many people have a natural fear of failure, and the risks associated with that will keep them out of the running for many jobs. When a job is more difficult than usual, many leaders will look beyond it for something less risky. People generally want favorable odds.
The rewards for me in taking on the challenges of turning around businesses in chaos were plentiful. They included being able to build a solid reputation on my skills and successes with plenty of transformations. I also developed a cutting edge toolkit of skills and resources that supported me in following through on the implementation plan that resulted in a successful turnaround.
One of the key rewards associated is what comes with any corporate leadership success. There were financial rewards, along with other forms of recognition, that showed the importance of the work that had been completed. The celebrations were a part of the recognition, and most companies were good at finishing the turnaround with a public acknowledgement of the successful work that created the turnaround.
Each time I was approached and recruited to a company that needed a business turnaround leader, I weighed the risks associated with the job against my abilities to successfully complete the transformation. I know today that I took on some jobs that no one else wanted and no one else could complete. I was rewarded for those decisions in almost every scenario.
I chalk up my drive for accepting the most challenging leadership roles that most often included a business turnaround with my work ethic and need to outperform others. The drive to learn and develop my leadership skills was always satisfied when I took on the high-risk turnaround jobs. I own my competitive drive when it comes to doing my job in comparison to my colleagues. It pushed me past the barriers on my way to success in the corporate environment.
In addition to the three takeaways about the risks and rewards of leading business turnarounds, I invite you to evaluate your own leadership model and determine what drives you to success. There are many jobs a leader can take on and be successful at during their career: Be sure you are in the job that aligns with your drive, work ethic, and personal values. It will give you more opportunities to achieve success when you are in the job that fits with who you are as a leader.
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