The Key to Surviving Hard Times

Chainsaw Dunlap was a workout guy twenty years ago, who would go into companies, slicing and dicing, laying people off, cutting product lines, and selling off assets as fast as he could. As his name suggests, he took the chainsaw approach.

Chainsaw was a pro at Turnaround 101, but he did it with no finesse. After the slash and burn lay-offs and asset sales, there’s still a company at which you don’t want everyone to be demoralized and miserable.

Not So Chainsaw

I do it slower – more sensually, shall we say, because I like to talk during.

I always make an effort to educate a company’s personnel throughout the process and solicit their buy-in for what I’m doing. This kind of interaction and buy-in doesn’t just need to happen during a turnaround – it should happen all the time.

I suggest that you regularly sit down with your team(s) and have them understand your solutions and decisions – something Chainsaw never did. I’m hardly suggesting that your team gets to vote – a business is not a democracy – but you do need to get buy-in for big ideas and especially to get through hard times or a turnaround.

Buy-in is Key

The reason you need this kind of buy-in is because, as president of a company, it’s unlikely that you’re out there day to day screwing on the wheels of a car, fixing machinery, bolting your widget together, etc. You can’t assuage the negative feelings running through a company when you don’t have access to everyone in the day to day. When you get the buy-in of your team and allow them to understand what you’re doing and why, they will help educate the survivors of the turnaround process to know that they’re going to be better off after the turnaround.

I was taking my son to school years ago, and he asked me, “What are you doing today?” I told him that I had a rough day in store because I was going to Philadelphia to layoff 200 people and close a division of the company I was turning around.

He looked at me like I was on ogre, and asked how the kids of those laid off would be able to afford camp, get baseball gloves and enjoy candy. I told him that I understood his questions and concerns, but by laying off 200 people and closing one plant, I was saving 600 jobs and keeping the company alive. It’s not that what I had to do didn’t stink for some, but it was for the greater good.

The challenge at that moment is to ensure that the 600 employees remaining are reenergized, reengaged and brought into the process of what comes next. That is, you’ve got to communicate and get buy-in.

Communicate Fully

If you go through a rough patch at your business and the people there really hate you then they will cease to fully contribute, leave, cripple your company and make you conclude that you shouldn’t have spent money on a turnaround in the first place. You should have resigned to call it a day and get on with your life because everyone else will have, too.

Companies – like militaries, countries, families and people – face hard times. As your company’s leader, it’s your job to get everybody through the hard times and make sure that they are prepared to see the good ones again.

Only the best innovators, products, companies and employees will survive a turnaround. If you insist on every social program that keeps everyone around, no one will have enough. It’s better that some do, and it’s best that they understand what’s happening and why. Open communication and buy-in will steer your company through hard times.

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