Politics Sinks Companies, But It Doesn’t Have to Sink Yours

All organizations have politics. If there’s more than one person involved – or one person with split personalities – you will have politics. Whether a 50,000-person enterprise, a non-profit, a school, a small business or a club, there will be politics.

The question is: How do you minimize politics?

Remember that everyone has an agenda. Even keeping one’s head down and doing a job for the paycheck is an agenda. As you can imagine, so is sucking up to your boss for a promotion. But those are ordinary personal-level agendas. If this is the culture of the company the aggregate of these individual low level politics could be crippling, but these are not the politics that concern me.

I’m concerned about the kind of senior-level destructive politics that slows down the operations of a company. At this senior level key decisions are made, so when people jockey for their political interests, they are making – or more likely breaking – their companies.

At one large company I turned around, there were some old directors who wanted to continue in the manufacturing business, while other directors preferred to morph into a licensing company. As a result, valuable time was lost, resulting in a 6-month delay – and a ton of monetary losses – before the company pulled together on the project that would save them.

Now, a disagreement amongst board members is a healthy way of fleshing out the best ideas – and a normal process – but problems arise when a board member or senior manager tries to undermine the process of normal negotiations and discussions within the board by currying the favor of senior management or board members who skew assumptions and therefore strategies towards their desired outcome.

I’ve seen numerous companies fail for these reasons.

As a board member, manager or director, it’s your job to minimize the politics around you – and to recognize when you’re a culprit in creating those politics.

I don’t know that you can stop politics, but you can mitigate it. If you, as a manager, see politics going on, you need to nip it in the bud by speaking directly to people about their actions and emphasizing that by working as a team, you are all working towards the same goal: the success of your company.

The bigger a company becomes, the more layers of management are created and the more political the team gets – and the less “team” things become. No matter how big your company gets, try to keep your business from being too political. Life is too short for politics.

When internal politics heavily influences people’s behaviors, leaders don’t get the right answers quickly enough. When a business is in trouble, this results in a slower turnaround; even when a company is healthy, internal politics creates unnecessary barriers to honest communication and collaboration.

What kinds of politics does your company face? How do you handle them?

Avoid America’s Bankruptcy by Bringing a Turnaround Guy to Washington and Treating the Country Like a Business

This article was published in its original form in the Atlanta Business Chronicle here.

The United States is a capitalistic society, so I often wonder why the government isn’t run like a business. We had a surplus 12 years ago, but now our debt is astronomical: nearly 14 and a half trillion dollars. This isn’t a political issue. It’s a business one – or at least it should be.

When a business finds itself in this much debt relative to its capacity to repay, the bank, Board of Directors or shareholders say, “No more!” and send in a turnaround professional. We are the shareholders, and it’s time to send a turnaround guy to D.C.

When my clients have problems with cash flow they don’t print money. They raise money, close plants, layoff people or cut spending; they tighten their belts to survive.

Despite insurmountable debt, the U.S. government isn’t doing those things. Businesses with negative cash flow would have been bought, liquidated, merged or otherwise gone at this point, and I don’t want to see us become like Greece or Iceland in five years. Worse still, I don’t want to be a part of the United States of China, since in the business world a company with increasing debt is subject to acquisition or dissolution by a larger and wealthier business.

I always say that 100% of spreadsheets and projections don’t work because the assumptions are wrong, yet people rarely revisit and alter the assumptions regularly to produce more positive results. Even today, the Office of Management and Budget, which hasn’t made an accurate P&L projection in years, thinks that our revenue is going to increase by x if we do a, b and c. But x is an assumption that’s based on the unlikely actualization of a, b and c, possible only if we overcome party politics. And as the deficit skyrockets, the assumptions are increasingly wrong and the parties are increasingly polarized.

The only way we’re going to resolve our financial crisis is by treating the government like a business.

As we repeatedly hear, a balanced budget is the first step. The second step, however, is a repayment plan of our foreign debt. Next, raise taxes. No one likes tax increases – especially me – but it’s part of the solution.

The corporate amnesty program allowed businesses to return profits from foreign soil to the U.S. at lower tax rates, which created more jobs in America. This was a wonderful and creative idea, but it equates to peeing in an ocean: it doesn’t change the levels. While thousands of these ideas will amount to an aggregated long-tail effect, we need to begin with more drastic measures.

Turnaround 101 dictates that we start by slashing all spending by at least 15%. We must tell every division, department and agency that it needs to cut its cash needs – no exceptions. The pain will be shared across the whole country as it would be across an entire business. This kind of mandatory budget cut provides time to fine tune operational requirements based on the improved results.

Before you ask, this 15% cut would affect entitlements, social security, health care, the military, and education – everything.

It’s easy to buck and cry, What about the children? Shouldn’t they be exempt from budgetary cuts? What about the sick and the poor? What about defense?

Here’s what I ask every department at a business: “Do you want your company to survive until tomorrow or do you want to quibble about who’s more deserving of money that doesn’t exist? I don’t care how you do it. Just do it.”

Internal politics kill companies in the private sector because politics and business don’t mix. Similarly, politics has no place in America’s budgetary discussions, and our issues must be addressed by those who can truly set aside political or personal biases and run this country like a turnaround professional in the private sector.

As a turnaround guy, I act like an ER doctor; my first step is to stabilize the patient and prevent shock. As a country, we’re already in shock. Nobody wants to lose an arm or a leg, but if there’s only enough blood for the torso and the leg is gangrenous, you better believe I’ll lop it off to save the body. In five years, the prosthetic surgeon can make us pretty again. I’m in a unique business, but it’s the business of making sure we’re still alive in 2025 with or without a leg.

In addition to the 15% cut, we must freeze all raises and expansions. That means no more foreign aid increases (also subject to the 15% cut), and we put a reasonable mandatory repayment plan in place for foreign aid. We can’t continue to write off receivables and survive. It doesn’t work that way in business, and it can’t work that way in government.

This also means no cost of living increases for government employees, social security beneficiaries and pensioners. In addition, congressmen can enjoy normal health care services – not VIP lifetime benefits for two years of service.

Unfortunately, tenured positions can’t be affected, but we can stop giving tenure. All rules for entitlements (e.g. pensions) must be reviewed. The private sector has largely eliminated pensions because it can’t afford them, and government needs to do the same. In capitalism when you can’t afford something you stop doing it.

I don’t have every last answer for how to save the trillions we need, but by making – and enforcing – these tough moves we can save America from bankruptcy, collapse and ruin. We must empower people to save money, and punish them for spending it needlessly in order to get a line item the following year.

Legislators keep asking that we have faith. Our economic stability has been built on faith: full faith and credit in the U.S. We can’t retain faith after twelve years of increasing debt. We need to deal with hard facts and run America like a business. Business is not about faith. It’s about trusting what works, and what works in business is what I know. Treat America like a business, and we’ll all live to buy another day.

I’m the Turnaround Authority and my bags are packed. Washington D.C., please call!

Making Your Own Puzzle Pieces: Saving a Company in Crisis, Part II

If you want to check out Part 1 of this series in order to get up to date on the situation and lessons thus far, I’ll be happy to wait for you. Just come back when you’re ready.

Cooperation is Key

In order to effectively implement proactive growth strategies, your company needs a management team that cooperates and openly communicates internally and externally. As CEO, think broadly about your team, which may include management, the Board of Directors, your bank or vendors and your team of turnaround professionals.

In the case of our bankrupt restaurant, the Board of Directors and the CEO were not pulling together effectively to expedite what should have been their common goal: helping the company survive. There needed to be buy-in earlier from these key stakeholders, but instead they were tearing each other and their company apart.

This proved challenging for our GGG team, whose first job is always to get everyone aligned. No matter how good we are at workouts, it’s tough to succeed when your C-Level executives and your board disagree and refuse to set a common goal. In crisis situations, more so than any other time, people need to focus on the higher level goal of the company.

As a result of this discord, we had to assist the company in a ‘363’ auction sale of pieces of the business rather than do a traditional restructuring.

Solve Puzzles Creatively

This was a complex and interesting case to work on due to the variety of challenges we faced, one of which was the frequency with which we were required to come up with creative solutions on the spot.

The puzzle pieces of our restaurant were all scattered, some of them on the table before us and others on the floor (and the dog probably ate a couple). As a workout guy my task is to put these pieces together, but recognizing that the pieces don’t always fit properly and that there isn’t time to put everything in its proper place is important to prioritizing problems – and their solutions.

When solving problems in this fashion, you have to cut the pieces to make them fit and make game-time calls. This approach allowed us to keep up with the pace of a rapidly changing crisis.

One example that comes to mind is the memorabilia. They have memorabilia all over these places, and I found myself sitting in the corporate offices admiring what was on the walls and wondering how I could sell off these valuables in order to create cash to fund the business. As I looked around, I noticed that the “t” in a lot of the signatures looked weirdly similar. I’m no handwriting expert, but I couldn’t shake this weird feeling.

Acting on my feet, I made a phone call and got someone to assess the value of the memorabilia, all of which was purchased from one of the board members for a quarter million dollars. Turns out it was all fake. Though we didn’t have the money to sue this board member we took certain actions to coerce him into refunding our money.

We also had to act on our feet when we noticed the board self-dealing. The board had to be reminded of the change in its fiduciary responsibility once the company had become insolvent. Their interests were legally required to change from themselves to their creditors. We had to protect the board members legally by making sure they kept their fiduciary responsibility in mind and quickly curbing actions that went against this premise.

Taking Smart Risks

At GGG we always think long-term. We don’t want our clients just to survive; we strive to implement strategies that will make them successful in the long-run. And we don’t make compromises on this point.

Part of long-term success involves risk taking. But never bet the ranch – take smart risks. On this project, we were challenged by the disparate goals of the Board of Directors, yet we consistently managed to get their approval in order to take smart risks and solve major problems.

Our risk was evaluating and cutting unprofitable locations fast enough to allow the rest of the company to survive with a core group of profitable bars. The subsequent auction of the company resulted in several competing bids and the completion of the ‘363’ auction sale. Today, a few years after the bankruptcy and in a much tougher economic climate, the client continues to operate several locations profitably.

Join me next time for Part 3 to discuss why it’s important not to make rash decisions about the fate of your company and the tools you can use to make better decisions.