Monday, May 2, 2011

Turnarounds: Why? Why? Why?

When I am retained to advise on the turnaround of a company, my only tool, after 20 years of experience, is the word "why". The magic of the word "why" never ceases to amaze me. I discover time and again how executives and their teams continuously take actions in a mindless manner, simply because it's been done like that in the past.

As soon as an outsider like me starts to constantly ask "why is this?", "why is that?", "why do we do it that way?", I start getting blank stares and angry responses. And that's what I want. It stimulates the brain, it energizes the thought process, it forces unconventional thinking. In brief, it takes everyone at the company out of their comfort zone. And isn't that why the company got in trouble in the first place? because everyone just got too comfortable and did not challenge themselves and each other.

Just like in real estate, "location, location, location" is the magic formula to a successful real estate strategy, in turnarounds, "why, why,why" is the magic formula. Sometimes the company goes from the brink of bankruptcy to being completely turned around simply because I ask "why, why,why". Most answers  lie within; executives and team members alike come up with solutions that have been in the back of their head for a long time. They simply did not bother putting them on the table because no one asked them, no one dared ask "why".

Sometimes problems are deeper and more urgent when I am asked to turnaround a company, and certain techniques are only learned with experience and battleground scars, but the "why" always solves at least 50% of the problem, even with outside suppliers and bankers. Sometime they don't even know what outcome they want out of a turnaround, but when asked "why", they start thinking about their actions.

So start asking "Why?"