Inward Bound - A Journey
of Corporate Renewal
When modest change is not enough, when competition or the market or the world has become so different that a really new response or a preemptive strike is needed, then it is time for the company to make a journey, a spirit quest. We all agree on that. And the greater the change that is needed the more extreme the experience the company must have to cause that change; that makes sense too.
Many of us remember the change that happened within us in going through boot camp. And it seems it should work for business teams as well. It certainly worked for the platoons we were part of. Boys becoming warriors and training groups becoming fighting units that trusted and could depend upon their men. And men upon each other.
For many years now, there has been much spoken of the positive change that happens to a management team on going into the wilderness on an "extreme" experience - a kind of environmentally correct, boot-camp surrogate with primitive traditions thrown in. And certainly it is an experience that few managers themselves ever do forget.
And certainly, just ask any participant, teams are formed, to climb the mountains or run the rapids or sustain each other on the treks. But very few lasting business benefits seem to be reported.
Some years ago, after sending a number of management groups on various out-of-doors experiences in the hope (certainty?) of creating teams, we began to question what was happening. The results were NOT appearing on the bottom-lines. (If they don't show there why do it?) And the benefits of better teamwork, if any, evaporated in a week or even less. All too soon, the "teams" became again collections of harassed managers trying to survive.
However, there were a few reports that some of these trips had worked. So we asked the CEOS and managing officers about their experience and how that related to the bottom line results and measurable performance improvements they saw.
Almost immediately we realized the kind of experience they had undertaken seemed not to really matter. Rafting, climbing, trekking all seemed equal. The companies leading them seemed not to matter either. If the experiences were extreme, teams formed. And then (for most) upon return to work, with the need no longer urgent, the teams dissolved.
But a small few faced something different immediately upon their return. A crisis.
And in these crises the teams, already formed, came into their own. And went to work without the inevitable need for gradual acceptance and emotional ramping-up. Crisis, business crisis, was the significant difference that gave results. Crisis caused the teams to function.
But crisis, causes teams to form anyway. If not so quickly. Or in time to do some good.
So! Is there something that a CEO can do, a crisis being too dangerous a way to create a team and teach it teamwork?
In the meeting of extreme experience and business crisis we had found a clue to something which a CEO can use, at will, to cause a transformation or a surge in profits.
The program is called Preemptive Turnaround. It has been proven time after time over the last ten years. And intense will do; extreme is not required. And crisis without danger can be created when you know how. And inward, to the company, to its challenges, is better far than any outward journey.
It does have experiental features. But the mountain climbed, the rapids run, the distance trekked are all within the company. And the challenges overcome are those of the company and the daemons conquered are those that plague its soul. And the joy, the exultation of achievement come with a surge in profits.
The process itself is very simple. There are just three major steps, constantly repeated. Perfection is not needed and they become more effective with practice.
The first step makes the others easy and natural: Visualize the company as a person. See it, hear it, feel it as an entity. Personify it, give it form and shape and color within your mind. Identify its personality, as it is and as it should be. The better you do this the more effective the other steps will be.
The second step is to evoke the company. The most successful technique to do this is to call the management team together. Whenever the management team is making decisions for the business, the company is there too. As you talk with them, remain aware that you talk with it too. As you decide with them for the company's sake, you decide with it too. Saying to the group (and the company), in this matter, we are the company is a powerful, empowering evocation. Also, whenever you talk to your workers about the company - and it should be often - speak to the company through them, listen to the company through them.
The third step is to increase its power, its potency, its authority; enough for it to make known its needs and its potential, if necessary over the prejudices and preferences of individuals on the management team, even yours.
Simplifying the politics of the company is the way to do this. The simpler the politics and the clearer the focus, the more powerful becomes the spirit of the company. As the company grows in potency and in clarity, workers at all levels begin to respond to it as a separate entity. Creativity grows. Morale improves. The organization becomes more responsive to leadership. The key factors of the inner life of the company come into balance. And the externals follow.
Time after time, over the last twenty years we have watched managing officers intuitively use these steps to turnaround companies, to transform their performance. Time after time (without telling anyone) we have used them ourselves to enable companies to sharply increase their profits and renew themselves.
The steps may seem a little mystical. But they are as real as riding a bicycle. It will take you just a little time and effort to begin them properly. With practice they will become innate and the results will come faster. Once started, they take no time from your day and they magnify the results of the normal course of business.
They happen within the heart and mind of the CEO. And no one else need ever know.
A more detailed, actionable, description of the process is available in the companion articles: Fire In The Corporate Belly and The Preemptive Turnaround.
Tom FitzGerald is a bottom-line oriented, consulting management engineer,
who specializes in effecting major improvements in profitability, performance
and growth. He
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