Checklist for the future: Turnaround and Pivot

Fortitude, optimism, critical thinking, judgement, humility, a turnaround mindset and a good checklist.  We will likely need all of these to navigate the choppy waters of our current situation.  Whether you are inundated with opportunity because your supplies or services are greatly needed, or contemplating how to chart a path forward despite a lack of demand for what you are producing, you may need to recalibrate as you plan for the future.

After reading Jeff Sands’ Corporate Turnaround Artistry: Fix Any Business in 100 Days, I wondered if we’d all be better served by looking at our businesses through the lens of a turnaround specialist while planning for the future.  In a turnaround cash-is-king, and making it, keeping it, investing it, and using it wisely are the primary operating imperatives. Taking stock of where we are seems like a useful exercise no matter the stage of a business lifecycle and feels like a proverbial siren’s-call given today’s environment.  

The days, weeks and months ahead will not be easy.  Getting through will require difficult decisions, sacrifices and tradeoffs.  You and your team will wrestle with staffing levels, furloughs and employee safety, capital investments, scrapping or accelerating planned expansions, or closing sites, and a myriad of other concerns.  Having a guide for this exercise feels necessary, and a great place to start is Jeff’s “…list of landmines that scatter the field of business and human behavior, in no particular order”:  

  • Failure to adapt.
  • Bad luck.  
  • Undercapitalized.  
  • Over levered.  
  • Not diversified.  
  • Lacking controls.  
  • Overanalyzing.  
  • Low gross product margin (GPM).  
  • Falling sales.  
  • Rising costs.  
  • Owner health  
  • Owner distraction.  
  • Overexpansion.  
  • Overcomplicating.  
  • Failure to control a crisis.  
  • Management transition.  
  • Falling in love with your product.  
  • Pain tolerance.  
  • Leadership.  


I’ll add, People.

Adopting a turnaround mindset gives you the freedom to look at your organization from an outsider’s point of view. It also enables a systematic evaluation of your business, which suggests Atul Gawande’s use of checklists.  “Good checklists, … are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything…. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps–the ones that even the highly skilled professional using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical.” The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right  Jeff’s list provides a checklist of sorts, and a great starting point for reviewing various aspects of your operation with a critical, yet constructive eye.  

Such a process offers the ability to be radically candid about what works while answering an important question: What is the basis for our historical successes, continued strength and inspiration (or vision)? Beginning with a positive frame allows you to catalog what tools, tactics, skills and techniques you have at your disposal. These are the things you want to keep and build upon – think of them as your organizational toolbox, with the caveat that these tools must be valued in a newly shifted marketplace. If they are not, you may need to reconsider your strategic direction and/or operational capabilities.  

A turnaround mindset also provides license to look critically at what’s not so stellar.  This exercise answers the question: What doesn’t work and is getting in the way of our ability to meet our stakeholders’ demands, achieve our strategic and operating objectives, and meet our definition of success?  At least a portion of this activity will feel familiar and is often conducted as a gap analysis.  You’re encouraged to think more deeply about this question though.  In addition to capturing what’s missing, think broadly about what is getting in the way of success and accomplishment.  The outcome should be a plan for addressing the gaps and removing roadblocks.  Look to your newly stocked toolbox for assets to deploy toward reducing gaps and removing obstacles.

For most of us, this time is going to require a pivot.  This could be a major pivot – eliminating a now defunct product line, dedicating resources to the development of a novel technology or service, reskilling a workforce, shifting to a predominantly remote or all virtual work environment.  It could mean seeking strategic partnerships and cementing alliances with companies who until eight weeks ago were our staunchest competitors. It might mean a complete restructuring.  

One way to consider what a pivot would mean is to imagine you are an external advisor (perhaps a turnaround consultant), a potential investor or strategic acquirer.  If you were looking at your organization from this perspective, what would you want to see?  Now ask the question, as the external expert: What actions need to take place to move this business from where it has been to where we want it to be?  Use the answers to put your plan in place.  Each element of your plan should be specific and measurable, assigned to an individual with accountability for accomplishment, and associated with a target date for completion.  

There’s a critically important additional step, People.

I added People to Jeff’s list; there are a myriad of reasons for doing so.  However, for the sake of this discussion I’ll only share one.  No matter how much we believe we know about our businesses, we have blind spots – always!  Our people – yours and mine, know more about our day-to-day operations, the peculiarities of our clients, customers, patients, processes, and technologies than we do.  Often, they have the answers to how to make this better – either by getting rid of the things which are impeding success or adding the things we’ve consistently overlooked.  When you ask each of these critical questions, invite your people (all of them) to the conversation.  By doing so, you unleash greater potential for success, build trust, encourage their buy-in, and mobilize their collective energy to make the pivot you may be facing.  

Now more than ever, we are #Allinthistogether

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