Should Everyone Work at a Turnaround?

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Should everyone work at a turnaround? Maybe.

Good to Great is a super popular book and an even better concept. Jim Collins reveals in the book how to move a company from a “7” to a “10”. But what about those companies that are more in the “Critical to Stable” category. Or, how does a company move from a “1” to a “5” and survive? Every management speaker cites Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Apple, and General Electric. Those are the easy ones to talk about. What about the bottom third of companies working it out every week to preserve jobs and satisfy a few outsiders? And most importantly, is a turnaround a good place to work?

Like all career decisions, there are risks and rewards to working in a turnaround situation. The biggest and maybe only big risk is that the organization may not hit the inflection point on the turnaround and you will be out of a job despite your heroic efforts. You might be the one to literally “turn off the lights”. Disappointment, embarrassment and unemployment can ensue but it’s not the end of the world, you probably developed skills and survived experiences that will put you in good stead in your next gig.

In fact there are some very good reasons to work at a “fixer-upper”. For those of you who are working in a place “on-the-rebound”, you know what I mean. For those of you considering a role in a less than perfect situation, here are a few positives to consider:

  • Mission critical is not just a phrase and a mission is not something on a wall. You learn the mission is survival and if you are not working on that, what are you doing? Focus is a good skill in any career.
  • Clocks are ticking and time is important. Turnaround companies do not have the luxury of infinite time and resources. What happens this week could change the future of the company. Deadlines must be met.
  • It’s ok to rejoice over little things. A good week might be the ability to come back next week. After all, business is a string of small things, not intermittent big things.
  • The number of meetings or the amount of staff work you perform don’t matter; results do. True for all organizations but the lessons learned in a turnaround last a lifetime
  • Attitudes can change. What was once important, you now think is a waste (like free yogurt or the fruit guys). You are proud to sit in a middle seat in coach because you are saving money.
  • Loyalty is a trait to admire. You understand why people leave and you are filled with both resentment and envy. But you are only more resolved to turn this baby around.
  • Field promotions are good, what you thought you couldn’t do is now a challenge and you are determined to meet that challenge.
  • Measures and numbers are your world. If the efforts don’t help the numbers, the effort or the activity needs to change.
  • A turnaround will not let you or anyone else be spoiled. You may end up selling the cappuccino machine on Craigslist in order to meet payroll. You learn also that the “Free” section on Craigslist is a new and exciting universe.

Time spent in a turnaround situation can be rewarding like no other job experience. You saved the day. The feeling can be like that of the Apollo 13 astronauts after they fix everything while in space and return to earth. The payout is the payday while it lasts (and we hope that is for a long time) and the sense that you made a difference in an organization. And that doesn’t happen every day in every organization.

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