Leaving out key players can be a costly oversight

Jonathan Faurie Founder Turnaround Talk

We all know that successfully implementing a business rescue plan is not an easy undertaking. Depending on the level of distress, you may be facing scaling a mountain in the Drakensburg, but you may also be facing a mountain in the Himalayas.

It is becoming clear that there needs to be complete buy-in to the business rescue process from all parties within the distressed company if there is any hope of the business rescue, and the eventual business turnaround, being a success. Companies like SAA, Mango, CNA and Edgars have faced high levels of distress with many people asking if there is any reasonable prospect of returning these companies back to a profitable core.

When facing this challenge, it needs to be pointed out that everybody in the organisation needs to be a part of the business rescue process. This includes everyone from top management to the security guard that controls traffic in and out of the company’s premises.

Keeping your strategy close
The article that I read – which piqued my interest in this topic – appeared on entrepreneur.com and was written by Sathish Muthukrishnan.

The article points out that business strategy affects everyone in an organization — from the bottom to the top of the totem pole. And yet, it is often developed at the highest levels of an organization. In other words, the success of a given strategic element is extremely difficult to gauge based solely on data. To understand how it is being internalized and implemented across levels and departments, leaders instead must get down in the trenches and see it for themselves.

By working alongside employees, senior leaders have an opportunity to understand their struggles, perspectives and expectations in a greater context. It also opens a direct window into the ways they learn, communicate and execute, as well as their relationships with colleagues and others throughout the organization.

The article adds that while most leaders are well aware of the value that this insight holds, what they may not realize is that it’s impossible to gain the insight from across the table — whether that’s in a one-on-one meeting or a daily huddle. Instead, it’s necessary to break down the hierarchical barriers and see the circumstances from the employee’s viewpoint.

Senior leaders can understand employee struggles
Photo By: Paul Hanaoka via Unsplash

If you’ve watched the television show Undercover Boss, this probably sounds familiar. In the series, executives from companies, including DirecTV, Subway and Anytime Fitness, pose as lower-level employees, working alongside members of their own staff. Dramatization and accusations of being fake aside, the premise of the show is an intriguing one, based on the idea that business leaders can benefit greatly from seeing their companies through the eyes of employees at all levels.

However, Undercover Boss still manages to sell the idea short. What the episodes gloss over or leave out entirely is the big-picture value that comes with rolling up one’s sleeves. Doing so and gaining a full understanding of the challenges and perspectives that a strategy engenders throughout his or her organization prepares the executive to return to the high level and refine any relevant parts of a strategy.

Counting the Benefits
The article points out that, in short, there isn’t just one advantage to rolling up your sleeves. In addition to being a barometer for how strategy is affecting a company’s internal stakeholders, it works as a natural foundation for building relationships and empowering employees. It also gives you the ability to identify talent from within and to challenge individuals and teams in productive ways while offering an opportunity to explicitly demonstrate to employees the ways in which their roles facilitate the larger strategy — helping them see the true value of their work.

Obviously, you don’t need a disguise or a camera crew to make rolling up your sleeves worthwhile. However, you do need to make sure that your actions aren’t viewed as micromanaging. In most cases, that would lead to the direct opposite of the benefits listed above. To avoid this potential misperception, approach the exercise with a mindset of servant leadership: What can you learn from your employees, and how can you help them? If answering these questions is your conscious intention, the rest will take care of itself.

Lessons learned
It is easy for the public, including myself, and BRPs who are not directly involved with a rescue to sit back and offer expert advice on what could have been done in that rescue. The truth of the matter is that companies who are in distress, and the BRPs rescuing them, are facing so many challenges that they often cannot make the wood for the trees.

When this happens, the task ahead may seem monumental with very little chance of success. Staff members within the distressed company feeds off this and what may have been a significant challenge becomes an impossible one.

Take heart, there is hope.

Before the recently completed British and Irish Lions test series, the Springboks had played one test match – against Georgia – since winning the World Cup in Japan in November 2019. Players within the British and Irish Lions squad were fresh off a Six Nations campaign (with their home nations) and had a full season of domestic club rugby under their belts. They landed in South Africa as firm favourites and proved it during the games against our provincial teams. When the Boks lost the first test, the writing seemed to be on the wall for the World Champions. But the Boks fought back and proved that every player within the squad had a crucial role to play in the team’s eventual success.   It may be stretch to compare a business rescue or a business turnaround to a sport. However, the same rules apply, if every player in a distressed company is invested in the success of a business rescue or turnaround, the dark cloud will have a silver lining.