While at a business conference earlier this year, a fellow I had just met mentioned to me in an offhand way that they (his business unit) had just hired a young guy out of a prestigious business school program to “fix” their business, which has been on the decline for the past three years. They hired this guy as a permanent employee, and the CEO had great hopes that he would bring the company back into the black by the end of this year, using the latest business strategies. He reports directly to the CEO, not the head of the business unit.

After all, he did have a perfect GPA at the B-School he attended.

I hope that works out for them, but I did give him my business card. “Just in the instance that the task turns out to be a little bigger than you thought”, I said.

Now for some business-style preaching:

When managing a business turnaround, there is a great deal of reliance on data, on forecasts, on costs, on efficiency, on quality, etc. And many of the things you do to fix the company are the things taught in most business schools and/or internal management training programs at large corporations.

So, any young over-achiever right out of business school with the most up-to-date academic knowledge can probably fix what’s ailing your business and get it turned around pretty quick, right?

I’m waiting…

Yeah, that’s what I thought. Good answer.

Not many business owners or business CEOs are going to trust a turnaround to someone who doesn’t have a fair amount of battle experience. And believe me, it will be a battle, and there will be casualties.

Whether that trust from the person managing the business is because of their own business experience, or because of their intuitive belief that an experienced, steady hand is what’s needed in this type of dire situation, that trust is not misplaced.

Experience is what enables you to manage a crisis, and keep a crisis from degenerating into chaos.

Experience is what lets you walk into a process shop and know immediately that there are problems there.

Experience gives you the ability to monitor several dozen calls in a call center and quickly figure out why average talk time has gone through the roof.

Experience allows you to sense the submerged hostility between the head of operations and the head of sales and marketing, and realize they’re been sabotaging each other for years, and that mutual sabotage has now brought down the company. And it also allows you to realize that the COO won’t do anything to stop it because he is extremely competent but completely non-confrontational.

Experience lets you ascertain almost immediately that the guy in charge of IT is much more interested in building “the perfect beast” in terms of the company server, the website platform, etc. than doing what is best for the company, even if that means he doesn’t get those new Sun server boxes until next year, or the website update gets put off until after the busy season is over. And the company president doesn’t know enough about technology to challenge him on it.

Experience is what gives you the ability to figure out pretty quickly that the CFO stopped really caring about her job sometime ago, and for whatever reason, is now just basically going through the motions, and that there may be some gains available to the business by using cash flow more effectively, or more diligent oversight of expenditures – if someone would just do it.

It’s not that I want to portray experience as some black magic or some intangible “art” that is both mystical and inexplicable, but I also don’t want to discount its value when time is crucial and the health of the business is slowly ebbing away. If nothing else, many times it will prevent you from running down blind alleys at full speed for a couple of months, if only for the simple reason that you’ve already run down that blind alley before. It helps, it really does, and as long as you don’t get stuck in the “well, this is the way we’ve always done it before, and so this is the only way that will work” trap, experience is a big plus in turnaround efforts.

So, that concludes today’s sermon, congregants. I’m going to step down from my pulpit now, and I hope to shake your hand and wish you well as you exit. May Providence be with you.

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Business Turnaround Specialists, a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area, where he advises businesses in rebirth and rejuvenation. Business Turnaround Specialists can be found at http://www.business-turnaround-specialists.com

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