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4 Essential Strategies to Turn Around that Underperforming Team

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

In my career I've become a janitor. Obviously not literally but figuratively. I am often (willingly or unwillingly) tasked with tidying up business messes, dismantling, restructuring and otherwise turning around a struggling or failing business units. Change management and turnarounds can be hard but here are 4 (REAL-LIFE) strategic tidbits that will help a team get from rubble to rock stars every time:

1. Powerful people, empower people.

  • Empower your team and its leaders to get the job (change) done and really make it happen. Clearly define the team's roles, responsibilities, scope of decision making, goals & your expectations early on being sure to reinforce that message through your own actions.

2. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

  • Then communicate some more. Share your goals, expectations, & the progress along the way clearly, concisely, consistently, & transparently. Did you know it can take people 7 times (or more) of hearing the exact same message to truly recognize & begin to understand it? So by the time you're tired of saying it, know they're just hearing it & understanding it for the "first" time.

3. Recognize & Reward

  • Positive, incremental changes in daily behavior compounds to substantial change over time, getting you to those major milestones in the turn around recovery process. Be sure to recognize and reward the individual and team accomplishments, big and small, to reinforce desired behaviors & outcomes.

4. To manage change, you must understand change.

  • If you think a turn around project is anything other than an exercise in change management, quit now. To manage change, you need to understand its nature and ensure all of your stakeholders' expectations are aligned properly.

One of the biggest struggles in my most recent turn around project, was that I expected all stakeholders to understand the nature of change. I expected this because I was taking the project over from a position of far less experience, and as a much younger leader. If I understood the principles innately, they should have even greater knowledge on the nature of the best.

So while I was prepared for an "Implementation Dip" (explained below) when I took over, and my direct supervisor was also prepared for the implementation dip, these other leaders & stakeholders were still incredibly startled by the initial, dramatic drop in performance. To them, the team was already struggling. I was supposed to be leading CHANGE right? Certainly things should not get worse?!

WRONG. If you've ever heard the saying "It'll get worse before it gets better," this is the kind of thing that saying often refers to, and there are some very reasonable explanations as to why. Just look at the psychological curve for change:

There are a crap ton of change models and free resources on this stuff. Just consult the Google machine, using search terms like "Implementation Dip", "Change Management Models", etc. You'll find lots to read!

Fortunately, I'm pretty lucky to have a great advocate for a direct supervisor, who also happens to sit within the top leadership of our organization. He knew what I knew about change management, so he didn't make me explain myself and supported the early "results". BUT, those other leaders were living along that "Myth" line (first diagram), believing from the point of change there should only be positive performance increases. So, the perceived performance gap felt massive to them when in reality it was a slight and temporary drop. With those kind of expectations though, a leader could quickly find themselves on the curb looking for their next gig.

It's not a perfect recipe, every change initiative has unique factors. BUT, hopefully these quick tips and my experience can help your next change project go very smoothly.



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