If you took over as the head of a company that was in decline, what’s the first thing you’d look at to rescue the company?
Tamara: I’d look at efficiency. Primarily, “do my workers have the proper training and the authority to do their jobs?” and “is the work process as simple as it could be?” As companies grow, their system gets convoluted, people and data get lost, and a lot of time is wasted in just trying to correct mistakes. That’s the first problem to fix. I’ve worked at companies with major efficiency problems, and the upper management seemed to think it was a matter of us not working hard enough. It was more like, we are working our butts off, but in a system where that doesn’t count. So I’d fix that first.
Ewen: The first step would be simply to figure out what’s wrong in the first place. I would try to listen to employees and customers alike to get an accurate picture of what’s going on at the company. I think a lot of problems arise from a lack of perspective; it’s hard to really see what’s going on with other people, especially when they sit on the other side of a hierarchical relationship. On the other hand it’s critical to learn to read between the lines of any feedback you do get.
Serdar: I doubt there’s any one universal first step, but one thing I’d do is look closely at the behavior of all of my predecessors and see what they did both wrong and right. Learn from history, and the more local the history the better.
Steve: My first step would be to ask what’s making money and what’s not, and look to find a way to stabilize the company. The next step is to find an actual vision that will work – which may require narrowing OR throwing things at the wall to see what adheres. The final step would be to take these changes and turn them into a publicity advantage and win confidence by DOING stuff.
Bonnie: Step one: Analyze feedback from customers. That will tell you right off the bat what the company is doing wrong or right. Build on the things that got good feedback, eliminate the things that got bad.
Step two: Analyze what the company’s more successful competitors are doing and then think not one, not two, but three steps ahead of them. Become the leader, not the follower. A prime example of this was how Steve Jobs brought Apple back from the dead. Rather than just competing head-on with Windows in computers, he started producing things like music players and phones, all tightly integrated, that Microsoft didn’t even know they needed.
Scott: First thing is to find what the company can do well. That might be difficult if the company’s business is too spread out, but a historical look at what it did before declining is needed. After that, figure out if what the company did well is still feasible. No use mass producing buggy whips if the demand isn’t there.
After that, check to see if there’s bloat somewhere. Management will be getting caught here. The people who produce the core product(s) and service(s) will still be needed, and they will need a support system. But, a 1:1 worker to manager ratio isn’t healthy.
Finally, figure out what assets are truly needed (ie, buildings, vehicles) and which ones are just nice to have. This goes beyond making a quick dollar on the real estate market while selling off all property. An analysis of whether it’ll be cheaper to maintain a building over a long period versus selling and renting back the same property. (Hint, it’s seldom the latter…)