The relentless implementation at the heart of a business turn-around
A business turnaround is often a sign that a company is at a crisis point; it is often last-ditch effort to save a company that is out of tried and tested options and needs a spectacular comeback strategy.
While the concept of a turn-around sounds invigorating and even exciting, only 20% of turnarounds succeed. This is because bringing a company in the ICU back to profitability takes grit, resolve and relentless implementation.
As we emerge from the biggest crisis of recent years, we can anticipate that some turnarounds are imminent. Business leaders are going to have to turn around businesses that went into the Covid-19 pandemic limping and now need to be resuscitated.
At the helm of a legendary turnaround
Alan Mulally is a business icon who is synonymous with turnaround, having turned Ford’s fortunes around when it was on the brink of death. Mulally was a Boeing executive when he was recruited by Bill Ford to save the company, which at the time was facing bankruptcy. Mulally focused on the basics. He had a list Core Values of how to run organizations which he had honed over more than 20 years.
The turnaround at Ford required extensive changes in strategy, execution, operations, and culture. It also involved a series of tough decisions made at the top.
Led by Mulally the team embraced and executed on, the notion of “One Ford,” a single vision for the organization and its mission. In essence, “One Ford” was about unifying the people, plans, operations, and products of Ford to restore the brand to automotive leadership.
In book he co-authored, titled “Relentless Implementation” Mulally explains that the approach was that was to have a laser focus on a few key principles rather than have a lot of moving parts. It was driven off these principles;
- Aggressively restructure to operate profitably at the current demand and changing model mix
- Accelerate development of new products our customers want and value
- Finance our plan and improve our balance sheet
- Work together effectively as one team
The plan involved putting the purpose, spirit, and values of the Ford brand at the centre of the organization and executing with relentless commitment and laser-like focus on whatever it took to make Ford great again.
Mulally and his team recognized that the company had departed far from what was most valuable and different about Ford, and they set a new dedication to that core. Guided by the original Ford brand vision, the automaker’s successful recovery was actually a return to the its founding values and the core essence of the Ford brand.
Mulally said that “One Ford, One Team, and Working Together; those are more than just words. This central belief drove all expectations, communications, and behaviour.
Mulally’s basic recipe for management success has been held up as a leadership template to emulate. Having driven a hugely successful turnaround, some of its main elements are to foster functional and technical excellence, which means ensure process discipline and have a continuous innovations philosophy and practice.
Mulally believed in building strong relationships which translates as be a team player, developing ourselves and others and communicating clearly, concisely and candidly.
He encouraged employees to role model company values which include having a can-do, find attitude and emotional resilience and enjoying the journey. Finally, the last pin in the wheel is to deliver results which looks like positively approaching business realities, developing compelling and comprehensive plans, while keeping an enterprise view and setting high expectations and inspire others and making sound decisions using facts and data.
Stepping into a sinking ship requires a level of leadership, vision and steadiness that few leaders have. The fact is, turnarounds don’t happen after a successful run, they usually happen after a streak of mistakes, blunders and bungles. At Ford, Mulally brought people together around a compelling vision, and a comprehensive plan to deliver on it, and imbedded the vital step of working together to relentlessly implement that plan.