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By Carl Fillery, EMC Management Consultants

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw

The road to success is rarely free of potholes. One moment, you’re motoring comfortably with a team, structure and way of doing things that’s made a name for your organisation. The next, you’ve come to a screeching halt – something’s not right, and it’s affecting your revenue, your corporate stature. A turnaround is the only remedial choice that’s left.

Or, perhaps you are motoring along nicely, but want to accelerate your growth. In either case, how can you foster true, lasting change from the highest to the lowest levels of an organisation? As a senior leadership figure, it pays to have a good understanding of the common slip-ups to avoid, by way of positive correlation. Here are 10 mistakes I regularly see during business transformation programmes:

  1. Being too experimental

At a time of rapid reconfiguration, it’s never a good idea to forget what the business has always relied on. How did the brand start? What made it indispensable, and has that legacy lingered? Dig back down to the root of who needs you, why they buy, and how the company’s reputation was assimilated. Even if you find those roots have evolved, it will give purpose and meaning to your transformation. This isn’t a time for madcap concepts that haven’t got any grounding in the market.

  1. Not prioritising stakeholder engagement

Many of us must answer to those who don’t manage the day-to-day operations, but nevertheless have an important stake in what you’re doing. When approaching stakeholders with the need for change, remember to shape your argument in terms relevant to them, whether that’s financial, social, or something different altogether. If a rebrand is necessary, for instance, they will want to see tangible reasons for doing so, spelled out with antecedents or case studies in your industry.

  1. Taking subordinates for granted

Stakeholder engagement extends to your workforce too. Employees like to be on top of what’s happening, and how their practices are going to shift as a result. You should invite feedback, creativity and honest thoughts on what the proposed strategy is turning out to be. To secure buy-in, people have to feel that they’re at the core of a shakeup, not at the margins, tossed around with the force of your decision-making.

  1. Overlooking company culture

Do staff enjoy their time at work? Is there a strong support network, and a positive working environment? Issues with productivity may be down to a lethargic sense of turning up to work, with few (if any) chances to bond with colleagues.  My clients recognise the value of a tight, fun-filled workforce, who are able to drive your initiatives with a renewed sense of gusto.

  1. Failing to enact what you say effectively

Yes, the maxim is true: actions trump words when we’re inspiring others. In a turnaround, you have to be pragmatic and reliable. Don’t leave a several-month gap between what you proclaim and what’s actually carried out. Everyone has to see that you’re serious about it. That means, in essence, that an initial set of management talks should just about preclude the transition to come.

  1. Insufficiently rewarding great work ethic

There’s a lot to take in… fresh departments, reshuffled positions, the risk of cuts across the board. It’s likely that an organisational turnaround is going to unsettle those who felt comfortable in the old regime. Therefore, for those that show a positive attitude, make an effort to thank them for it. The opposite (i.e. ignoring behaviour that helps you) is going to dampen the appetite for change.

  1. Blindly pursuing your own agenda

Too much self-certainty is kryptonite for good leadership. Sure, it’ll promote areas of the business for review ahead of others, but when is the last time you challenged those beliefs? You may have certain assumptions about your customers, core strengths or branding, but that is one opinion amongst many. To ensure you’re not blindly pursuing a misguided agenda, sense-check your beliefs with peers and stakeholders.

  1. Failing to look at the wider industry

Internal failings, more often than not, are a symptom of what’s happening around you, and how the competition is squaring up. One major turnaround in which I was involved – whereby a previously staid mutual organisation branched off into the young professional community – was borne out of my knowledge of the civil service. That wisdom was malleable: it moved with the reality of who was attracted to these jobs, and what they wanted. Otherwise, it’s not really wisdom at all…

  1. Tying your message in knots

Before you sit down with stakeholders or management personnel, get your pitch straight: “These are the problems we have, and here’s how I intend to fix them.” In layman’s terms, what are you suggesting? Do drawbacks lie with culture, process implementation or foolhardy investments that don’t pay off? Once the message is clarified, stick to it. It’ll permeate discussions with every member of your team, down from fellow executives to operational staff.

  1. Implementing without a plan

Once you’ve firmed up the objectives of your turnaround and secured stakeholder engagement, it’s vital to create a robust plan for implementation. Otherwise, you’ll find it difficult to deliver effective change within your organisation, especially if you’re working to a set budget or timeframe. Break down your change programme into clear milestones and tasks, giving accountability to those responsible for implementation, or you might find yourself returning to the drawing board 12 months down the line.

Finally remember, with any project your job is to make sure that the business keeps running, so don’t be scared of hiring support.

So there you have it: should a turnaround announce itself, there are 10 fewer traps to fall into, securing your leadership for the years ahead. Whatever spurs change within your organisation, be assured that you aren’t conducting it with both eyes shut. Follow these tips to avoid common pitfalls, and your turnaround should be the positive experience you visualised from the start.

Carl Fillery is a lead business advisor with EMC Management Consultants. Contact him on 07738 028232 or email

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