BLUF - Our company is in a turnaround, and the board hired a new CEO.  I'm one of his directs, and I have a team of 5 long-term employees, some of whom are resistant to change and critical of the new leadership.  I need to help them come into alignment or their jobs are at risk.  I'm not sure I can do that, and would appreciate advice.

Background:  We are a mid-sized company (under 500 employees).  Our sales have been flat for the past three years, and we've lost money the last 2.  One of the key directives from our new CEO is to make sure we have the "right people on the bus, in the right seats".  There have been some personnel changes in several departments (both terminations and new hires).  This hasn't affected my directs (yet), but has affected some long term folks in the level just below them.  I have made some unpopular decisions in letting people go, although the terminated individuals' direct supervisors (my directs) were in agreement with the action. 

Our previous CEO had a very open, inclusive leadership style.  He believed that before any important decision was made, everyone who might be affected by it had the opportunity to weigh in.  I'm a high "D", and was occasionally coached that I was being too directive.  He had an open-door policy, and my directs occaionally went to him to complain if they disagreed with something I decided.  The new boss believes in a tighter organizational structure, with clear lines of authority.  He has coached me to be much MORE directive.  And, time is short.  There are clear indications that a turnaround is happening, but much more work is needed and we're nowhere close to being out of the woods.   

I have spoken individually with my team members, to clarify my expectations.  To be honest, I feel empowered by my new boss to do what I should have done some time ago.  I'm excited about the direction of the company.  But my directs are definitely struggling, and commiserating among themselves.  That puts them in a dangerous place, because they are all leaders, and we need a united front to turn the company around.   My team members bring a lot to the table in terms of knowledge and experience, and I'd hate to lose any of them.  But I can't sit back and allow them to undermine what our CEO is trying to do, either, or it may be my job that's at risk, and rightly so.

I searched the podcasts for references to a turnaround. If any of you have experienced something similar, I'd love to hear about it.

mikehansen's picture

From the way you phrased the situation and your challenges I suspect you have the skills to lead the transition.  Your new boss clearly wants you to carry the mission to your team so it really is all on your shoulders. 

First, you need to clearly understand how success will be defined for your team.  There are podcasts on goal setting which might be a helpful start.  What are the Measurable and Time-based goals that should apply to your team to demonstrate progress towards the new vision?  Figure that out and get your team together to decide as a group how to accomplish them.  Maybe have an off site meeting for a day to do this strategy work.  Memorialize the results and track against them.

Use your one on ones to track progress against the goals.  You will also use the O3s to determine if folks really are capable of supporting the changes.  This site is all about improving performance so use the info here to help your directs course correct as needed. 

Set a realistic time frame for the big changes (6 months perhaps).  I suggest that showing progress is the most important thing.

This is change management.  There is no silver bullet.  Set clear expectations.  Communicate up and down way more than you think you should.  Listen to everyone to really hear what folks think about the changes.  Ignore the whining.  Help your team deal with it but be prepared that some of them may not be "On the right bus".

Finally, your boss is quoting "Good to Great".  If you have not read it, do so.

Hope that helps,


KTatley's picture
Training Badge

You are clearly experiencing "change distress" from the change to leadership, culture and organisation. This is natural. I refer you to the podcast "Change Leadership, What's my visual" which explains a technique to emotionally engage staff around a change initiative.


Having said that, usually in a turnaround situation the leadership has a large amount of authority to make significant changes at a faster pace. It does seem unusual that your staff is not that bought into the change especially as they are leaders themselves. This leads me to believe that they have not bought into the situation being a turnaround situation. Visuals such as the "burning platform" or graphical extrapolations into oblivion can be highly persuasive at convincing people about the need to change - use with care though because 1. They may not be politically acceptable or 2. May be interpreted incorrectly by staff as the world is going to end and cause low morale and the best staff to leave. So consider tempering this with an alternative view of the future of roses and sunshine that have the turnaround assumptions baked in.


Other helpful reading is an excellent book called The First 90 days by Michael Watkins. A recommended technique is getting small wins early to build momentum and credibility.


My experience has been that in a turnaround situation there are normally a multitude of things not working well. So it should be easy enough to pick a few small easy to solve problems. Consider that one of the first things Marissa Meyer did at Yahoo was to introduce free lunches. Pretty small in the context of Yahoo's problems but a significant positive cultural change for Yahoo staff as this aligned them with the rest of Silicon Valley. You and your CEO together will have to work out what small wins are appropriate for your company - think obvious & easy, not clever.