Can This Company Be Saved? Part 1

By Richard Eichen, Return on Efficiency, LLC

Turnarounds and Transformational Management have always been reliant on quickly understanding the intersection of strategy and culture. With the emergence of hybrid working environments and the Great Resignation, culture is more important than strategy in a damaged organization. The new leader must know their key players and if they can embrace change and are capable of achieving success.

While well-documented standard models can define culture, many require considerable time, budget, and trained practitioners. At the ground level, where an early and quick assessment is necessary to establish the probability of success, the model presented below is hands-on experience-based, perhaps even sounding coarse, if accurate.

This model has been crucial in turnarounds, internal transformations, and acquihire deals, involving interacting and then placing the number of mission-critical people into the categories enumerated below. The end product is a ‘keep in your back pocket’ uncannily accurate Success Preventers and Enablers Map. Note: this model is IT organization and tech company based, therefore most but not all categories may apply in different verticals.

This first post starts describing the 10 Success Preventors categories. Part 2 continues the category descriptions, ending with the 6 Success Enablers. Why are there 10 Success Preventers categories and only 6 Success Enablers? Organizations requiring turnaround/transformation are rife with a lack of trust in Senior Leadership, widespread cynicism, game-playing survivalists, the incognizant, and most importantly, many sincere employees who want to participate in change.


Rapid Assessment Category Definitions Weighted by Impact on Success

Note: Some employees may fit into more than one category; for example, a Long Tenure Apparatchik can also be in Culturally Detached Remote and Field Employees. The idea is to get a sense of the organization’s ability to accept and instantiate change.


The 10 Success Preventers

  1. Weak Senior Leadership VP, SVP, EVP, C-Suite (Impact = Mission Definitional)

The incumbent management team has not grown with the organization or previously unemployed executives passively hanging out while finding their new job. A venal founder or CEO can shut down even the best senior leadership, a situation that may not be fixable. Often, inter-silo rivalries and restricted information sharing occur. Contagious cynicism can emerge when individual leaders understand they have become part of the problem.


  1. Corp Talk Word Saladers (Impact = Strong)

Usually, lower managers and mid-tier subject matter experts sounding intelligent and wise and may even have presentations, but you have no idea what they said in the end.


  1. Weak Revenue Forecasters and Producers (Impact = Mission-Critical)

It is typically kiting forecasts, with many prospects and targets on the list forever, and applies to individual sales reps, sales leaders, and the Chief Revenue Officer. These personal survival-based projections usually resemble a hockey stick, flat for now, with explosive revenue growth in the future (which keeps moving out). Calling the most significant opportunities often reduces the list by over 85%. Weak Senior Leadership (see above) can become very nervous with the restated company forecast.


  1. Customer Relationship Killers (Impact = Significant)

Product, Engineering, Support, and Professional Services leaders who overpromise and underdeliver. In internal organizations, functional leaders treating their users with disdain often reciprocated fivefold at SLT/ELT meetings or being backchanneled by anchor customers.


  1. Long Tenure Apparatchiks (Impact = Significant)

Employees who have been with an organization for a decade or more, having survived multiple pivots, ideas, and layoffs and know the game. They will turn passive-aggressive if feeling threatened. Proper leadership can cut through their passivity. If not, replacing those employees or reallocating their responsibilities and reducing headcount is appropriate.


  1. Product Management Bingo Players (Impact = Significant)

Product Managers without a tested roadmap, rapidly taking the product from an idea to a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), to an assortment of features and functions, and then back to the MVP upon market rejection. The extended timeline imposed by Bingo Players often allows a dark horse competitor to emerge and own the target market.


In Part 2, we add the remaining criteria defining the model and some concluding thoughts.