Is that light at the end of the tunnel…
…or just the light of an oncoming train?
I am sure a lot of business owners have experienced this, where their business appears to be doing OK, but it’s difficult to see any real evidence due to various historical issues hanging around, and therefore not being able to see the wood for the trees.
I first came across this scenario in 2004/05. I had just landed my dream role as a CEO in a large, what appeared to be, successful business. The recruitment process had started a few months earlier when I was contacted about an opportunity, and to cut a long story short, I went through various meetings and presentations to eventually be offered this coveted role. The company was an outsourced business focused on the insurance market, specifically around crash repairs and the management of them.
It’s April 2004 and I arrive at my new office around 08:00. New car, new slick suit, new glasses and a new pen. Yep, feeling good and looking the part is a big aspect to my confidence.
This is my first top-top-level appointment so I’m feeling fairly nervous as the ‘if I was in charge’ voice in my head is actually true and it’s now all down to me. The good news is that this company is well regarded in my industry so all I have to do is build on a solid foundation. Or so I think.
On arrival I’m ushered into the boardroom and delivered some news I was not in a million years expecting. Basically the division I am to be heading up is a few months away from closure and my job is to save it. Thanks for telling me now chaps. The other reason I find myself in the boardroom is that the team downstairs are not even aware of my appointment, plus there’s been a few restructuring attempts that have not worked. So to say I was feeling a little delicate is an understatement.
For the rest of that week I pour over stacks of information including sales plans, financial results, business plans (if you could call them that), and anything I can lay my hands on. My response to the group CEO after a few days is: “what is our charity registration number?” Even my lack of experience could not mask the mess this business was in.
Now at this point I had no other option than to carry on and see what we could do. The other massive challenge was any changes that we made would take so long to filter through I had no idea of how I could show any improvement as it would be lost in the mire. To give the situation some context the business was losing around £250k per month (yes, £250,000 per month), the staff hadn’t received any pay reviews for a while so were completely demotivated, and the customers were starting to get wind of something.
My only thoughts were: how can I stop the world and get off? But of course you can’t stop a business, redesign it and then restart it again.
Or can you?
And that is where the idea, that I now call the ‘new dawn’, came to me. What if I could create a new business inside the existing business with new processes, no debt, new customers, new staff and hopefully new outcomes? Then, by doing this, I could actually show a ‘new dawn’ to all the key stakeholders, staff, customers, shareholders etc.
So we busily set about virtually splitting the business in two: the existing one (legacy) with the challenges and issues I had inherited, and a new version (new dawn).
Now the key to any success was to be able to show everyone that a new way would improve all areas of the business to give us the ultimate time to reshape the whole thing.
We set about by convening a new team and from scratch we created new processes from an end-to-end customer perspective. We were quite fortunate in that one of our clients had just engaged with us for their work. Well, when I say ‘engaged with us’, they had basically given us the ultimatum of ‘fix it or else’. So after a swift meeting and a bit of bravado, I promised them they would see a difference in a few weeks. I had no real idea how, but this was the momentum we needed.
To make this work we set a start date and ‘split’ the business from that date with our ‘new’ client. The results were incredible. The staff on our ‘new dawn’ team were engaged and loving the new processes and results. The client started to see a real difference in the services (in part to the newly engaged, ring-fenced team, and the new processes). The financials demonstrated that our new dawn was actually a profitable concept and the ultimate customer – the policyholder – was surveyed about the service with, again, great results.
Somehow, in the turmoil of a multi-million-pound business, we were able to show a discernable difference with our ‘new client’. It was all we needed to slowly but surely, step-by-step, move all staff, processes and customers to our ‘new dawn’ and sure enough within a matter of months were able to halt the decline of the business and able to start to rebuild it.
The key was to show a new way to all stakeholders and make sure from the out set date we made the change for the ‘legacy business’ and took a snapshot of where that was at that point. This included looking at the revenue, profit, debt, staff costs.
Of course, over a period of time the ‘legacy business’ vanished and was completely taken over by the ‘new dawn’ business, which in turn transformed everything.
Well, that’s great for a large corporate Martin, but I run a small/medium business.
Guess what…it doesn’t matter! You see, I have since applied this principle in LOTS of entrepreneurial businesses, operating in lots of different markets, to help demonstrate that even when everything looks bleak there is a potential way out and create a ‘new dawn’. The real buzz that happens when, just in a few weeks, a business can see the light at the end of the tunnel and KNOW its not an oncoming train.