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Need to turn around an organization? Turn up your listening skills.

A leader who isn’t a good listener isn’t a good leader, says Margot Murphy Moore, SF ’07. President and chief strategy officer of Standard Homeopathic Company, Moore says she kicks off every turnaround situation with a listening tour, sitting down with each of the key players one by one and giving them the airtime they need to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the company and the culture.

The aggregate value of these conversations is a big picture that reveals the operational issues, the cultural and political issues, and the strategic issues that are challenging the organization. “In my experience, when you sit down with stakeholders individually, you find they often have greater insight than you expect into complex challenges and innovative solutions. The issue often is not a lack of awareness about the source of a problem but multiple failures to act on that awareness. The goal is to find out what systems, perceptions, or individuals are preventing action.”

Realize that you can’t salvage every troubling personnel issue

Resolving personnel issues, Moore believes, is an essential precursor to driving change. And sometimes that change means termination. If one person is a stumbling block to productivity and is souring the organizational culture, their termination might be key to salvaging the situation. “I can recall one turnaround situation in a remote plant. I was flying there every Monday to resolve an acrimonious situation. By Wednesday, I would pretty much have resolved the issues and, on the flight home, would be feeling relieved and optimistic. But on Thursday, I would get a few disgruntled calls and emails, then on Friday a few more. By the time Monday rolled around, we were back to square one.” Finally, termination was the only answer.

Turnarounds, Moore says, can be thankless work if you’re in it for the glory. “It takes a strong stomach and a level of unrelenting optimism to make a career of rescues. Success is often not viewed as gloriously as it merits, so the satisfaction of facing the challenges and reaching success must be enough. Bottom line: turnarounds are not a sport for the weak-spirited or for souls seeking affirmation.”

Read more from leaders about successful turnarounds.

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