Considering the many challenges of starting up a corporate EP program, it’s no wonder that some are more successful than others. Some programs never get off the ground in the right way, and some become outright failures. A company and its principle might come to the conclusion that EP is not for them.
In most cases, however, just because a company’s current EP program is not performing as expected or wished does not mean that its underlying objective – the principle’s safety, productivity and happiness – are no longer a priority. Rather than simply terminating the program, what’s called for is a turnaround.
In this blog we use concepts developed by Michael Watkins, an expert on managing business and career transitions, to describe the key issues involved in turning around a corporate EP program that is under-performing.
The transition: Moving from a dysfunctional or unsatisfactory EP program to one that works – and ideally keeps the principle and other key stakeholders happy.
Key objectives: Turn a non-performing EP program into a high-performing program.
- Recognition that the EP program is non-performing.
- Correct assessment of the root causes of the problem(s)
- Creating a turnaround plan that prioritizes key issues and improvement steps
- Focus on early wins
Awareness: The first hurdle to overcome in a turnaround situation is recognizing the need for change. Moving people beyond denial to realize that there are problems – and that change is needed to correct these – is imperative.
This is not just a question of checking some simple metrics. A poorly functioning EP program will probably not have a clear way to evaluate success or failure, and unlike other managers, those responsible for EP may have difficulty in rallying the troops around an obvious gap analysis. That means they will need to use something else.
A SWOT analysis of the program with focus on problem assessment is essential. Given the personal nature of many EP activities, it may often be more effective to bring in third-party expertise to conduct these analyses than to expect that those responsible for creating the situation will also have the wherewithal to rectify it.
Another challenge can be creating consensus around the problem analysis and the root causes of the problems. It is essential that the CSO, principle and EP manager get on the same page before deciding to turn a new leaf.
Prioritizing the most critical pain points: Since a dysfunctional program may suffer from a long list of troubles, it can be tempting to try to address all of them at once. This is not a good idea.
The turnaround process can be compared to medical triage: Among many wounds and illnesses, we have to assign a degree of urgency and address all issues in the optimal sequence. First stop the bleeding, then start the breathing, protect the wound and treat for shock. Identify the roots of the trouble, then address these aggressively.
It is better to hone in on the most critical reasons for the problems and to then focus on these relentlessly throughout the turnaround. The turnaround plan should build on addressing these few core problems, and early wins should hinge on ameliorating their root causes.
Stabilization: In most cases, the program must go on even while analysis of the its problems is taking place: Dropping protection of the principle is not an option. Stabilizing a program while preparing to change it may bring challenges of its own.
Creating a vision for the future: In order to be successful, those responsible for the turnaround must paint a clear picture of how the new EP program will look once the root causes of underperformance have been identified and corrected. Giving people a realistic image of the light at the end of the tunnel allows them to embrace a shared vision – and to look forward rather than backward.
It is important that the vision be clear and compelling – but not so detailed that the turnaround team paints itself into a corner that may be difficult to get out of as the process continues. Creating unrealistic expectations impinges on credibility – see below.
The program’s reputation within the corporation is all-important, and trust in an EP program is one of the hardest things to rebuild once it has been undermined by poor performance. Therefore, managing expectations through thoughtful communication is essential in all EP turnarounds.
Transparency around the turnaround process is important, and those tasked with the turnaround should be as open as possible. If there is bad news, it should all be broken at once rather than rationing it across weeks or months. New teams have the privilege of starting with a fresh slate: They can acknowledge current and past shortcomings, set a new direction, and move on.
Of course, the new team must make good on its promises in order to build its own credibility. By communicating goals you know you can achieve – and meeting them – EP managers build confidence and put precious credit into the emerging program’s reliability account.
Important early wins:
- Creating consensus on the turnaround plan: Once your analysis is complete, you need to be sure that all key stakeholders are on the same page as to what the core problems are and how the turnaround plan will correct these. Key stakeholders will typically include the principle, the CSO and perhaps the EP manager if there is one.
- Reorganizing for success: If your analysis reveals that there is a person or persons who are standing in the way of a successful EP turnaround – or who is largely responsible for the program’s dismal state – then you should consider moving quickly to remove these people from the team. This could be one or more EP agents or even the EP manager. Although it’s a difficult thing to do, if your analysis indicates that someone is more part of the problem than of the solution, then they should not be allowed to stand in the way of the turnaround. Furthermore, by reorganizing early on, you send the signal that you are willing to make changes – also the tougher ones.
- Reporting using relevant metrics: Since your turnaround efforts will be using metrics that are directly related to the pain points that the turnaround is designed to address, it is good idea to begin reporting against these metrics.
The importance of keeping up turnaround momentum
There is a tendency for the people involved in an EP turnaround to think that they have completed their job once the program is out of immediate trouble. It’s natural to celebrate the pain being over, but the festivities shouldn’t last too long.
Even though it’s easy to overlook or choose not to deal with other underlying issues which which might later disrupt the program, smart managers will keep the turnaround going until all concerns have been faced and dealt with.
They won’t get trapped by the arrogance that their program is so good that it does not need any adjustments. They will root out bad habits and poor results even if they aren’t causing immediate pain. They’ll be aware of other problems such as favorites syndrome, complacency and lack of focus on improvement.
Maybe you’re EP program is more at the startup than turnaround phase? Then be sure to check out our previous blog on how to start up a corporate EP program, too.