What To Do When Results are in the Toilet

I’d much rather take over a team with results in the toilet than one executing on all cylinders. Sure they’ll be some long days and sleepless nights, but there’s nothing better than the electric feeling your team experiences when they accomplished what no one (particularly them) thought could be done. Inspire results like that, and your “A” players will follow you anywhere, and you get to do it all again.

Approach 1: Redefine the Problem

At Verizon, my biggest turnaround successes came in jobs where I had the least expertise. Ironically, we didn’t succeed IN SPITE of my lack of technical knowledge, but BECAUSE of it.

Perhaps you’ve been there (or are here). You’re so entrenched in solving a big hairy problem, all your energy goes to solving that issue. The brainstorming and action planning leads to only incremental improvement.

On the other hand, when you have no freaking clue what to do to fix the problem, you begin looking for problems you DO know how to solve. When the results really suck, and everything’s been tried, solving the problem from a different angle is often just what will change the game.

Approach 2: Redefine Markets

When I took over responsibility for 100 or so Verizon Wireless stores our biggest problem was a saturated market. Everyone had a cell phone. It was all about “switchers” from other carriers.

I encouraged my team to redefine the problem. We didn’t need more retail customers, we needed to convert the small business customers that were already coming into our stores to manage their personal accounts. Look for muddy boots (contractors), ask every customer where they work (“Oh, I’m self-employed”) and we often found they had their business accounts elsewhere. Now we were switching not one line, but five or ten at a time. We quickly led the nation in small business sales which went from 1% to 20% of our revenue mix. Other regions came scrambling to understand our approach.

Approach 3: Redefine Assumptions

I’m embarrassed to admit that when I was tapped to transform our customer outsourcing channel, I didn’t even know that we outsourced calls. I was told the problem was, “How do we hold our outsourcers accountable?” But as I dug further, I was sure that the current approach was the cause of many contentious and frustrating relationships with mediocre results.

When we redefined the problem as “How do we get our strategic partners (we stopped calling them “outsourcers”) to care as much about our customers as we do?” the entire strategy changed. We worked on culture, training and understanding. We treated human beings as human beings, not outsourced gadgets. We reached parity with internal centers.

When you’re really stuck and your results really suck, back away, and try redefining the problem. Ask some naive people to take a look. Perhaps you’re solving the wrong problem.

Tune in on Wednesday for more suggestions on improving bad performance.

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Posted in Career & Learning, confident humility, Results & Execution and tagged , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

8 Comments

  1. Nice description of leading from behind. It isn’t always the smartest or most savvy leader that makes a difference, but the leader that can take the team from “here” to “there”. And many times, as you point out, it begins by asking questions and identifying ways of thinking that have never been identified before. Great post!!

  2. I agree that it is most interesting to work with teams that have a challenge and need some creative brainstorming.

    When I work with organizations to design training I first need to conduct a clear needs assessment otherwise the problem they propose to me may not be the real problem at all. Einstein said: “If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only 5 minutes finding the solution.”

    Thanks for a great post, Karin!

    • Terri, Great add! Love that Einstein quote. Yeah, it’s so easy to get caught up in solving the problem without really knowing what it is. You provide a great example of going slow to go fast.

  3. Great comment on the problem with assumptions 🙁

    We all do it, and often assumptions do help us “think fast” by identifying patterns.

    But, often we wrap our self-limiting beliefs around our assumptions as well!

    P.S. GREAT image!

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