This is a guest post by Richard Lindenmuth. Richardhas been an Interim CEO in a number of industries. He has over 30 years general management experience in operations and is noted for his comprehensive execution skills. Lindenmuth is Chairman of the Association of Interim Executives. He is the author of The Outside the Box Executive.
I’ve led major corporate transformations and turnarounds for decades — taking ITT and 12,000 employees through deregulation into record profits; overhauling Styrotek, a California agricultural packaging company, in 3 months during a drought. That’s the job of an Interim CEO: to parachute in, rebuild a jumpy staff’s trust and engagement, and manage profound change. It takes a unique skill set, but as I wrote in my new book, The Outside the Box Executive, extreme leadership is really leadership, just the condensed version: there are lessons for everyone.
“Leading by proxy is not leading.” Richard Lindenmuth
Here are my 9 steps for saving a struggling company:
9 Steps for Saving a Struggling Company
1. Hit the ground leading.
Don’t ask permission to start making decisions and forming strategies: do it. The Board brought you in to do a job. And don’t dispatch a group of VPs to speak for you. Leading by proxy is not leading, particularly in today’s business culture, where transparency matters (for good reason).
2. Get out of your office.
To learn about a company’s daily operations, its staff (good and bad), and its problems and challenges, you have to get out there. Don’t hide behind your desk. Walk the halls and let everyone see you.
3. Talk less, listen more.
I recommend active listening, in which you repeat back what someone tells you, and continue that cycle until you reach common ground. It forges mutual respect, paving the way for the honest opinions and information you need for your own due diligence. While an Interim CEO draws from outside experience to set direction and strategy, listening creates the necessary knowledge base.
4. Do your own homework.
No CEO is an island.You’ll need a team of the best and brightest to rely on, but forge your own impressions and make your own judgment calls. That way, when someone’s not being entirely above board, you know it. That’s how I stopped a damaging game of politics at one firm: I knew the difference between reality and rumor.
“A floundering company is a dangerous behemoth.” Richard Lindenmuth
If you’re interested in small shifts, slight improvements, and new versions of an existing product or service, then you can pass. Orbit shifting innovation is all about huge, disruptive, groundbreaking transformations. With an orbit shifting innovation, history is created.
I had the opportunity to ask Rajiv and Devika about their work.
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” -Steve Jobs
Your new book is the result of 22 years of work in the field of innovation. Would you define “Orbit-shifting innovation” and share an example?
Orbit-shifting innovation happens when an area that needs transformation meets an innovator with the will and the desire to create, and not follow, history. At the heart of an Orbit-shifting innovation is the breakthrough that creates a new orbit and achieves a transformative impact.
There is nothing called a saturated market, just saturated mindsets.
The Swiss firm Vestergaard Frandsen has developed an Orbit-shifting product that is and will continue to have a transformative impact in areas where there is a pernicious shortage of clean drinking water. The entire water purification industry is locked into the mindset ‘Purify at the source and then drink.’ So bottled water is purified at the source or in factories, and then supplied through retail to consumers. Home water purifiers either have pre-purified water dispensers or purify the water which is filled into containers (jugs and bottles) and then dispensed. LifeStraw broke this industry mindset by making it simultaneous: purify as you drink. The real shift that LifeStraw made was not in miniaturizing the system; deploying technology to make it smaller, sleeker and speedier is a given in the natural progression of development and growth. It is the delivery mechanism in the format of the straw that changed the game comprehensively. By putting a miniaturized system into a straw, LifeStraw broke the mental-model boundary from ‘purifying and then drinking’ to ‘purify as you drink’ (Vestergaard Frandsen).
You can literally drink water from any source: This straw filters 99.9 per cent of water-borne bacteria and parasites. A single straw costs about US $6.50 and filters about 1,000 liters of water, which is enough for one person for one year. This has bought potable water within the reach of millions of people for whom traditional water purifiers or bottled water is simply not affordable. Vestergaard is truly saving lives with this Orbit-shifting straw by safeguarding against waterborne diseases, which are among the commonest sources of illness. No wonder then, it has been named LifeStraw.
What’s more, Vestergaard was originally a clothing company in the fabric industry. And yet fabric became the trigger, rather than the boundary, to create the LifeStraw – its central component is a cloth-based filter membrane.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” -Albert Einstein
I’m interested in your view on the enemies of innovation. You point to a survey by Business Week and BCG that identified the enemies as:
lengthy development times
lack of coordination
limited customer insight
poor idea selection
inadequate measurement tools
dearth of ideas
marketing or communication failure
And those “enemies” would be the expected ones. You, however, say that all of those are really manifestations of something much deeper. What is it?
From our experiences in ‘Making Innovation Happen’ with over 250 Orbit-shift projects over the last 20 years, we find that these are not the real enemies, these are merely symptoms. The real enemy is the underlying mindset gravity.
Mindset gravity conditions and limits even the most brilliant teams and organizations, layers of invisible constructs and beliefs that unknowingly limit the thought spectrum, reduce the exploration space and stifle new possibilities.
Most organizations and teams have a tendency to settle into an orbit that works, that is reasonably successful, that is fairly predictable and one that minimizes uncertainties. The more settled an orbit, the greater the desire to cling to it – the greater is the accumulation of gravity – gravity that prevents a move into the next orbit.
We need to hire mavericks; only people with this kind of a rebellious attitude can come up with innovative ideas and see them through to the end.
Daniel Burrus is a world renowned business strategist, futurist and technology forecaster. He is the CEO and founder of Burrus Research, a firm that helps spot trends for clients to take advantage of coming market forces. His latest book Flash Foresight is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller.
In his book, he outlines seven principles of transformation including:
1. Start with certainty
4. Take your biggest problem—and skip it
5. Go opposite
6. Redefine and reinvent
7. Direct your future
You provide seven triggers for users to pursue to create their own flash foresights. What’s the history of the development of these triggers? Which came first? Did you end up discarding or merging other potential triggers?