At one point in my career, I was a manager in a small, failing division of a large company. I had just started at the company and had not discovered this issue during the hiring process (ah lessons learned!). But here I was in a not so good situation, needing to figure out a way to turn things around.
I knew the problem to be solved – Projects were usually late and our products did not always meet spec. But what was the solution?
Naturally morale was low so this was one of the first issues to deal with. Low morale and low productivity go hand in hand. It was pretty much like being in a sinking ship. Since the employees couldn’t see how to fix things, chances are that most, if not all of them were busy working on their resumes and job searching. They saw the situation as hopeless; we needed to change that attitude.
Strange as it may seem, a new, very huge challenge helped turned us around. We received a new contract to produce something that we were not at all sure we could achieve. We were concerned about schedule, specs, staffing, risk and a lot of unknowns. I convinced the staff that successful completion of this project could turn things around for the division.
We saw this challenge as a way to show our skills and ability. I continued to drive home the concept that this project was the key to our division’s success. Successful completion of this project would bring good return to the division but would also convince our VP that we were a powerful team. We owned this project and were driven to succeed. The fact that this was the biggest challenge we had yet encountered was a great inspiration. We weren’t victims of failure but rather owners of our own success.
It is a good thing that we were motivated and now thinking positively as our lean staff had to work long hours to ensure on time delivery. I found the value of being a hands-on leader on this project. I figured out all kinds of non-conventional ways to help the team (testing equipment for instance) and more conventional ways such as vendor negotiations to bring needed products in quickly.
The project was a success and did indeed convince the company of our division’s value. We kept our eyes on the goal of turnaround all through the long hours and hard work required to achieve this goal. We had a vision of a better division and made it a reality.