(A Blackberry Diary) Your ship has just struck the iceberg and you are now wearing the captain’s hat . . . what’s your next move?

While industry pundits will invariably attribute the recent resignations of RIM’s co-leadership tandem of Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis to technical shortcomings and the absence of a progressive leadership vision, there is for the new man at the helm Thorsten Heins, a unwelcoming market scrutiny that the founders never had to face when they built the company in relative obscurity.  In short, and like an underdog sports team that captures the championship ring, it is less daunting of a task to become successful in the shadows of anonymity and minimal expectation.  Just ask the 2011 edition of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers about the differences between this year and last.

Even though it is unrelated in an industry and era sense, the timing of Kodak’s Chapter 11 filing so close to the change in leadership at RIM is ironic in that the latter’s fall from grace mirrors that of the Rochester icon, whose own failure to acknowledge and respond to a changing business reality led to its demise, Heins’ task is made even more difficult in that the company is already taking on the water of failed expectations and a steadily declining market share and value.

It’s like being given the captains chair of the SS Titanic . . . after it had hit the iceberg.

The real questions here are what if anything can Heins do beyond manning the lifeboats and going down with the ship?

In today’s first of a two-part series, we will examine what new leaders of a failing or struggling enterprise can do to right their ship and lead their crew to smoother sailing by rebuilding both employee and customer trust in the brand.

Next Monday, we will view the above scenario through the eyes of the crew and delve into what employees need to do to help to re-establish the brand and become part of the “new” captain’s team.

Based on a February 2011 24/7 Wall Street article (America’s Ten Biggest Corporate Turnarounds), the first reality that Heins and those in similar circumstances must accept is that Corporate turnarounds are almost “never engineered by a single person.”

Even though the “vision for how a company can change and the execution skills to put the vision to work begin with the chief executive” writes Douglas A. McIntyre, it is obvious that the new leader needs “help from management, a board, along with customers and shareholders” to put the company on the right track.

Against this backdrop of collaborative co-dependency, the most important thing to consider when you take the helm of a struggling enterprise and what is likely a workforce in disarrayed shock, is to recognize that organizational change is inseparable from personal change.  Specifically, you have to quantify the effect of any strategy from the standpoint of how employees will perceive its impact on them personally.  According to statistics 70% of all change initiatives fail because the chasm between an executive’s view of a strategy’s impact does not correspond with that of the employees who are ultimately responsible for it’s front-line execution.

Of course in what can be a desperate environment, where job security is of increasing concern to most employees, establishing the trust that leads to a meaningful dialogue can in and of itself be a trying exercise, especially if the new leader is swinging for the fences right out of the gate and making bold yet uninformed predictions of better days ahead.

As a new leader, it is important to remember that you are the outsider coming into an established situation and as result cannot summarily discount the successes of the past or overemphasize the failures of the present.  Instead, you must be seen as having an empathetic understanding of what the employees are experiencing (see tomorrow’s post for a detailed list), and that your intention is to build on the positive remnants of the former enterprise through the recognition of its enduring values of integrity and value, while embracing the changes that are necessary to not only right the ship but ensure its ongoing success for many years to come.

There are of course many other areas to consider, but what is presented above represents the cornerstone of a new beginning without which there is little if any hope for success.


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