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The Corporate Facelift

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  • | 6:38 a.m. May 20, 2011
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Every senior-level professional services executive thinks about how to dramatically transform his or her enterprise. Let's call it a corporate facelift. Those who have successfully accomplished the surgery usually share the belief that they should have started sooner, and they should have moved faster.

In a study of 400 entrepreneurs conducted recently at the Harvard Business School over several days, author-educator Robert Mills concludes that although entrepreneurs at smaller and mid-size companies may see their corporate surgical needs differently from the multi-nationals, they really have astonishingly similar challenges and regrets.

On the theory that we know our strengths, it might be instructive to know what traditionally goes wrong in the process of transformation and reinvention. This should help you maximize strategic initiatives to reach top efficiency in your own enterprise, and it will help you avoid the potholes that will be on your roadway to success.

The wish list
Across the board, the entrepreneurs surveyed said they should have unified their leadership team right away. They wished they had engaged employees sooner and more quickly drummed up support for the new “face” they wanted to put on the enterprise. They wished they hadn't waited so long to test their assumptions and refine their new vision and key initiatives. And finally, they wished they had generated more visible returns early on, to accelerate the commitments and reinforce the expectation of employees, clients and the stakeholder community.

Any corporate transformation is full of challenges. Just think of all that is involved in launching a new corporate strategy to achieve breakthrough performance. Then, think of the insights required to achieve success in your own Gulf Coast enterprise. And finally, think of the built-in wrinkles embedded in the face of most organizations that can slow things down to a grinding pace.

Cautious culture
My observation from that lengthy Harvard Business School study is that rather than conducting major surgery to the business model and targeting really big ideas and seeking big results, the corporate surgeons try to avoid big mistakes. They talk about trend setting, but they act with a parochial mindset and simply buff the blemishes.

Without a clear vision and senior staff buy-in, even the most capable and energetic members of the leadership team will be reluctantly restrained to a half-hearted makeover rather than a total transplant.

Successful surgery calls for a rigorous confrontation of reality, both external and internal. In reality, all the effort could be wasted if the leader hasn't paused to ensure that all senior staff enthusiastically chart the new course.

Especially in our Gulf Coast enterprises, it's critical that Mr. Big provides safe passage to Mr. Middle and so on, to enable leadership staff to be brutally honest about what they see as the enterprise's greatest weaknesses. The entire team must be encouraged to contribute creative ideas on how to launch the transformation as well as keep it going.

Equally important is to play on your strengths. In fact, as you arrive in this area, it's logical to step it up and prelaunch your “unique selling propositions.” It's marketing 101 for your greatest single strength. You should be able to verbalize this critical strategic advantage in a single sentence, and communicate it enthusiastically in your marketplace.

Business as usual
I always enjoyed taking my original business partner of 20-plus years — the art director — with me on all my full-blown presentations. A grand gentleman, his warm, down-to-earth, look-you-in-the-eye honest rhetoric won everyone over.

His closing statement at more than 100 major presentations was always: “Whatever you decide, nobody, absolutely nobody, wants your business more than we do. And I promise you, we'll do everything humanly possible to make you proud of your decision.”

Powerful! But on our way back to home base, he always reminded me that while our in-depth marketing presentations were more than 90% successful, upon his return to the office he had an extra day's lineup of jobs folders all with deadlines, waiting for him.

It's the same with your team. In most cases, the day-to-day management process is already operating at full capacity when you sound the alarm for the really Big Change. There just never seems to be time within the day-to-day workload to launch a surgical strike.

The solution may be to create a turbo-charged, no-slack launch process that runs on a separate track and promotes both high speed and high engagement. I really believe that running your high energy thrust alongside routine management process for a number of weeks will usually get the results. You'll be able to accelerate the transformation and gain not only precious time but also energy, commitment and momentum.

Just make certain your senior team is in the forefront of the initiatives. Each should craft one major thrust and then oversee its execution across the enterprise. If a senior associate is not responding within 30 days, relieve him from the Success Team.

The biggest surprise of your transformational corporate facelift may actually be from your own senior team. Following the successful launch of the new look to your strategic marketing plan, one morning, a senior manager looking closely in the mirror and, thinking about the days ahead, will say: “You know, things are really looking good!”

Lou Lasday creates action-oriented Strategic Marketing Initiatives for Gulf Coast emerging companies. He has been a general partner of an Ad Age “Top 100” marketing communications firm and Regional President of the American Marketing Association. Mr. Lasday can be reached at [email protected]


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