When John Chen took over as BlackBerry CEO back in November of 2013, he noted at the time that he was looking 'forward to leading BlackBerry in its turnaround and business model transformation for the benefit of all of its constituencies, including its customers, shareholders and employees'. That was a strong statement to make, but it showed he had immense confidence in the fact that he could actually do it. Now, the CEO has taken to LinkedIn to share some of his common strategies for executing a turnaround the right way.
Create a Problem-Solving Culture - When an organization is in a funk, a lot of people understand the problems. Not too many people understand the way out of the problems. When you only talk about the problems, you drag everyone down. Energy dissipates; hopelessness reigns. A turnaround culture must be positive. Employees need to have the hunger – and confidence – to get things done. Everyone needs the same single-minded desire to win. People have asked me, "Why do you want to do turnarounds?" I think it's similar to working an emergency room. When a patient comes in, you don't ask, "Why is that person hurt?" You help him or her get better. That is the culture that's needed: one that focuses on fixing things and finding solutions, not on the obstacles before you.
Maintain the Sense of Urgency - After you achieve several targets and hit some milestones, it's easy to lose some of your urgency. That can be fatal to your ability to get things done. When you're in turnaround, every decision feels like it counts twice as much. That can lead some employees and managers to become stuck. That's the trap called "paralysis by analysis." Well, some parts of the analysis you don't need to – and probably shouldn't – complete. If your front porch is on fire, you wouldn't stop to calculate how long it would take for your house to burn down. You just go stop the fire. In BlackBerry's case, we cut costs dramatically and doubled down on reducing losses and growing profits. We still have a few water buckets on hand. But no one is cooking our funeral dinner on the flames, because we took action.
Take Care of your Company like it's your Home - Things that are near and dear to us, we naturally take better care of: our family, our home, our health. We take care to 'sweat the small stuff', because we care. That's the attitude I have about BlackBerry, and which I hope my employees have, too. Here's an example: At BlackBerry, we took a look at all of the phone accounts we were paying for. We found one manager who had eight telephone accounts for employees that had already left but which we were still paying for. Their accounts were never turned off. This may seem small in the scheme of things. But the small things add up. Still, it's not so much about the value. It's the level of care. I wouldn't pay for eight phone lines at my home if I'm only using one. And that sets the tone for everything else we do.
Know Thyself - Every question has multiple answers; every problem has several solutions. Even decisions – every one involves some give and take. So don't focus on finding the perfect strategy - most of the time, there isn't one. Because with every benefit, there's also always a cost. At a prior company I turned around, we started investing in enterprise mobility at a time when we were only known as a provider of databases and data warehouses. That had many costs – switching development dollars to an unproven industry, as well as taking away management attention when we were in a data dogfight with our competitors. But it also had a huge benefit: giving us an early lead in what proved to be a very important space. That bet paid off, and was key to our eventually selling to SAP for $5.8 billion, 14 times our lowest valuation just after I took over as CEO. When you know yourself, you know what your long-term goals and strategies are. That makes it easier for you to decide on good – note I didn't say right – decisions. Right implies perfect. And consistent execution and hard work will outweigh any individually poor decision over the long haul. And I'm in it for the long haul.
Empower Employees to Take Risks - Many people know what's the right thing to do, but are afraid to speak out. They see others making avoidable errors and think to themselves, "I knew that wasn't the right thing to do," without saying anything. People either don't want to deliver bad news, or they're not willing to challenge enough – in a respectful way – on some of the decisions. That culture has got to change. Of course, you don't want to take it to an extreme, where every tiny decision is open for debate. Nothing would get done if consensus needs to be reached all the time. There's a time to engage your leaders appropriately, and those opportunities must be part of your culture. Because…
Everyone has a Role - If you empower employees, they will speak out on bad decisions or take the initiative to solve problems. No matter what their level, everyone can make a difference. They can help evangelize to customers, engage with partners, reduce costs and waste, and help on your overall strategy. Creating this open-ness requires a few things. Leaders need to listen and be humble. And your organization cannot be too siloed or top-down. Otherwise, it makes it difficult for people to share their ideas. Besides, you're already paying your employees! Why not let them take initiative – you'll get the results. All in all, a turnaround culture is one that enables everyone to pitch in to get things done. That requires focusing on a goal, and empowering employees to take risks and go the extra mile. That's how you win.
Reading through all these points, a lot of them are pretty obvious. I didn't expect the BlackBerry CEO to drop all his knowledge on us but it's still a great read. If you've been a long-term BlackBerry fan, you no doubt recognize that some of the stuff John Chen mentions were most certainly issues at BlackBerry.