A “Seismic mindshift”: Failing company turns profitable once employees “Think Alvin”.
Paul Bridle is a world renowned Leadership Methodologist, having studied leadership and effective organizations for over 25 years. Organizations use him as an advisor, strategic consultant, professional chairman, executive coach and to help dealing with conflict resolution.
Paul was tasked with turning a failing company into a profitable one. Excellence Squared Ltd., an assessment centre holding both government and corporate contracts, had lost $475,000 over the past three years. “There was no evidence that the current management knew how to address this. I was asked to do an analysis of the business and advise the Board if the company was worth saving. My analysis was that the company could be profitable, but either new management was needed or someone who could train the current management had to be brought in. The Board asked if I would step in as CEO and do what I could to salvage the situation. We agreed that I would have 16 months and if it was not working, then the company would fold or be given away.”
Paul knew that in order to implement the strategic changes that would get the company back in the black, he had to get his people on board – and that was no easy task. “I had reservations because the company was in such a bad state and people may not take to me. There are two aspects to a turnaround. First, is there a business to save. If the product or service has no market or can’t be produced and sold at a profit, then there is not really a business. Second, if the people won’t accept you and work with you, then they will undermine your efforts and make it impossible to change. So I was convinced the product and market could be achieved, but I was worried whether the people would change.
There were a lot of negative people at the company, and for good reason. The company culture was not good at all. They had not been treated well. Many of them felt hurt, sore – they were coming from a bad place. There was a lot of mending to be done.”
“In order to make the company competitive, we couldn’t have people who were stuck in old, negative ways of thinking.”
Paul needed them to move on from the way things used to be, and get excited about how things could be. He knew the company culture needed to be rebuilt from the ground up, and in order to do that the staff needed to start seeing the company, and their role within it, from a different perspective – or leave. “I knew that in order to make the company competitive, we couldn’t have people who were stuck in old, negative ways of thinking. We needed people in the right frame of mind to help get the business in a place to win bids. I had to inspire them to change their perceptions of themselves and their abilities, because they way they were viewing life was not in their best interest – or in the best interest of the company.”
“Alvin doesn’t tell people to change – they want to change after seeing him.”
Paul knew it was time for a difficult conversation with his staff. He held a staff conference, and hired Alvin to be the opening speaker. “I chose Alvin because I’ve seen him present many times, and I know how powerful his story is. Alvin is a living, breathing example of what you can do if you put your mind to it. I’m not a huge fan of motivational speakers – I firmly believe that you can’t impose motivation on others, it has to come from inside them. Alvin owns his own motivation, and ignites it in others because he models the behaviour he speaks about. He lives it every day. He doesn’t tell people to change – they want to change after seeing him.”
There was a strategy to his choice as well. “I used Alvin specifically to set the tone for the rest of the conference. I needed them to be in the right frame of mind right from the start, so I had something to build on. I knew Alvin could break them down, so to speak – get them to look within and come to a place where they were willing to listen to what I needed to say.”
Paul made a point of introducing Alvin himself. “I wanted them to see me as a person, see where I was coming from, and that Alvin wasn’t just another typical motivational speaker coming in to pump them full of platitudes. I said: ‘Most of you know me by now, and you know I’m a very determined, driven person. I’m going to take a moment to tell you why I am this way. Every time I feel like the world is getting on top of me, that it’s unfair, that I should give up and do something else, there are two people I think about and one of them is Alvin. Alvin reminds me that no matter what, I have no reason not to get out of bed and fight another day. That’s why I think the way I do – we have to be more proactive about things, and think less about what is wrong’.”
“A seismic mindshift took place”
After Alvin’s hour-long presentation, There Really Is No Such Word As Can’t, Paul was able to get up in front of them and deliver a firm message: Changes are happening, and you’re either on board with them or you aren’t – and if you aren’t that’s fine, but you don’t belong here. Luckily, his strategy worked – the attitude of the staff had taken a 180 degree turn. “A seismic mindshift took place. The staff understood my position better, and were honest with themselves and with me about whether or not they wanted to stay on. Alvin’s presentation allowed me to have this conversation with them.”
Alvin left after lunch, and that afternoon a new expression had been coined: ‘Think Alvin’. “This was made up by the staff, I had nothing to do with it. They did it themselves. Every time someone was negative, someone else would counter it with ‘think Alvin’. In fact, it still happens to this day – he had a lasting impact.”
One employee in his late 50’s, someone who had previously called Paul a bully and who Paul thought for sure was going to leave the company, completely changed his attitude. “He came up to me in tears after Alvin’s presentation and thanked me for having him in. He’s since become a huge advocate and team player, full of positive comments, and has jumped in and gotten involved in making the company better.”
“It’s a completely different organization now, and we’re making money.”
Though some people did decide to leave the company, the majority redoubled their efforts. “Overall, people became more positive and cooperative. There was far less complaining about new approaches, and far less non-constructive resistance. They started challenging things in a positive, constructive way, they were more engaged in the process. Resistance changed from ‘ahh that’s not fair, this won’t work’ to ‘ok, if we’re going to do that, let’s also do this at the same time’.
The company had lost $475,000 over three years. I stepped in 6 months into the financial year to find it was already making a loss of $85,000 on the year. We ended the year slightly above break even. We have just ended the next financial year and have made $380,000 profit before taxes on the year.
I couldn’t ask for it to be better. People are all focused in the same way, on the same things. They have similar mindset about working there and what the goals are for the company. It’s a completely different organization now, and we’re making money.”
Paul worked extremely hard to turn his company and its culture around – and he credits Alvin for helping facilitate that process. “When an organization is going through change, you want people to own that change and stop wishing things were different or that they were the same as they were before – you want them to focus on possibilities. Alvin can be a catalyst for that. Alvin is a powerful tool a leader can use to break down barriers and get the conversation started. Alvin can help a CEO create company-wide change.”