Twelve Months to a Turn-around (a.k.a. How to build a great culture)
Twelve Months to a Turn-around (a.k.a. How to build a great culture)
Article One- The Qualities of a Strong Leader, & the Ingredients for a Strong Culture
My name is Dave Hancin, and I hale from Tulsa, Oklahoma, by way of Toronto Canada, and now Chicago.
I want to share with you what I have learned about how you turn around an under-performing business.
In full transparency, for the first 15 years of my career, I had no clue. By the time I was 30, I was a Vice
President of, and responsible for a $130 million dollar business at Baxter Healthcare. I was anything but
a strong manager, and certainly not a leader. I was surviving in a big corporate bureaucracy that,
because of some extraordinary brands and some great sales people, succeeded in spite of itself. Baxter
was struggling to integrate a major acquisition, American Hospital Supply, and the cultures were not
melding. Why? Primarily because the leaders at the top could not work well together at doing what was
best for the consolidated business- building one strong culture, from two. I eventually “flamed out”, ill-
equipped to make it in the hyper political environment. (Don’t get me wrong, I respect and envy those
who could). Once I left, and drawing upon my “corporate education”, I started to put the pieces
together of what it meant to be a LEADER, and what was needed in order to build a weak culture into a
high performing one. I will say this, I had stubbed my toe a lot to that point, and would stub it some
more. But, I was learning by my mistakes. The main learning that drove success going forward was, as
management guru Peter Drucker said, “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”. In my view, the only way to
turn around a weak business, is to build a strong culture. The foundation for that is the development of
an unrelenting vision and passion for what the business will become, and an uncompromising
commitment to making sure your people all see their role in making it happen, and feel your total
support of each one of them. (A.k.a. Leadership and not Management).
Living this philosophy, and working with some great people, WE turned-around 3 under-performing
businesses, between 2005 and today- CFM Corporation, DENTSPLY Canada, and Dentsply Sirona
Midwest. I want to stress that Dentsply Sirona is a great company, with great brands, great people, and
great leadership. In the cases of both Canada and at Midwest, it simply took the right leader to be the
catalyst for change, and to provide the vision that would be translated into action.
Here is a pre and post view of some key “metrics”, in the Canada turnaround:
2009 and prior Post turn-around
Lack of year on year Operating Margin
growth- up one year and down the next
Sales and Marketing teams not aligned
around overall objectives
Sales force turn-over of 50% between
2007 and 2008
New product launches were not always
timely or well executed
Not all associates understood the vision,
and their role in achieving it
Polite environment with silos between
Reserved parking places for execs
Seven consecutive years of Operating
Seven consecutive years of retail
Regrettable turnover of associates
dropped to 6% or less annually
Global leadership on high impact new
All associates understand the vision and
their connection to it
The “atmosphere” was exciting and fun
Everyone is in it together
Leading an under-performing business to be a high performing business in the Dental Industry
First of all, it is possible to do this in 12 months, if the Leader is capable. It all starts there. And it is not
the Leader’s sole purpose to be able to develop a business plan and strategy for the turn around. It is
the Leaders sole purpose to develop a Strong Culture. If the business has that, the strategy will become
sound and, more importantly, soundly executed by all associates. The leader participates with great
input into the development of the strategy, but so must every member of the Senior Team. The Leader
should possess some amount of 4 qualities- Creativity, in order to identify alternative approaches and
tactics; Passion, in order to energize and excite associates about the vision for success; Courage to take
intelligent risks and do “the right thing”; and Humility to always place all associates and the mission
before personal interest. As Simon Sinek has popularly written, Leaders Eat Last.
I have to say, I believe the four qualities can be developed, but not acquired. I developed mine through
hard knocks, but I think I always had them in my core make-up. So as I think about developing talent, I
focus on identifying if the person has the 4, and then work on a plan to cultivate and grow them.
The ingredients required for the Leader to build a strong culture:
To have a sustainable high performing business, it requires the development of a culture that supports
an environment where each associate clearly understands their connection to the vision, and feels their
contribution is valued. This creates accountability and alignment across the organization. When people
feel a part of something, it becomes more than a job to them. It becomes a purpose. Then and only
then do you really have that popular word, accountability. Some learnings:
The Leader should set the pace. Be very visible and accessible. Talk to everyone, and listen to
everyone. “Treat the V.P.s and the janitors with the same level of respect”. It is also a good
idea to remove executive trappings- e.g. reserved executive parking places, separate dining
areas, and ornate office furnishings. A turnaround is by definition a time of great urgency where
everyone, most of all the leader, need to “roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty”. The
leader needs to be the first one in and out of the fox hole. Constantly reinforcing that “we are
all in this together”.
The long term retention of talented associates is paramount. Turnover in the team kills
momentum in building the turnaround of the business. (Regrettable turnover in the Sales force
should be targeted at under 10%, and ideally under 5%. For your customers, these associates
are the face of your company.)
Good people don’t stay with a company because it pays well, the work is easy, and they feel
secure. They stay because the feel a part of the business, and feel connected to its success.
Then it is more than a job, it is a purpose. That is Accountability. They don’t want to let the
business, customers, or their colleagues down. They see a future.
The Leader must be transparent in all interactions with all associates, and most of all the senior
team. The senior team should meet together weekly, and “break bread” together frequently.
This keeps them focused on the priorities, and helps to prevent separate agendas from
developing. This is the basis for trust, which begets commitment and collaboration. TEAMWORK
is based in trust.
o There must be alignment across all functional areas- and utmost, between Sales and
Marketing. No silos, and no politics. Hard to do? Not with the right Leader. It starts
there. Selectively sharing information with different parties kills trust, and polarizes
team members. So all Senior Team members should hear the same information and
have the same access, all the time.
The vision and strategy of the business must be clearly understood by all associates, and the
Leader should reinforce it in all actions and communication
Business results, metrics, should be posted and shared with all associates- in monthly town
halls, and daily sales.
Closet detractors, cannot stay on the team. They can be toxic. It is great to challenge ideas, but
that must be done in order to help the organization improve, and not to disrupt the progress.
“If you have a problem, bring it forward”. Get it on the table. Talk it out. Then, move forward
Celebrate wins, and have some fun together along the journey. The general atmosphere cannot
be “HEAVY”. The Leader needs to be open, transparent, approachable, and keep things
comfortable. The Leader starts this with the senior team, they sustain and promote it. Model
an environment that is social, active, boisterous, and positive.
……..These “soft factors” are the heavy lifting to changing the culture into one that is high performing.
These are values and principals- CHANGE DRIVERS. Do those things, without compromise, and the
Leader begins to build a Strong Culture. On that foundation, you can build a sound strategy, and deliver
sustainable, profitable growth.
Article #2 in “12 Months to a Turn-around” will focus the development of a cohesive and passionate
Senior Leadership Team
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