I have a small painted dish that sits on my desk that says, “Put on Your Big Girl Underpants and MOVE ON.” It was a thoughtful gift from a client. In a strategy session, when the group comes right up to a big possibly radical decision and stops, I am known to say, “Come on, we all put our big girl and big boy pants on today.” Then I facilitate them facing the hard choices.
Making a plan for the future takes brilliance, and it takes guts.
A plan depicting an exciting new future attracts engagement and unites those working to achieve it. Ideally, this compelling story reduces “turf wars” and cynicism, yet it also sets up expectations for change, real change. Once an organization moves from talking about goals to acting on them, they are confronted with choices - sometimes hard choices. Making these choices is what tests leadership mettle and where commitment becomes visible.
In my experience, these hard choices fall into three distinct categories: restructuring, promotions or demotions of individuals, and the elimination of a product line or market focus. All of these have more to do with the heart than the head.
I recall feeling this anxiety when, as a very new executive team member for the Dockers® brand, we determined that our future success depended upon us managing as a brand, not a set of products. We had legacy product lines that, although small and shrinking each year, were profitable and we had manufacturing plants that were 100% dedicated to them. These lines were not branded as Dockers® products; they were legacy lines of business from a time when Dockers® too was just another product line. However, now we had a huge global brand to grow and protect. We knew these lines would need to be closed or sold; our future was with Dockers®.
This was not a new realization. This decision had been discussed quietly and often, but never in a group planning session, never so openly. There were people in the discussion that managed those lines (they had their big boy/girl pants on!). Now that we were talking about it and momentum was building to set a streamlining goal to enhance the focus on brand building, a horrible feeling crept in. What would happen to those dedicated team members in the plants? Would our decision shutter those plants and lay-off those workers?
These implications had kept this strategic issue buried. No one wanted to make the hard choices. That year, we did make the hard choice. Those lines were spun off into a new division, and they thrived for many years with a dedicated management focus. They were finally shut down when the plants were closed as part of corporate globalization when initiative and their market share had dropped.
Facing this decision allowed the young Dockers® brand to accelerate its growth, and it allowed the other line to “live out their life span” with the right management focus. Now, let’s look briefly at the how to address all three hard choice issues:
- Restructuring. There may have been indications that the old structure was not working before your strategic planning effort, but now in light of your great new vision and plan for the future, the need for changing how you are structured is clear. Change in org structure should be based on where you are going, rather than where you have been. Don't stick to the legacy reporting structure; it will hold you back.
- Make personnel changes. Changes could be needed because an individual, who was once great, has not evolved as fast as the rest of their team members. There could also be a person that does not fit in culturally and is constantly distracting time and attention from their team or the company. Possibly the new strategic direction means that new competencies or entirely new capabilities will be needed to achieve your goals. Bring in new talent to build quickly rather than rolling this under a leader that has no relevant experience. Making the easy choice to stick with the same folks through implementation hurts everyone: the company, the team, and especially the individual that lacks the aptitude/attitude or skill required for future success. Making personnel changes with the context of a new plan is more rational, less personal, and easier for everyone.
- Make that cut. New strategic thinking can shine a glaring light on poor performing lines. If your plan does not incorporate their integration clearly, don't let them languish on the side. Do the analysis and make a plan to spin off, sell, or close weak performers. Letting it sit on the margin only reduces morale and weakens the ability to achieve strategic results.
You may not be able to make these changes on your own, but don't let your team slides back into the status quo. Advocate for open discussions as your organization moves from talking about goals to acting on them. Keep an open mind to making changes that only a few months earlier would have seemed disruptive. Encourage everyone to be brave and rational and put on their big girl/big boy pants.
Go back to the start of this series and read all 5 Leadership Tips to Strengthen Strategic Results.