Good CEOs Focus on Active Listening

When an interim CEO or CFO parachutes into a company they have first-hand experience of what measurements and benchmarks (analytics) are useful and how to use and prioritize them. There is also solid recognition that data and numbers can eliminate a great deal of negativity and get people focused on solutions. Taking action is key, and that often begins with active listening to quickly figure out the exact condition of the company.

An interim must get the facts by asking people what they see and where their main areas of concern are. It is rare during this initial listening process that someone does not say something like “if we had better lighting in this area quality control would improve!”
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Inc. Article: 8 Reasons Flat Organizations Don’t Work, According to a Turnaround CEO

inc-logoThis article featuring Association of Interim Executives RED Team Member, Richard Lindenmuth, was originally posted on Inc.com.

You’ve heard a lot about the benefits of non-hierarchical organizations, from Morning Star Tomatoes to Zappo’s to the David Allen Company. And you likely know by now that while a flat organization is an appealing concept, some companies have backed away from a flat structure or reported that they can be tricky to get right.

Or maybe they just don’t work at all. That’s the opinion of Richard Lindenmuth, who for 30 years has served as an interim CEO, and works with the Association of Interim Executives. One of his most recent tasks was turning around the troubled company Styrotek. He achieved this goal in large part by un-flattening its previously flat management structure and was able to return Styrotek to profitability in three months — even though it was affected by the California drought. Continue reading →

7 Turnaround Tips From an Interim CEO

I’ve done it for three decades, turning around companies from agriculture (such as Styrotek) to telecommunications giants (such as ITT). As interim leader, I have to parachute in, quickly gain trust and respect from all levels, determine a course of action, and unite everyone to stay that course—all within a limited timeframe.

It takes leadership strategies far beyond business and managerial chops, though certainly those are necessary. You can’t lead effectively without a connection to the people in the company; emotional intelligence is a must. Think of it as ‘strategic empathy’—being sincerely focused on the individual, but always with the big picture top of mind.

Whether you are an interim or a permanent CEO, these 7 tips for using strategic empathy bear relevance for anyone in a leading role.

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How Businesses Can Counteract Stasis

Over the years I’ve encountered far too many business owners who profess comfort with their current levels of revenue, service, culture and rightful place in society. When asked about growth plans, they offer some variation of the line “If I had any more business, I would lose the capability to service my existing business.”

I call that business situation, Stasis. Some of the definitions in Webster are:
• a state of static balance or equilibrium : stagnation
• a state or period of stability during which little or no evolutionary change occurs

For me, Stasis is synonymous with Disaster.

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Why M&A Integration is Hard … and What to Do About It

Everyone has read studies proclaiming the majority of acquisitions fail to create shareholder value.  Yet we are witnessing a roaring M&A market with very frothy valuations and no lack of buyers willing to venture into the game.  Great for sellers.  Timing is everything – private equity groups are finding rich exits to vintage deals entered into prior to the great recession that for years looked like they would be losers.  These favorable returns are giving private equity investors even more reason to bring fresh capital to the table.  Meanwhile, strategic buyers, armed with high valuations on their publicly traded shares and plenty of cash on hand have the wherewithal to bid aggressively, further driving up prices.
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Strawberry Jam & The Power of Mission and Vision

I was travelling recently near Guanajuato, Mexico, to the small village of Santa Rosa de Lima, population 3000. We visited a cooperative run by five local women called Conservas Santa Rosa. This company was founded in 1998 with support from the government, which sought to exploit natural resources such as wild fruits produced without fertilizers. They started making strawberry jam by hand for the local communities and now have a contract to supply a national restaurant. With this growth they have raised the standard of living of over fifty families and are now sending their children to school. They have been recognized by the UN as a successful rural productive project.

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Financial Weakness is a Symptom. Look to People and Leadership for the Cause.

40 years in public company management, merchant banking and entrepreneurship in multiple industries has left an indelible imprint on me. In the two dozen businesses that I have been involved with as owner, investor, operator or contractor, my belief is that businesses that seek outside help tend to focus on fixes for weaknesses in growth or profitability. Whether it be failing or non-existent cash flow, troubled industries, poor strategic fits, etc. my belief is that the damage was done far before the negative symptoms occurred. Operating and financial weaknesses are the symptoms of the larger illness.

The root cause is always about two factors: people and leadership. A leader creates the culture for his company and that culture is palpable at every level of involvement including the C-suite, middle management, rank and file, customers and suppliers.

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Helping Your Team Move Through the Four Stages of Learning

One of my early mentors inspired me to restart, after each painful management lesson, by paraphrasing the following excerpt from Teddy Roosevelt’s 1915 speech at the Sorbonne.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the one who points out how the strong stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if one fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that one’s place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
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Managing Change

As the Red Queen told Alice, “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” This is often true with most companies, they must grow or the competition will leave them behind. In order to grow faster they must also make changes in their processes. The key to effectively managing change is to create a culture that is willing to embrace change as the new norm. To be effective, you must ensure the whole organization understands that the status quo will no longer be acceptable. The first step in creating a change-management culture is to get everyone’s head wrapped around some very basic definitions:

Management
Organization and coordination of the activities of an enterprise in accordance with certain policies in order to achieve clearly defined objectives

Change
To cause to be different

Change Management
A structured approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state

Change Agent
A person effective at change management

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Raising Money In Tough Times: Easier Than You May Think

I have yet to enter a turnaround situation that I didn’t hear the owner or CEO or the board say that the answer to all of their problems is more money. While in some cases this is a real need, it is seldom the systemic problem within the company. Chances are that they have some work to do. Needing ‘dollars’ is one thing … being ready to raise ‘dollars’ is another.

There is an abundance of funding available in the marketplace for good deals. The key wording in this statement is of course “good deals.” When a company is in trouble rarely is it considered a good deal without some fixing.

Don’t be surprised when you come to the realization that the company isn’t attractive to investors or lenders. This means that you have the opportunity to rebuild the company, or parts of it, so that it can be considered a “good deal.” Build a company that investors want to invest in.

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