This is a story about a head of operations who had lost control. If you’re wondering how bad it was, I can tell you that she was on the verge of walking. Worse still, so were most of her team.
Gill felt her team was bordering on unmanageable and she was feeling less and less motivated to deal with them. She had lost her mojo.
Her track record was good and she’d always been a high performer who had built and developed teams that performed and delivered consistently.
So what had beaten her this time?
She came to me in search of help. We explored the background and discovered that it wasn’t straightforward. The business was successful, built by an owner-manager. The entrepreneurial spirit had created a culture built on individual strengths rather than standardisation and consistency, however, which is a nightmare for an operations expert.
Her role was to organise a group of lone wolves and somehow operationalise the business. This dynamic was made worse by the owner cutting non-standard deals that were hard to resource and fulfil, let alone deliver cost-effectively.
Gill was at the end of her tether. How was she ever going to change things? Could they even be changed?
Her team was also frustrated with that they perceived as lack of control and direction, with duplication of effort and everyone in it for themselves. Gill, by her own admission, had done little to address this, choosing to deliver hard messages by email and expecting it to land.
We explored the brutal facts but with a growth mindset.
We started by talking about what she wanted, exploring what was important to her and why. She had a genuine passion to deliver and most of her frustration was with herself.
She also had a get out of jail card – there was another job offer on the table.
It was at this point that Gill took the decision to succeed.
Now that she was focused on delivering a successful outcome, we explored what had gone wrong and why she had succeeded in previous roles. It turned out that she had missed some of the lessons she had learnt in the past because she had adopted the cultural norms of the new team. It turned out that she’d known how to fix things all along.
There was a big but. Would the team go on the journey with her? We worked through the scenarios and explored reactions. She decided on a reboot.
By reboot, we mean a fresh start. Gill went back and literally, a couple of days later, sat down with each member of the team individually and apologised for her behaviour. She took responsibility. She also set out what she wanted the future to look like; she agreed with the team what they should expect of her and encouraged them to call her out if she fell below the standard. She took the opportunity to agree on expectations of the team, asking them to define what good should look like before getting them to commit to that standard.
The impact was instant, a fresh start. The team still slip into old habits but the new ‘contract’ enables Gill to take action and tackle the issue with confidence. The team has responded positively and now Gill can address the operational challenges and progress with the system and process improvements that will make the business more consistent, efficient and effective. Most pleasing of all for Gill is the way the team has engaged, taking on sub-projects to improve key operational areas.
I am so proud of Gill. She stood up to the issue, accepting she was the problem and took action that transformed the team and their behaviours. The team now focuses on the collective good for the business and not individual agendas.
What I learnt from Gill
Grit – Gill showed real determination to stand up for what she believed and backed herself.
Growth Mindset – Gill was prepared to listen to feedback, albeit brutal in places and was prepared to ask herself “what could I do differently?”
Ownership – Gill could have walked away but decided to take it on, which was ultimately more satisfying.
If left unresolved, the impact on the business could have been huge. If Gill had left for that new job there would have a time and cost implication to replacing her with no guarantee that a new person could ‘fix’ the team.
What if the new person adopted the cultural norms and felt like Gill did, following the same vicious circle?
What if the team felt more and more disengaged, become less productive and started leaving, adding to an already high attrition rate?
High cost situations like this can be resolved with support, feedback and coaching.
Do you need a reboot with your team?
You might not need a hard reboot like Gill’s, but a different way of thinking could tackle some unhealthy cultural norms that have developed.
Think about this: What might it be costing you right now? What could it cost if left unresolved?