John Chen has always loved a challenge in business. That was one of the primary reasons he even took the BlackBerry job he has in the first place. Being the business-minded leader that he is, he took to the most professional ‘social network’, LinkedIn, to post a great read on what he feels are the keys to successfully turning around a company, like BlackBerry.
Chen outlines six points throughout his entry:
Create a Problem-Solving Culture
When an organization is in a funk, a lot of people understand the problems. Not too many people understand the way out of the problems.
When you only talk about the problems, you drag everyone down. Energy dissipates; hopelessness reigns.
A turnaround culture must be positive. Employees need to have the hunger – and confidence – to get things done. Everyone needs the same single-minded desire to win.
People have asked me, “Why do you want to do turnarounds?” I think it’s similar to working an emergency room. When a patient comes in, you don’t ask, “Why is that person hurt?” You help him or her get better.
That is the culture that’s needed: one that focuses on fixing things and finding solutions, not on the obstacles before you.
Maintain the Sense of Urgency
After you achieve several targets and hit some milestones, it’s easy to lose some of your urgency. That can be fatal to your ability to get things done.
When you’re in turnaround, every decision feels like it counts twice as much. That can lead some employees and managers to become stuck. That’s the trap called “paralysis by analysis.” Well, some parts of the analysis you don’t need to – and probably shouldn’t – complete.
If your front porch is on fire, you wouldn’t stop to calculate how long it would take for your house to burn down. You just go stop the fire.
In BlackBerry’s case, we cut costs dramatically and doubled down on reducing losses and growing profits. We still have a few water buckets on hand. But no one is cooking our funeral dinner on the flames, because we took action.
Take Care of your Company like it’s your Home
Things that are near and dear to us, we naturally take better care of: our family, our home, our health. We take care to ‘sweat the small stuff’, because we care. That’s the attitude I have about BlackBerry, and which I hope my employees have, too.
Here’s an example: At BlackBerry, we took a look at all of the phone accounts we were paying for. We found one manager who had eight telephone accounts for employees that had already left but which we were still paying for. Their accounts were never turned off.
This may seem small in the scheme of things. But the small things add up. Still, it’s not so much about the value. It’s the level of care. I wouldn’t pay for eight phone lines at my home if I’m only using one. And that sets the tone for everything else we do.
Every question has multiple answers; every problem has several solutions. Even decisions – every one involves some give and take. So don’t focus on finding the perfect strategy – most of the time, there isn’t one. Because with every benefit, there’s also always a cost.
At a prior company I turned around, we started investing in enterprise mobility at a time when we were only known as a provider of databases and data warehouses. That had many costs – switching development dollars to an unproven industry, as well as taking away management attention when we were in a data dogfight with our competitors. But it also had a huge benefit: giving us an early lead in what proved to be a very important space. That bet paid off, and was key to our eventually selling to SAP for $5.8 billion, 14 times our lowest valuation just after I took over as CEO.
When you know yourself, you know what your long-term goals and strategies are. That makes it easier for you to decide on good – note I didn’t say right – decisions. Right implies perfect. And consistent execution and hard work will outweigh any individually poor decision over the long haul. And I’m in it for the long haul.
Empower Employees to Take Risks
Many people know what’s the right thing to do, but are afraid to speak out. They see others making avoidable errors and think to themselves, “I knew that wasn’t the right thing to do,” without saying anything.
People either don’t want to deliver bad news, or they’re not willing to challenge enough – in a respectful way – on some of the decisions.
That culture has got to change.
Of course, you don’t want to take it to an extreme, where every tiny decision is open for debate. Nothing would get done if consensus needs to be reached all the time. There’s a time to engage your leaders appropriately, and those opportunities must be part of your culture. Because…
Everyone has a Role
If you empower employees, they will speak out on bad decisions or take the initiative to solve problems. No matter what their level, everyone can make a difference. They can help evangelize to customers, engage with partners, reduce costs and waste, and help on your overall strategy.
Creating this open-ness requires a few things. Leaders need to listen and be humble. And your organization cannot be too siloed or top-down. Otherwise, it makes it difficult for people to share their ideas.
Besides, you’re already paying your employees! Why not let them take initiative – you’ll get the results.
A lot of what Chen mentions makes sense, and can clearly be connected to how he’s handled BlackBerry over his first year. A lot of the problems he addressed, specially within the culture surrounding BlackBerry, have taken time to dissipate, and may still need more work in the near future. Thankfully though, John Chen is definitely aware of it, and at the tail-end of 2014, things are looking better for BlackBerry than they have in quite a long time. May the trend keep going upward!