Survival Change Management: Create Compelling Urgency

Author By Jim Lara

In the first installment of our Change Management blog series, we gave you an overview of the 10 Keys to transformational “Survival Change.”

Now we’re taking a deeper dive into the first of the 10 keys, which is called, simply enough, “Hello!.”

(And by “Hello!” we mean “Hello! Let’s wake up!”)

It’s the kind of direct message you’ll need to convey to get everyone’s undivided attention and create a sense of focused, compelling urgency.

First, let’s take a quick step back and explain the fundamental rationale for change management.

When your aviation organization or an entire enterprise becomes disjointed, and the organizational culture is truly conflicted, you’ve got serious trouble.

This situation won’t respond to your typical, garden-variety change-management process.

We call what’s needed “Survival Change” because, in fact, the very survival of your organization may be at stake.

Throughout my four decades of working with troubled organizations, I’ve often heard a deafening silence from the employees when we first begin working with them.

Everyone in the organization might be well aware that it’s failing, but the two-ton elephant in the room is rarely, if ever, is it discussed.

At Gray Stone, we’ve completed more than 20 turnarounds of aviation organizations that were on the brink. And, as we embark on each transformational change initiative, we usually hear something along these lines:

“Oh yeah, we know we have problems, but it’s way too uncomfortable (and politically dangerous) to actually discuss them. So, we’re just pretending that everything is okay, and hoping for the best.”

Under these trying circumstances, one of the first determinations to be made is: Can and/or should this organization or enterprise be saved and turned around?

It may sound harsh, but many times the answer is a resounding NO.

No more money. No more time. No more effort. No more conflict. And no more grief.

Senior leadership will very often come to a “No” conclusion when significant remedial steps were either ineffective or not promptly taken to stop the downward slide.

What to Do When the Answer is “Fix It!”

In order to survive, your company must follow a highly disciplined process, starting with the aforementioned first Survival Key, “Hello!”

First, let’s set up a scenario in which an organization is, in fact, salvageable. And let’s assume that you and your team have come to grips with the fact that things aren’t going well—and that the future trendline isn’t promising.

You do have one huge thing going in your favor, however, and that’s the fact that you actually have the courage to face reality.

Ok. So congratulations are in order! You’re ready to take the next significant step forward.

Survival Key No. 1 – “Hello!”

Your first strategic objective is to get everyone’s undivided and unconditional attention. How will you do this? Communicate the truth, and then lay out the required action steps and time-frame.

You’ll need to create a sufficiently compelling sense of urgency to make the situation “real” for anyone and everyone who can contribute to a successful outcome. And I mean “everyone.”

In the most dire circumstances, you and your leadership team will candidly determine what remaining resources you have to work with, and, by resources, I mean how much “cash” (liquidity) remains. (Because, when you’re out of cash, nothing else matters).

In addition to cash, you’ll need the trust and confidence of your host corporation’s leadership, Board of Directors, or third-party financial institution. They must be convinced that you can weather the storm and see things through to fruition.

Naturally, if an individual can’t be counted on to be a part of the solution, then they shouldn’t be in the organization at all.

Timing is Critical

If your “call to action” is too early, people will discount the direness of the situation. They’ll dream up a number of other courses of action that won’t address the core issues. They’ll want to stay in their comfort zones. This will consume time, waste focal energy and burn cash—each of which will drive you nearer to an ugly outcome.

Another critical reminder: you also can’t be late.

When an organization is in the initial stages of failure, the slope of the performance curve is disarmingly shallow and the rate of slope change varies from case to case. As performance continues to falter, however, the slope of the curve sharpens.

Managing Your Team and their Anxiety

As you embark on survival change management, you’ll likely find that several people on your management team will be unwilling or unable to deal with this reality. The true leaders will be less reluctant because, in all likelihood, they’ll have a longer-term view.

As the change agent, it’s important to realize and appreciate that change is uncomfortable. It’s full of unknowns and can be scary.

Plus, “change” might actually threaten your team’s professional and economic well-being.

Sure, many will be frozen by fear, but in this “Hello” phase, you must get their attention. Now is the time to tap into your leadership and effective persuasion skills.

When you’ve succeeded in making the situation “real”, each person must commit himself or herself completely. There can be no reservations about the plan that you and your leadership team have laid out.

The Point of No Return

There is a “point of no return” at which you won’t be able to reverse the downward momentum. In support organizations (such as a business aviation organization within a larger enterprise), this occurs once the enterprise’s senior leadership has lost confidence in you and your team.

Your aviation organization will be outsourced if they believe that you are unable to provide the desired travel services within the demands of senior leadership’s time/political capital and financial parameters.

To recap, remember the key to this “Hello!” phase is to create a sense of compelling, gripping urgency. As such, each individual contributor must fully believe that the only real path to success is the one that you’ve outlined. When that happens, you’ll have harnessed incredible energy and engagement on the part of the entire workforce.

The refrain—the mantra—is, “Yes, we have to do this and we must do it now!”

Next up, we’ll focus on the survival key No. 2, “Alliances.”