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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"ReLaunch" (Mark Rutland)

TITLE: ReLaunch: How to Stage an Organizational Comeback
AUTHOR: Mark Rutland
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2013, (208 pages).

Maybe you feel that your organization is not growing. Perhaps you may be feeling your organization is stuck in the rut? You may even be scratching your head not only about what to do, but where to start. Like a failed launch of your sail boat, what is needed is a new attempt, an improved effort, or simply a re-launch. Or like a ship cruising apparently to nowhere, one needs to not only re-adjust the sails, but to re-affirm the reasons why the boat was launched in the first place. Re-focus. Clarity of purpose. Turnaround.

This is a book about organizational turnarounds. It is common to see organizations that have thrived well in the past, only to decline or to lose the vitality and energy over time. Beginning with the story of the cruise liner that crashed off the coast of Cyprus, killing more than thirty people, and causing not only the careers of several people, but also the environment problems created. Rutland argues that the problem does not start with the crash, but way before the ship ran aground. What can we do about a ship that has crashed? What about organizations that are experiencing dysfunctional times and are heading toward disaster?  How can leaders save their organizations? By relaunching, says Rutland.

A) Learning Component
Any turnaround comprises of three main components. Firstly, there is a learning component. In a phrase that is so synonymous with Max DePree's classic, "Leadership is an Art," Rutland begins with some excellent material on the importance of dream and vision, and how all other structures, methodologies, leadership styles, people traits, and organizational culture can be tethered together in what Rutland calls, "Turnaround Leadership." He shares about his own experience at a megachurch and two universities. So successful was he at the megachurch turnaround that he was invited to lead a school even without prior teaching experience at a school. With dreams come the overcoming of fears. With boldness comes the overcoming of three main challenges:

  1. Need for personal transparency;
  2. Willingness for making tough decisions;
  3. Hanging on to position loosely and always ready to let go of power and position when the time comes.

Rutland says it very well, the key problem in any organizational turnaround. What to do with the different groups of people whose philosophies clash? How do leaders steer a peaceful course between those who want "radical change" and those who prefer the status quo? Enters the second component: The Seven steps of Rutland's turnaround.

B) The Seven Steps of Organizational Turnaround
Step #1 - Facing Institutional Reality
This means being able to see the problems as they are, as well as the strengths and opportunities. Like DePree's classic leadership call to first "define reality," Rutland also echoes the same starting point, through understanding the organizational worldview, respecting the past while envisioning the future, using stories and illustrations each time to press forward the point. 

Step #2 - Communicating a Vision
Having a vision of the future trumps retaining the status quo without idea of the future. For any change to occur, the vision needs to be clear and focused. It must be so clear that every member of the organization will have no trouble articulating that vision. It must be focused so that one is not easily distracted by issues that come and go. Leadership is essentially communicating this vision. So important it is that it is the one thing that leaders cannot delegate. It must be demonstrated passionately. 

Step #3 - Aligning Markets, Message, and Medium
This step represents the nuts and bolts of stringing together the elements of a turnaround. Alignment is critical. Markets need to be understood as to what size we are talking about, what is the productivity we are looking at, and whether we have the means to reach this target group. Having identified the market, the message needs to be crafted to match. Then comes the medium in which the message will be transmitted. All three elements need to be constantly aligned and realigned according to the turnaround emphasis. Leaders need to be careful not to let any change or challenges of any of these three derail the vision.

Step #4 - Creating an Executable Strategy
Having lots of activities is not enough. One needs to focus on the right activity. The same can be said of strategies. First avoid taking the wrong bridge. Then, look for the bridge of maximum opportunity to implement the strategy. Rutland presents a six-step process to do just that.  

Step #5 - Shifting Culture
We do not operate in a vacuum. Organizations have to deal with cultures in the world. Rutland distinguishes culture from brand, in that it is not the brand that defines the culture, but the culture that defines the brand.  In any turnaround, he is wary of any "culture of feudalism" that basically divides and conquers. This may even mean organizational divisions inside are pit against each other negatively. Such a culture is toxic to people inside the organization and also the motivation to move the organization ahead. Another culture to avoid is "parallel model" where groups within do not talk or connect. Another bad model is "perpendicular model" where groups within clash often. The "circular model" is also no good, where the organization goes nowhere except in circles. Avoiding such cultural tendencies is critical.

Step #6 - Keeping an Eye on Quality
For Rutland, quality is essentially meeting expectations. Knowing the expectations is also critical. Sometimes, like many marriages, unspoken expectations come out of a lack of communications. That said, a leader needs to constantly communicate expectations in order to maintain level of quality. 

Step #7 - Measuring and Celebrating Success
Small quick victories are essential to building a turnaround momentum. That is why setting some measurable targets can help immensely. 

C) Team Building
The third component in turnaround strategies is in the building of a team. Hire appropriately. Adopt a system like the finder-binder-minder-grinder system.  "Finders" are creative and entrepreneurial, and are great assets to move organizations forward. "Binders" are those who can systematically bring things in order and in proper perspective. "Minders" are process persons, people who manage existing systems and processes well. "Grinders" are those who have the grit to finish the work set forth. Leaders must learn to help these four types of people work together well. That is why a leader needs to understand his own personality in the first place. Rutland also observes the potential conflict between "finders" and "minders" for they tend to irritate each other. Leadership is in terms of keeping them working together, tolerating if necessary.  Learning to hire also means learning when and how to fire when necessary. A good leader will use firing as a last resort.

Rutland also has a word for forming a board of directors. He focuses on cultivating the board's inner voice through isolating emotional tendencies that can retard any turnaround; avoiding legalistic philosophies that tend to simply things into right vs wrong; and to let a holistic approach balance out the management and the leadership culture. A good board will practice accountability, affirmation, and a responsibility to gather or relinquish resources. A bad board will obstruct appropriate change out of fear, and an ugly board that tries to micromanage everything. He ends with some words of advice to the turnaround leader.

My Thoughts

Leadership is an art, calling for an attitude of humility and discernment to meander among the various perspectives and emotional attachments to structures of organization; styles of leadership; methods of management; balance of chaos vs control or change vs conformity; fear of the unknown vs courage to  explore. That said, I venture to propose that leadership is both an art and a science. Good leadership knows the difference between the two, and will be discerning on how and when to implement them. Great leadership however, will let the art and the science aspect inform each other, and to connect the organization internally as well as its interactions with the culture at large. Spiritual leadership is in terms of wisdom in leading, managing, and working through the turnaround processes from beginning to end, enabling not only the organization to grow in terms of meeting its objectives, but the people inside to grow as persons as well.

This book has given me much food for thought, and though the biblical examples are not many, a lot of what Rutland says make sense from a consulting and practicing standpoint. This book on relaunch can become a seed for a whole new series of books on leadership. I highly recommend this book for leadership and anyone desiring healthy changes for the organizations they love.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by David C. Cook Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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