I met up with a former client a few days ago. He has recently taken over operational leadership of a company that until recently had struggled to make a profit.   In the last year, it has turned around – despite sailing into the teeth of a lousy economy.

Naturally, I was curious how he did it.  Maybe you are too.

Here are a few summary bullet points from our lunchtime conversation.  They are simple, but consistent with our experience.

  • Get the right people aligned: This leader said something important about his leadership team: they’re all smart people.  But just as importantly, they’re all good people.  There are few interpersonal turf wars distracting the team. They work hard, debate well, and get on with decisions.  He notes that he had to move a few people out when he took over.
  • Get focused:  My friend’s company is not small, but they aren’t gorillas either.  They only have so much time and energy.  So after charting a direction, they figured out the few things that would move them along the path and they put real resources behind them.
  • Assign nagging rights: This leader assigned a competent leader to keep the overall strategic system moving forward.  The group gave that person nagging rights – and he made sure that initiatives got reviewed, timelines got met, and results were achieved.
  • Create a winning culture: This one seems soft, but my client talked about it passionately. He insists that one key to their success was a culture that works hard and is supportive at the same time.  The company neither grinds its people down, nor does it coddle them.  Like most such things, the soft stuff is the hard stuff.

I couldn’t resist a follow-up question as we finished lunch: What was challenging about creating that momentum?  I wasn’t surprised by his response: “Just keeping the focus on these few things in the middle of everyday work is a big challenge.  It’s easy to get distracted.”

How would you answer that question for your organization?