Traditionally, whenever businesses hit a long, rough patch, turnaround managers have always been tapped to save the day. Companies have indeed now flown into turbulent times, hammered by the coronavirus pandemic and are in dire need of being steered to a soft landing.
As part of their turnaround strategies, these outsourced managers have almost always turned to slashing costs, negotiating with lenders and suppliers to restructure terms and selling off non-core assets to prop up sagging fortunes.
With time, they came to be known as turnaround artists, because it takes the dexterity of a fine sculptor to remodel a firm gone out of shape and the creativity of a painter to reimagine it. The end goal is to achieve solid comeback and recapture the imagination of investors.
Now, a common thread running through these executives and one that has long been highly prized is experience and skillset. Corporations have in the past opted for tried and tested faces, with a proven track record.
As a result, this has given rise to a small pool of executives that meet this high standard, meaning the market has only a handful of turnaround artists to go around.
That is precisely why corporate Kenya, for instance, has recently witnessed movements of the same managers from one company to another based on offers and counteroffers – some kind of professional revolving door.
But their performance has been a mixed bag, with some spectacularly failing to breathe life into zombie companies, leading them to jump ship too soon.
At times these self-branded corporate magicians are head-hunted not by struggling firms but by a well-performing business looking to ring-fence its fortunes through innovation and growth.
With businesses scrambling to find breakthroughs following the pandemic, demand for the few executives is set to shoot up in what could spark fierce talent wars. Firms will increasingly raid each other for top talent.
However, the post-pandemic space we are moving into is a world remade. It would not be business as usual, not even for turnaround managers.
What may have worked before based on experience will not necessarily work out in coming days.
A world remade by Covid-19 would need a radical shift in thinking to shepherd organisations out of the uncharted territory. This means either a new crop of managers will arise with more radical strategies to rescue firms or the old-schoolers will need to completely reinvent themselves.
Additionally, as the concept of sustainability takes root amid frequent epidemics, social inequality and climate change, the scope of the post-pandemic manager will widen beyond business fortunes to include social and environmental goals.
Environmental targets may even be part of job description set out for new executives. It should be noted that consumers will be even more demanding of corporations to conduct their operations in a sustainable way, with a long-term consideration for future generations.
To reinvent, traditional managers should be deliberate about the process. They will have to relearn their models, research, and strike strategic partnerships, to avoid being forced to change by circumstances or rendered obsolete.
For the new breed of strategic thinkers expected to spring up, this crisis will serve as a breeding ground for new ideas and approaches, perhaps a little unconventional. Unlike the known turnaround executives who have been around the block for a while, some of the faces to emerge will be completely new on the corporate scene.
These managerial newbies may even upset the corporate apple cart with their seemingly crazy blueprints, potentially attracting resistance and lukewarm response. But with time as their strategies start bearing fruits, the new ideas would progressively be accepted and adopted by the rest of the market, eventually becoming mainstream.
Among other perks, the creative 2 will enjoy the first-mover advantage even as more businesses jump onto the bandwagon over time.
Steering a business during this crisis will, therefore, require leaders to approach their roles not as managers but as investors, shrewdly deploying human and capital resources, while pursuing operational efficiency and innovation.
They will have to adopt the ‘fox’ thinking style, coming up with new ideas for every situation as opposed to the traditional ‘hedgehog’ mindset where managers apply a single grand idea to every situation.
“Fox” managers have the uncanny ability to make connections across fields, enabling them to innovate. Such leaders deliberately familiarise themselves with the workings of other companies and industries and disciplines, leading them to apply a blend of informed perspectives to their firms.
As I conclude, what will it take to thrive in a world remade? The answer lies in reinvention and innovation.
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