Troubleshooters should show no fear

So long as they’ve not run out of cash, most other problems can – with determination and patience – be sorted.

And that’s where the ‘troubleshooters’ come in, whether at board or executive level. The first rule of a good troubleshooter is to show no fear! Almost invariably, things will get worse before they get better. The more stones are lifted, the more nasty surprises crawl out. The joy of troubleshooting is the ability to act decisively. Any fires still burning need to be extinguished. A pragmatic approach to priorities is necessary – some problems can be left for later, so long as they don’t affect solvency or basic legal compliance, for instance with health and safety.

The guilty need to be identified, challenged and helped to exit, although not necessarily all at once. The regulator needs to be reassured that recovery is properly in hand. And critically, lenders must be kept on side – a covenant breach can be the catalyst for a sudden financial unravelling.

The very first step, though, is for the troubled organisation to accept that it is indeed in trouble.

Denial is a natural human reaction to most setbacks. So too is a tendency to overestimate one’s own skills and experience. Not to mention the head-in-sand approach to looming risks.

Troubleshooting is often about basic psychology, common sense, and dealing with wounded pride.

The next stage is recovery.

A good start is to identify allies, enemies, and the waverers in between. Organisations invariably have more strengths in their ranks than they realise, so the troubleshooter needs a good instinct for uncovering hidden talent. With that done, a good recovery team and a momentum for change can be built.

And finally, the troubleshooter must always bear in mind their own exit strategy.

Once the corner has been turned, it will be time for new permanent leadership to come in and start the longer-term journey towards excellence. Troubleshooting is necessarily rough and ready, and perfection of outcome can never be achieved. It can be thankless.

The true reward is in leaving an organisation in better shape than it was in before – accolades and recognition are seldom on the agenda. Once the troubleshooter’s job is done, it’s on to the next one. We can be sure that it will come soon enough.

 

This article first appeared on the Inside Housing website on 1st February 2017

James Tickell is a Partner at Campbell Tickell. For more information or to discuss this article, please contact: james@campbelltickell.com