Fix It!

Fix It!

Executive Lisa Gable offers a hard-nosed, nuts and bolts, step-by-step guide to turning around companies, projects and teams. Sentimental, she ain’t.

At the semiconductor giant Intel, Lisa Gable, former CEO of FARE, learned priceless methods for turning companies around. Since that time, she has applied process engineering to reverse the fortunes of struggling organizations across industries. Gable believes that when organizations, projects or teams break, their problems are usually due to accelerated growth and inadequate planning. Her advice: ditch everything that doesn’t work, and rebuild. A reinvention is intense, demanding and seldom pleasant – especially given the tough personnel decisions – but if that’s what you need, Gable tells you how to pursue it.

Reverse your fortunes

Reversing the fortunes of struggling organizations requires process engineering, a disciplined approach that maximizes a company’s functioning and output while reducing expenses. Gable emphasizes that this method demands patience, toughness, relationship building and an even temper.

She describes a tight, four-step turnaround strategy: “visualize the future, break down the past, create a path” and “execute with speed, confidence and heart.”

Visualize the future

When a project or company is gasping for air, Gable says, get your head out of the present and envision the ideal future landing spot. Then create a path to get there.

No matter the reason you find yourself in the driver’s seat, it’s your moment to step up and show your leadership skills.

Start this no-nonsense process by defining your core competency, “what you can do that others cannot.” Then define the reasons your project or company exists, and your primary skill or asset.

Visualize a perfect future. Perhaps you want to use your competencies to address an issue that jeopardizes your market position. Or you want to develop a technology that changes people’s lifestyles. Always take your customers’ needs into account. Consider how you can help them solve their problems and improve their experiences.

Gable explains that every turnaround mission has to encompass multiple considerations. Job One is your “big-ticket item,” the primary goal of your mission. Jobs Two and Three – which involve making decisions about marketing, public relations and HR plus gathering new information about your company – ensure that Job One is realistic, affordable and sustainable.

Job Two, Gable explains, includes the need to reframe success, which means replacing obsolete tools and procedures with new ones. Establish a fresh set of metrics to measure your progress. Job Three is to cultivate new allies and improve your relationships with former detractors.

Break down the past

Once you crystallize your vision, determine which existing assets will have value in the future and which will not. Audit everything that your employees influence – products and services, sales processes, marketing initiatives, customer services and software tools. Collect physical examples, such as brochures or printouts, and create piles in your conference room. Digitally divide your resources on a spreadsheet to highlight anything that doesn’t align with your vision.

Rate your assets on the basis of whether they generate income or expenses, how people in your company and outside it perceive their worth, and how they stack up against “best-of-class” examples. Determine how effectively your revenue generating assets contribute to your overall income. Focused throughout, Gable identifies cost efficiency as your guiding principle. If certain expenses are no longer feasible, cast them aside. Also release any asset that doesn’t fit into your future vision.

It’s often painful to face the reality that your project, team or organization has been propping up an inefficient asset or program.

Gable insists that you must apply stern rigor to these evaluations. In that way she resembles home organizing guru Marie Kondo. They both urge you to avoid any sentimentality when cleaning house. Gable believes only ruthless judgment can turn your company around. Act immediately, she says, to eliminate any misaligned or unproductive asset, or people may mistakenly believe they can salvage it.

Your decisions will affect your staff, customers and partners. Change is upsetting, and it creates insecurities, so discuss its repercussions openly and honestly.

Create a future path

Use visual representations to help your team members understand your plans. Use a decision tree, which resembles a flow chart, to illustrate how you intend to use the assets you decide to keep.

Create categories for similar assets, such as products and services or marketing and public relations. Indicate the markets you are targeting and their sizes. Determine how much financial backing your assets require and whether they support your daily operational needs.

Make sure your company has the right personnel to carry out planned changes. Some people will voluntarily leave when they realize their abilities and interests don’t align with your vision. With her signature businesslike orientation, Gable says to fire anyone who doesn’t fit.

How you want to show up as a leader and a person is worth considering when you have been brought in to manage a turnaround.

Support your remaining team members. Explain that individual and team achievements will determine remuneration and promotions. Conduct your first performance reviews roughly six months into your change process to learn who is thriving in the new system and who is struggling. Prioritize retaining rising stars by offering them attractive incentives.

Execute with speed, confidence and heart

Executing a turnaround requires quickness, aggressiveness and agility. Failure to complete the job would offset the benefits you worked hard to gain earlier in the process. Your turnaround must make your organization significantly better. Slight advantages don’t justify your efforts.

If you take too long debating your executional path, you will lose.

Going on record with the goals you’ve set will strengthen your commitment. Share them with your team, your executive leaders and your outside stakeholders. Set goals that impress your boss and create a clear market advantage. Compel your competitors to keep pace. 

Turnaround leaders must immediately admit to any mistakes . They must be skilled diplomats who project positivity. Don’t second-guess yourself. Gable stresses one piece of central advice: Do what’s necessary to get the job done.


Lisa Gable provides a breathless read that echoes the momentum she insists you develop for your turnaround. You can place this direct, actionable guide on your desk, open to the appropriate page and recheck it at each phase of your change process. Gable is a no-nonsense writer. She sometimes echoes other business books, as when she talks about BHAGs, but for the most part her voice is original. As a writer, she stays precisely on mission, just as she urges you to do, over and over. Executives planning a turnaround can glean a lot of wisdom from Gable, and they will benefit from her reminders of how to stay on course.

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