Case Studies

Wellington Security Systems

Sometimes, pruning is the catalyst to profitable growth.

Situation

Wellington Security Systems is a family-owned and operated business with a 30+ year history. Over the years the company grew, but had never been able to achieve sustainable profitability. According to the company’s president, Gene Earhart,

“We had experienced a growth spurt based on a couple of very large accounts, and had come to define success in terms of revenue growth rather than profitability.”

But, with the loss of those accounts and a couple of key people, the close-knit company was struggling. As the economy faltered so did employee morale at Wellington. Confidence eroded. Something had to be done to turn the tide.

Solution

Brian Davis, Leadership Catalyst, was retained by the Wellington principals as a coach to help them navigate their business challenges. Recalled Earhart,

“We were convinced that the only way to succeed was to grow revenues by 50 percent, to where we had once been. We wanted advice on how to dramatically increase sales and were looking for a silver bullet—a new strategy, innovative methods to motivate our people, or coaching on what we perceived to be some of our people problems.”

Davis met with Gene Earhart and his partner, Bill Rosener for 2 hours, every other week for 3 months. He literally started at the beginning—asking about the owners’ values, frustrations and aspirations. What kind of firm did they want to be? Based on that information along with a thorough examination of the company’s financials, Davis helped the owners see that before Wellington could grow, they had to become profitable. Earhart:

“Brian kept pushing us to understand our fixed costs and to come up with a single metric that could be easily tracked and would be the best predictor of profitable growth. We reviewed a number of scenarios such as salary cuts, furloughs and staff reductions, without losing critical skills. He coached us on how to communicate the cuts and changes in a way that would be respectful to those leaving and energizing to those remaining. We eliminated the general manager role, redeployed staff to the field, and reduced our headcount by 30 percent. Had we not made those changes when we did, the business would have been in serious trouble.”

Results

Within 30 days of making the changes recommended by the Leadership Catalyst, Wellington returned to profitability. Indeed, for the first quarter of 2010 (typically Wellington’s weakest quarter), net income was more than triple their best performance in recent years.

Their employees are stretched more than they have been in years, but they are engaged and optimistic about the company’s future. Despite the dramatic downsizing, customers continue to be delighted with Wellington’s responsiveness and quality, two critical success factors for the company.

Earhart summarizes:

“As owners, it feels like a weight has been lifted from our shoulders. Our entrepreneurial spirit has been renewed, and we are having fun again. We are committed to profitable growth and creating a workplace that provides fulfillment for our people, and one that better serves our customers.”

PDI Ninth House

Salvaging a critical client/vendor talent management partnership.

Situation

A Fortune 50 retailer selected PDI Ninth House as their leadership assessment partner through a competitive bidding process. This client represented what was sure to be one of PDI’s largest and most important client relationships. PDI had invested heavily in new technology, innovative processes, and the training of many consultants, and they were poised to assess the readiness and potential of thousands of the client’s leaders each year, domestically and overseas. On the client side, the internal talent management team had put their credibility on the line by awarding the assessment bid to PDI over the incumbent provider, and they would lose face and incur huge switching costs if they tried to change providers yet again.

With the stakes being high for both PDI and the client, failure was not an option, yet the new partnership came into jeopardy just weeks into its existence. The internal client team was frustrated that PDI was unable to consistently meet the daily assessment demand and immediate assessment needs. PDI was struggling to staff assessments because the number of PDI assessors needed to meet demand on any given day was highly variable, and PDI had very little time to respond to scheduling requests.

Friction on both sides was growing, but the pressure to succeed had also increased. As the problems became more visible, people on both sides felt increasingly vulnerable and blame started to fly. Meetings became tense, with each side bringing additional people as “witnesses” and allies to help defend their positions. The contract was not yet finalized or signed, discussions were becoming increasingly contentious, and legal language was being used as the vehicle for addressing the problems.

Solution

Brian Davis, Leadership Catalyst, was brought in to work with both sides and salvage the partnership. The assessment program was a huge undertaking for all involved, and there were many moving parts. In talking with the critical stakeholders, the following became apparent:

• Symptoms rather than root causes were being addressed by several sub teams working at too low a level within their own organizational silos.

• Neither side had visibility to the other’s business processes or the organizational constraints under which the other was operating.

• The new assessment process represented huge changes for both organizations, and had not been adequately piloted before going into production with high volumes.

• The PDI client engagement team was not adequately staffed, given the size and complexity of the engagement.

Dianne Nilsen, Vice President and Director of Client Services at PDI Ninth House, credits Brian with being a catalyst in making the partnership work.

“Brian’s deep talent management expertise, executive presence, win/win approach and team building experience enabled him to quickly establish credibility with key stakeholders of both parties. He brought in a seasoned executive to play the role of client engagement manager for PDI and created a project steering team with her and the client’s Vice-president of assessment. Together with Brian’s guidance, we diagnosed the root cause of most of the noise and symptoms being experienced on both sides as the unpredictability of daily assessment volume. Once the steering team began addressing the issue holistically as a common business process, the partnership was able to get back on track. Together we jointly got the right people working on the right issues, and built a foundation for future success.”

Results

Nilsen summarizes:

“Without Brian’s intervention, the PDI/Client partnership was on the fast track to failure. By working together across organizational boundaries under Brian’s leadership, the joint steering team built a strong assessment experience consistent with the clients employer brand that has received rave reviews from both internal and external candidates and earned high credibility with the clients senior leadership. It is an integral component of their talent management system, and the partnership has expanded into leadership assessment in store operations as well as work in other areas such as competency modeling, high potential identification, and executive coaching.”

Folkestad Fazekas Barrick & Patoile, P.C. (FFBP)

Rebuilding fractured partner relationships and creating a shared vision.

Situation

FFBP is a forty year old regional law firm with a great reputation in the community. Despite having become the largest and most recognized firm in its market, a number of unresolved conflicts had created major rifts among the partners, decisions had stalled, and communication had become stymied. This coupled with a very tough economy was placing a tremendous budget constraints on the practice. According to the Managing Partner, Aaron Barrick,

“Over the past few years, we had been struggling with the firm’s vision, decision making processes and conflict resolution methods. The relationship among the directors had deteriorated to the point that the firm was threatened. The use of a management consultant was a final effort to re-organize and revitalize a once successful firm.”

Solution

Brian Davis, Leadership Catalyst, was retained by FFBP as a coach and team building consultant to help the firm get unstuck and reboot the relationships among the partners. He began with situational analysis interviews with each of the partners and key staff members to triage the most critical issues and design a two phase process. Phase 1 lasted three months, and focused on improving working relationships among the partners, defining a process for decision making, and creating a shared vision for the kind of firm they wanted to be.

During this phase, Brian adopted a crawl, walk, run approach to rebuilding relationships by having bi-weekly individual coaching and accountability sessions with each of the four partners. In addition to the coaching sessions, each partner made weekly commitments to take prescribed small steps to rebuild relationships with the others. Phase 1 culminated with a productive one day session to finalize a newly created and shared vision and define the decision making process.

Results

The firm’s financials are better now than they have been in years and the partners are once again engaged and having fun. Staff members, who last year feared firm instability because of partner conflicts, were complaining after the last partner meeting that they couldn’t concentrate because the partners were laughing too loud. Barrick:

“Brian has been very helpful in providing the direction to survive some very difficult times, the shared vision to reclaim our standing in the legal community, and the inspiration to transform the roles and relationships of the principals in the firm to maximize our potential.”

Phase 2 is just beginning, six months after the conclusion of Phase 1, and will focus on engaging the associates around the shared vision and values, creating a culture that retains and attracts the brightest and the best, and developing a perpetuation plan for partners. Barrick summarizes:

“The firm is now progressing and we look forward to continuing the momentum with Brian’s assistance. He has been extremely professional, courteous and responsive throughout the experience. I have a high regard for Brian and would recommend him to others that are experiencing similar issues.”

Our Vistage CEO peer group consists of talented chief executives from diverse companies and backgrounds who are committed to helping one another become better leaders, make better decisions, and get better results. In the brief videos below, they describe the value they receive from the expert speakers, the monthly group meetings, and the one-to-one coaching they receive from me, their chair.

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