Clearly, many of the signals of company decline are a result of the growth a company may have experienced. When the growth ends and the business enters a period of stability, management may find itself unable to cope with the lack of growth. The team may continue to manage as if the rate of growth will continue in the near future. However, the plans for an expanding business differ markedly from those of a stable or declining one. When plans are not modified to address the new situation, companies often court trouble. A plan that is carved in granite will become part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.
Case Study: Be Tall Houses
be Tall Houses is an example of a company that has internal and external problems. Be Tall was building forty single-family homes in the $100,000-$150,000 price bracket annually. Sales stood at $4.5 million, and the company employed nine employees. Internally, there were excessive layers of management, excess wages, material waste, cost overruns, employee morale problems, and information flow deficiencies. In short, the company had almost every signal of decline. Externally, new competition had entered the market. Since Be Tall had damaged its relationships with material suppliers, it could not receive the necessary materials to compete.
The company is now undergoing a turnaround. Part of the strategy is to reduce costs and payroll by a minimum of $250,000 per year. There is also a slump in Be Tall’s markets, so revenue has slipped. The internal elements were changed by laying off unnecessary supervisors, reducing wages, adding a profit-sharing plan, settling lawsuits with suppliers and resuming business on account, reducing costs, and adding computerized information systems to prevent selling homes below cost. External elements are being addressed by rebuilding relationships with suppliers and banks. Finally, Be Tall Houses’ image is being restored in the mind of new home buyers. For example:
- low offers are being refused,
- real estate agents are advised that the builder is doing fine,
- the builder’s presence in the local community has been heightened, and
- the builder now meets personally with each buyer.
A building company–or any other company–that suffers from problems and decreased volume becomes a part of the industry and/or community “rumor mill.” Stakeholders–anyone who has an economic interest in the business–may begin to discuss the company’s demise before the business feels the impact of declining profitability. Customers may begin to complain about service. Small problems may take on monumental proportions.
Be hesitant to respond to rumors. Telling stakeholders optimistic stories only makes the situation worse when the stories never come true. A company in trouble needs to face its problems and seek advice on how to solve them. By managing the rumormongers part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, the top executive can begin to clear an effective path toward increased profitability.
Once the signals of a declining business are recognized, the hemorrhaging must be stopped. it is imperative that the company determine its future direction immediately. Faced with an enterprise that has suffered deteriorating value, direct and specific actions must be undertaken by the executive team to reverse the downward spiral. Clearly, changes need to be made; the question now becomes: how should this change be implemented?
The Turnaround: Three Methods
The methods employed in a turnaround vary from case to case but can generally be classified as strategic, operational, or financial (or some combination of the three): Strategic is a changing of markets and products. Operational is an emphasis on cost reductions, revenue generation, and asset reduction. Financial is a restructuring of the balance sheet and income statements to generate cash to fund business growth or reorganization.
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