John Stanik uses experience to help changes go down at Ampco-Pittsburgh

You have to get that analysis done first. Get the horse in front of the cart, Stanik says, and understand where your problems are.

“It’s one thing to say that the market is damaging the company, and certainly that was true,” he says. “But it’s another thing to determine whether the company can be made profitable in the downturn. And that was my objective — to establish a company that was profitable in a new normal, and that new normal was in a downturn situation.”

If the market recovered, it would be easy to right the ship. Any company with capacity could grow and flourish in that situation.

No shortcuts

Once you understand the situation, Stanik says you want to set a vision for improvement through strategic planning. But you can’t take shortcuts.

You can bring in consultants to structure and organize the process, but there’s only one group that can do the work — your employees.

“They are the ones who understand the business. They are the ones who understand the market,” Stanik says.

The plan has to include well-developed action plans, so it doesn’t become a dust collector. Those action plans must have someone assigned to it, a deadline for completion and a numeric objective result.

“That’s not that hard to do,” he says. “And you can have, like in our case, 100 action plans spread out across the company, and if you keep it alive and you keep it flexible, you’ll get it done. And the results, if you’ve done a good job in the strategic planning part, will come.”

At Ampco, they wanted a strategic plan that could make the business profitable in an organic way. Stanik says that took six or seven months to develop.

The company’s leadership also sought to remove costs that didn’t deteriorate the basic capability of the company, which is referred to as picking or harvesting the low-hanging fruit.

“There wasn’t much that was low hanging, but there was some,” he says. “And we were able to create a series of action plans that could result in a lower cost structure and yet maintain almost the same capability.”

Instituting change with ease

When you’re turning around a business, it demands speed and pace, and change management takes a certain kind of leadership.

Stanik says it starts with being detail oriented. You need the ability to get into the forest amongst the trees, instead of just looking down.

“An organization can become frustrated. It can become tired. It can need a break. It needs to win, which means there have to be celebrations for small victories. And then those small victories have to build into bigger victories,” he says.

It requires flexibility, which means having a plan A, B, C, etc., because things never turn out exactly the way you predicted.

Another key is caring about your people. While the CEO has ideas, it’s the people, who execute those desires, Stanik says.

When the change management starts to get off track, he says, it’s because your people don’t understand where the company is going and how the success will manifest.