The visionary

Over the past 10 years, Gena C. Lovett has had many turnaround assignments, and while each has been different, one common string connects them all.

“I’ve found the ability to walk into a facility or situation and envision or conceptualize how I’d like to see it as opposed to how it is currently has always held me in good state,” she says.

Creating a vision is one of the most important things for Lovett, who is the plant manager at Alcoa Cleveland Works. And to create that vision for an organization, the first thing you have to have is some faith that it can happen.

“The first thing is, in creating a vision for my organization, it is essential that I believe that we can achieve it, and in doing so, I’m able to bring the right amount of passion, commitment and focus that’s required in this delivery,” Lovett says.

Once you believe that things can change, then look at what specifically you need to do.

“Quickly take stock of its current state and understand that and see it, because the worst thing you can do is come into a new organization and immediately start changing things,” she says. “Understand what’s working well and doesn’t need to be changed, and then focus on the opportunities of where they currently rest and where you’d like to see them.”

Once you know where you’re going, then you have to involve your people in the process by communicating with them. Instead of simply cascading information downward, Lovett uses what she calls a catch-ball process.

“Cascading is really a descent of information downwards,” she says. “You really don’t get anything. You don’t know if it’s hit a brick wall. You don’t know if it’s been received. You don’t know if you have buy-in. Catch-ball allows me to share the information and receive feedback.”

She meets with people herself and allows them to ask questions so that they fully understand everything that’s going on and how their specific roles fit in to the vision.

“Realize that our people really and truly are the most valuable asset,” Lovett says. “Share that vision. Use that catch-ball process. Seek their help. Ask for their help and be willing to act on the things you hear from them and communicate back what you’ve learned.”

Getting your people involved and attaining their buy-in is crucial to success.

“If you’re out there and your vision, you believe it’s great, and you don’t elicit feedback from the people you need to help you implement it, then the vision is just yours,” she says. “Someone told me a few years ago that if you’re leading and no one is behind you, then you’re really just walking. You’re just taking a walk. People are not following.”

Once you’ve got buy-in from your employees, you also need to set up metrics to know how you’re doing in achieving your vision.

“Set up systems such that you know whether or not your vision is being achieved, and for the pieces that aren’t, quickly regroup, understand root cause, what worked, what didn’t work, and don’t be afraid to make the adjustment,” she says.

You’ll have to run tests to find solutions to problems.

“You run a controlled experiment,” Lovett says. “It depends on the situation, but 30 days statistically gives you an idea of where you need to be. In this controlled experiment, if it’s continually going the wrong way, then you have to make a change.”

Sometimes though, you may have to make changes more quickly. For example, one metric at Alcoa is safety, so one accident or near-accident would be enough to change course.

“You don’t wait 30 days,” she says. “It’s really monitoring your indicators and understanding what needs to be changed immediately versus what you can afford to experiment with.”

As you move along, remember to stop and celebrate your successes along the way with your team, whether it’s a simple thank you, a happy hour, an appreciation dinner or an award. This was an aha moment for Lovett when one of her mentors shared this with her.

“I was just so focused on, ‘We’re here, and we need to get here,’ but along the way, really stop to celebrate,” she says. “You can’t get so caught up in the execution of that vision that you don’t step back and make sure that you celebrate those successes.”

How to reach: Alcoa Cleveland Works,