MorrisAnderson was a mess and it was largely going to be up to Daniel F. Dooley to fix the dysfunctional turnaround consulting firm.
“Historically, the firm had never had one clear leader,” Dooley says. “It was fractionalized into various geographical segments that didn’t collaborate with one another. A cynic would say they competed with one another.”
One of Dooley’s challenges was that while the then 25-employee firm was having problems, it was still profitable. So there wasn’t a lot of motivation to make big changes to a firm that many didn’t even think was broken.
“We hadn’t adapted to what was going on in our marketplace,” Dooley says. “The people we were competing with were much more professional and much more advanced in marketing and in their ability to convey what they did.”
Dooley needed to shake things up. So he led the way to removing three of the firm’s seven owners from power.
“We terminated two, and one we demoted, and he hung on for a couple years and then left of his own volition,” says Dooley, the firm’s principal and CEO. “We had to change out the management group to some degree and then the second thing we had to do was clearly unite behind one clear leader.”
Dooley was going to be that leader. And he was going to have to take drastic action to get everyone’s attention that change was needed. It wouldn’t work if he tried to tiptoe around the moves.
“The times people make really fundamental changes in their lives usually centers on a trauma,” Dooley says. “There has been something really bad that has happened. For example, a person who smokes cigarettes and they can’t stop. Perhaps when they have a heart attack and they almost die in the hospital and they have a quadruple bypass, maybe that’s when it becomes a little easier to quit smoking. They’ve had such a trauma, they have the ability to think things through and act a little differently.”
It was a major move. Dooley wanted people to know he was the leader, but he had to show it wasn’t just him ruling with an iron fist.
“We set up a board structure so I reported to a board and wasn’t a loose cannon doing what I wanted,” Dooley says.
With the board’s backing, Dooley went to work trying to create a culture that was more collaborative than competitive.
“I felt the best way to do that would be to take direct control of all the employees myself and to model collaborative behavior and to try to talk about it and preach and convince people that’s how we had to act,” Dooley says. “We had to work together and not against one another.”
There were some casualties as some didn’t like the new way things were being done. But Dooley needed to focus on those who were still in the fold and get them on board with his new vision.
“You can only work on a couple things at a time,” Dooley says. “One of the mistakes people make when they are in crisis or in trouble is they try to do too much too quickly. So they launch 25 initiatives. That ensures nothing will get done.”
So how do you get people to support you and buy into you with positive energy when you’re taking decisive action?
“You have to develop a strategy or a plan that is pretty realistic and not pie in the sky,” Dooley says. “It’s, ‘Yeah, we can do that. It makes sense we can do the following three, four or five things.’ Then you have to create some communication so people know what you’re trying to do and why you’re trying to do it so they can hopefully buy in or buy out of what you’re trying to do.”
Six years later, MorrisAnderson has 40 employees and reported 2010 revenue of $20 million. And while the tough call he made back in 2005 got the ball rolling on needed change, patience is still required.
“You have five or 10 or 15 years of history that you’re trying to overcome in two days,” Dooley says. “It’s kind of unlikely.”
How to reach: MorrisAnderson, (312) 254-0888 or www.morrisanderson.com
Answer the questions
Daniel F. Dooley has a lot of experience answering tough questions. He faced it in the remaking of MorrisAnderson and he faces it in the work that MorrisAnderson does as a turnaround consulting firm.
The key in both situations is not hiding from the questions that people have for you about what you’re doing.
“The more desperate you are or the more difficult the situation, the more you have to openly communicate with employees and give them the opportunity to hear what’s going on,” says Dooley, the 40-employee firm’s principal and CEO. “Try to craft a way that even though they are scared and nervous, they know they are getting the straight scoop from you.”
You do that by answering every question that comes your way with complete honesty.
“It’s more than just talking,” Dooley says. “You have to really listen to what they say. Those questions are important to them. Whether you think it’s important or not is irrelevant. If it’s important to them, it’s important.”