The challenges of a struggling enterprise for a new Vice President


Few challenges rival the complexity of turning around a troubled enterprise, but the newly-hired VP of sales need not stumble around in the dark. Prudent guidelines are available to help navigate the battered ship out of troubled waters.

To begin with, the VP must immediately obtain the “lay of the land”: Are the financials of the company so dire that bankruptcy looms? Who are the firm’s primary customers, and are those accounts in jeopardy? Which product lines are performing, and which are not? How effective is the marketing department? What is the condition of the supply chain? Are there customer service issues to address? Is the business languishing because of low morale? What financial resources are available, and to what areas should they be shifted?

Undefined problems are unresolved problems. Once the primary sources—there are likely to be several—of the business’ problems are determined, the newly-hired VP can establish her priorities and take corrective action.

The most effective means of determining the lay of the land is communication with, and more specifically, listening to, the firm’s personnel. If the company is not teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, the newly-hired VP has the luxury of time, the most efficient use of which may be a “listening tour” to unearth the roots of the firm’s problems.

One often learns by negative example. Suppose the VP rushes into the firm on Day One, domineering, arrogant, and oblivious to the opinions of existing personnel. She promptly makes wholesale, slash-and-burn changes. Her actions will not be well-received (regardless of their financial effectiveness), and they are likely to exacerbate existing morale problems. People appreciate being heard and acknowledged, even if, at the end of the day, the VP’s decisions run contrary to prevailing opinion.

Significant cuts may indeed be necessary, but time permitting, prior to taking drastic action, the new VP would be well-advised to assemble the company’s executives and the members of their leadership. During this meeting, the VP can encourage the airing of grievances (many firms are hobbled by incompetent management) and, depending upon the extensiveness of her research, perhaps share her vision of the company moving forward.

The newly-hired VP of sales in a struggling firm will have several roles to play simultaneously. She must be not only a cheerleader, but also a turn-around agent; a bold decision-maker, but also a facilitator of open discussion; a persuasive speaker but also, and more importantly, a patient and accommodating listener.

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