“Turn around, don’t run upstairs, please don’t go in the garage”… all that is missing is, “I will be right back!” the joys of wonderful horror films! Would you ever knowingly take on a failing project with many of those horror film phrases as the advice from colleagues and trusted advisors ringing in your ears, do you want to be “Captain Turnaround”?

I have a friend who, ten years a go, over a glass of wine turned to me and said, “I want to be a turnaround CIO, the one that drops in, fixes it and hands it on”. The father of another friend pretty much was wedded to the idea that turnaround CIOs were akin to the Seagull analogy: flies around, drops “good luck” and flies off again! But sometimes, whether you plan it or not you end up in this role.

I was successful in securing a role a couple of years back, a role that was not advertised as “turnaround Charlie”, but a role that looked wonderful. Within the first two weeks I realised I needed a new name, and it had better be Charlie.

How to go about the turnaround role? Well, first things first, don’t upset the current apple cart would be my experience. If you do, then you’d better be ready for the disaster movie scenario, never mind the horror movie.

First, in that initial short period of time in the role you need to work out why. Why is it a horror movie? As with the movie you need to spend the first “chapter” discovering the motivation, make assumptions, which you are willing to change by testing them. Try to evaluate assumptions, you need to know what is driving the good guys and don’t forget the bad guys.

Is the project in need of turnaround because of the characters or is it because it is impossible to succeed? The hardest task is to stop the train and tell everyone to get off, but, if the project is in need of turnaround because it could never deliver then you need to be brave and admit that. The quicker you can do this the more likely you will still feature in the sequel movie!

A further quick win is defining the timescale. Turnaround initially needs a short sharp shock, and it is hard to define which fix to make first. Full turnaround normally takes a sequel or two to achieve! With this in mind ensure that the quick win is one that the customer will see and benefit from, not the most popular solution within the current team.

Like a movie series the turnaround takes participant investment, turnaround Charlie needs to get in quick and create a relationship at every possible stakeholder level. Engage the audience. There is no better tool for Charlie than customers exclaiming that “things” are better now!

Take control from every perspective, and answer the question, “Do you like scary movies?” Of course you do, or you wouldn’t be doing this job!

But, bring your team a long with you; what is the one thing that they think turns the delivery into the horror movie? Once you know that, agree how the team will work to turn it around, and go at the delivery of it as a team, empower them to do this as a priority, but always link it back to the customer needs and deliverables as clearly as possible. The customer needs to see that the team is working on the turnaround as one and has it as its priority.

The end credits of the turn around though, unfortunately, don’t always ring true, and if you have agreed to go in and do this consciously then you need to be aware of this from the beginning. If a project has needed a turnaround then there will be some residual customer neglect, even the best turnaround can not delete the impression the customer had before turnaround started.

This has an impact on the sequel which everyone needs to understand. The customer starts with perceptions of the actors involved and the story line about to be told, which means that the new project is in turnaround from the beginning and therefore needs a new storyline to tell that attracts the customer back to the delivery and benefit and builds confidence in the outcome.

So, once you have done turnaround you will never stop making the sequel, the key is to achieve what very few film makers have achieved, making each sequel better than the last…


Sequels I think are better than the original include; The original Star Wars sequels (TESB, RotJ), Aliens, The Darknight, The Godfather 2, Toy Story 2, Before Sunset and if you hadn’t guessed from this the Scream Sequels.