Sometimes you just gotta reboot.

This is often your first step in fixing a problem. The computer’s acting weird? Reboot. Your phone stopped working right? Reboot.

But that’s darned hard to do with an organization. What’s the difference?

Well, with people you can’t force them to forget everything that’s happened previously. In fact, they’re going to be MORE upset with a sudden change, because people crave certainty.

But there are times when it’s worth it.

About 25 years ago, I was involved with an organization where everything was getting worse and worse, more dysfunctional. And everybody recognized it; people were clearly getting ready to jump ship.

The leader commissioned a special study – I was on the team – which concluded that it was time to reorganize, set a new vision and goals, and create new team and individual objectives and measures. Fortunately, he was courageous enough to do this, even while keeping all our products and services going. Partially-complete projects couldn’t be thrown away entirely.

It felt like we were rebooting everything. It was disruptive and unsettling, but he became the leader to get us through this troublesome period. And we were pretty much through the whole thing in a few months, refreshed and rejuvenated.

How did he know that it was worth taking the risk?

  • All the metrics were headed the wrong direction – product quality, schedules, customer satisfaction, and all the financials. It looked like we were barreling head-on into a brick wall.
  • Morale and feedback was clearly indicating that many people were getting ready to leave a sinking ship.

But let me be clear: This magnitude of organizational reboot has happened exactly once in my career, so it’s not a tool which can be used lightly. Sure, I’ve had many cases where a change in leadership resulted in new goals and processes – but it’s much different when you’re talking about a team of ten people versus 100 or 1000.

Imagine that you had a big cargo ship, the kind that famously takes more than ten miles to make a turn. The vast majority of the time, the best strategy is to be thoughtful and slow about making changes.

But if a big disaster happens – like a collision or onboard fire or whatever – your best approach is to stop, assess, plan, and then move forward with new direction. To start with a new purpose.

Because sometimes you just gotta reboot.