BlackBerry CEO John Chen on How to Execute a Turnaround

When John Chen took on the role of BlackBerry chief executive officer one year ago, the Waterloo-based smartphone maker was facing tremendous challenges as a company. It was not an envious position to be in.

“The markets for devices and services had been changing dramatically for the past few years, and our positions in them had deteriorated,” Chen reflects in a LinkedIn post. “Addressing these realities required us to focus on one thing: innovation. Innovation is what the world demands of technology companies like BlackBerry.”

Chen highlights the six steps that must be taken to successfully maintain a turnaround:

  1. Create a Problem-Solving Culture. “A turnaround culture must be positive. Employees need to have the hunger – and confidence – to get things done. Everyone needs the same single-minded desire to win.”
  2. Maintain the Sense of Urgency. “If your front porch is on fire, you wouldn’t stop to calculate how long it would take for your house to burn down. You just go stop the fire.”
  3. Take Care of your Company like it’s your Home. “We take care to ‘sweat the small stuff,’ because we care. At BlackBerry, we took a look at all of the phone accounts we were paying for. We found one manager who had eight telephone accounts for employees that had already left but which we were still paying for. Their accounts were never turned off.”
  4. Know Thyself. “When you know yourself, you know what your long-term goals and strategies are. That makes it easier for you to decide on good decisions.”
  5. Empower Employees to Take Risks. “People either don’t want to deliver bad news, or they’re not willing to challenge enough – in a respectful way – on some of the decisions. That culture has got to change.”
  6. Everyone has a Role. “If you empower employees, they will speak out on bad decisions or take the initiative to solve problems. No matter what their level, everyone can make a difference. Creating this open-ness requires a few things. Leaders need to listen and be humble. And your organization cannot be too siloed or top-down.”

“That’s how you win,” write Chen.