Case Study Process
Interview and Survey
Interviews of past leaders whose turnaround efforts successfully led three non-profit organizations back to operational vitality were the center of these case studies (4). Members of the boards of directors were also interviewed. Additionally, board members were asked to indicate their leaders' project management style by responding to 64 "keywords" based on Shenhar and Wideman's research (1). Interviews followed Edgar Schein's "helping relationship" principles outlined in his book "Process Consultation Revisited" (5).
To simplify analysis, subject selection was limited to leaders no longer part of the subject organization, where the organization was still successfully operating after the leader-inspired turnaround. This was to eliminate the possibility of change introduced by the research process .
Board members' project management style keyw(6)ord survey responses were compared by percent true. Ninety to one hundred percent true was considered generally applicable. Zero to ten percent true was considered generally not applicable. Concepts from leader and board member interviews provided anecdotal support for leadership processes and project management style.
The License to Lead
In all cases, the organizations in question were in serious decline prior to the leader's arrival. One had not paid its regional church district dues in years due to flagging membership and questionable financial management. Another was contemplating "shutting the doors" because of a declining demand for community theatre activities. The third was in limbo, not knowing whether to shut down the school entirely or to merge with a larger school in the area. All three organizations were ripe for change and willing to grant greater leverage than they had to past leaders.
The new leaders were credited with forging bold new directions for their organizations. Yet in talking with the leaders, they credit the members of the organization for many of the ideas and much of the work that effected the important, life-giving changes. These collaborative attitudes were reflected in the project manager style responses. Board members in all three organizations indicated unanimously that their leaders "developed commitment," "reinforced commitment," were "understanding," "sought solutions" and "implemented decisions."
In matching the project type to Shenhar and Wideman's research, which is geared toward the information technology sector, turnaround projects are most closed described as "super high-tech" projects (1). The literature and interview data about organizational turnaround processes showed them to be highly exploratory and intellectual. Turnaround leaders frequently have to invent new ways of working for the organization to function successfully.