What is a Business Intervention?

I recently moderated a strategic planning session for a Texas-based developer and distributor of specialty software for the financial services industry.

For them, on the one hand it was truly the best of times: an 8 – figure revenue base and possessing of a recurring revenue business model with long term clients including some of the biggest banks and brokerage firms in the world.

But…and like many companies now in our technology fast forwarded world, serious storm clouds threatened: minimal revenue growth and more disturbingly pricing (and margins) driven down by aggressive overseas competition.

As concerning, the Company’s Founder – rightly revered for his work ethic and charismatic leadership – was uncharacteristically indecisive, waxing on a bit too nostalgically on how “easy” business was in the “old days” versus addressing today’s challenges.

So we got “stuck,” so that even in the areas where there was agreement as to the strategic and tactical changes needing to be made, the executive team just couldn’t make them (and then have those decisions stay made!). 

Now, as I have found from my 15+ years of leading strategic sessions like this, at some point as often as not they turn into Interventions, defined by Webster as “becoming involved intentionally in a difficult situation in order to change it or improve it, or prevent it from getting worse.

And, in the context of a company refining its strategic plan, the intervention (at a top level) normally involves leading the executive team through a series of “Why,” “What,” “Who” questions.

First, there are the “why” questions to re-ground us in the business’ “reason for being” and the fundamental values it brings to its stakeholders – shareholders, customers, employees, etc.



Questions like “Why do customers choose us?” and more poignantly for the team “Why do we work here?” and “Why is it important to us as individuals that this company be successful?”

As these “whys” are grappled with, strategic clarity usually emerges and the questions turn to “Whats” – to tactics, projects, deadlines, and to-dos.

As this point, everyone (finally!) starts “getting real” with each other, to who is responsible for what and more to the point is there really an accountability-based culture in place to promote and sustain high performance and positive change?

As these exercises proceed, what normally re-awakens is the understanding that the leadership team’s responsibility is to the organization as a whole, and not to any one particular individual, division, or practice area.

In this company’s case, from these exercises the hard decision was made to transition a pair of executives, as they embodied a legacy mindset and approach unsuited for the “business of the future” needed to be built.

And, as is more often the case than not, these transition conversations were more difficult in their anticipation than actuality, and as they were completed a new forward looking-energy and initiative was unleashed in the team members that remained.

I would encourage any business that feels “stuck” in any important aspect – revenue growth, cash flow, client satisfaction, culturally – to prompt a business intervention like this.

Yes, the outcomes will sometimes be difficult for specific individuals, but almost always beneficial for the organization as a whole.

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