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Dysfunction to Sought-After

From Dysfunction to Value

With considerable excitement, Collaborative Learning, Inc. extended its course management offering with acquisitions adding curriculum tools and a consulting services group. Excitement turned to frustration when growth stalled instead of accelerating. Very few schools bought more than one of the three offerings. None bought all three. Worse, the triple business unit structure led to internal strife over resources.

A Vision of Synergies

By the time CEO Jim Westrick called my firm in, his vision of a synergistic three-part offering for the K-12 school market created more frustration than revenue. The two software applications didn’t integrate, and the consulting group prioritized consulting revenue over supporting the firm’s software applications. Separate sales forces and business unit management made the integrated vision, intended as a competitive differentiator, ring hollow to customers and created openings for competitors.

So, why not just integrate the offerings? Limited cash reserves and a reluctance to “bet the farm” meant the Board was only willing to fund a limited set of upgrades. The leaders of each business unit—who also happened to be the three primary stockholders—lobbied to prioritize upgrading their individual offerings over the integration work needed to fulfill the company’s vision. The company stood at a crossroads.

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“Our meeting with you has become the genesis of everything that’s happening now at CLI.”

Jim Westrick, CEO, Collaborative Learning,

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Changing the Focus from Us to Customers

A series of conversations and facilitated working sessions revealed there were internal doubts about the integrated vision. Forcing each executive to speak only in terms of how schools benefited changed the dynamic.

Yes, the discussion highlighted some limitations and gaps which called for product upgrades, but the executives were surprised by the number of vectors calling for a closer relationship with the other business units. This a-ha moment led to all three principals adopting a genuinely shared vision.

True Clarity

The resulting vision wasn’t a vision-by-committee compromise, but an extension of the owners’ individual visions that rang true to each of them. The catalyst was thinking LIKE the schools who were their Best Clients.

With a clear strategy, what needed to be done became obvious. A common strategy based on a shared mission and vision created a sense of urgency within business units that were at loggerheads only weeks before. The company’s prospects improved so much that a few months later it was acquired to fill a hole in a larger company’s vision.

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