Radical leadership is often the only solution when companies lose sight of their goals.

It’s easy to look good when the economy’s booming and you’re backed by a reputation built up over decades. But success can breed complacency. The result of taking your eye off the ball? You lose sight of your goals. 

Take Starbucks. Everything had been plain sailing for decades when it hit the rocks in 2007. The coffee chain’s chairman Howard Schultz had an idea about what had gone wrong: its dominant position had incubated an arrogant outlook and the company had stopped taking care of its customers.

He was right. Formerly loyal patrons weren’t happy and had started going elsewhere in search of their coffee fix. That same year, Starbucks closed over 900 stores and fired 1,000 employees. That was the end of the growth policy championed by the company’s CEO between 2002 and 2007, Jim Donald, who had become obsessed with opening more and more stores. The mad rush to expand had resulted in Starbucks losing touch with its founding values. 

In the end, Starbucks scraped through this rough patch. So how did it turn things around? Well, it had a leader who was prepared to push through radical reforms: Howard Schultz. One of the first things he did after taking charge was to close 7,000 Starbucks stores in the United States and give every barista extra training to help them up their coffee game. When a test revealed that McDonald’s had better-tasting coffee than Starbucks, Schultz introduced new roasting and grinding processes. 

None of that was rocket science. Schultz simply understood that a coffee chain has to do two things to retain its customers’ loyalty: prepare a great cup of coffee and offer a selection of delicious cakes and pastries. But sometimes it takes a radical visionary to do the commonsensical thing. By 2010, his policy had paid off. Starbucks had recovered and its revenue increased to $10.7 billion. 

That just goes to show how important adaptability is when you’re struggling to get ahead or just treading water. While you shouldn’t rush change, it’s worth keeping an open mind, experimenting, and seeing what incremental changes you can make to improve your situation.