Domino’s Pizza recently launched a bold, unorthodox campaign to resurrect its image. In a series of ads and on its website,, Domino’s airs actual customer complaints about the poor quality of its traditional pizza, and promises better taste from newly released recipes. It certainly must be painful for the pizza chain to admit that customers thought its pizza crust “tasted like cardboard” or felt its food was “bland” or “processed.” Yet, Dominos’ honesty has a refreshing ring. Not often does a business publicly assume responsibility a poor product.

Through its marketing blitz, Domino’s Pizza is attempting one of the most difficult feats in leadership: reversing negative momentum. They aren’t alone. 2008 and 2009 were tough years for almost everyone as stocks sunk, home prices plunged, and unemployment crept above 10%. How do leaders halt a downward slide, and change the direction of their teams and organizations?

Four Ways to Reverse Negative Momentum in Your Organization

1) Assume Responsibility for Your Situation

Yes, the economy has been bad, but unless you’re Ben Bernanke, then there isn’t much you can do about it. By blaming your troubles on the economy, you’re putting yourself at the mercy of outside forces. Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, pour your energies into improving the areas within your sphere of influence. Take responsibility for the strength of your products, the health of your brand, and your relationships with key customers.

2) Be Willing to Slaughter the Sacred Cow

Many leaders cling to past successes and traditions to the point that they imperil their organization. Some, enamored with a product, make decisions based on emotional attachments rather than sound judgment. Others, stubbornly set in their ways, refuse to face their fears of change-even when their current business model is unsustainable.

Dominos had to scrap recipes a generation old in order to give itself a makeover. Ford Motor Company sold off Jaguar and Land Rover so that it could compete more effectively in the small-car market. What drastic changes might you need to consider in order to put your team in a better position?

3) Don’t Just Listen to Customers; Lead Them

A business should always attune its ears to the customer. However, if customer complaints are your primary driver of change, then you’re not a market leader. Domino’s is probably overhauling its pizza a decade too late. Customer preferences shifted long ago, and the pizza chain is only now acting in response.

Innovative leaders understand their customers to the point that they are able to anticipate consumer needs. Apple Inc. serves as a prime example. The iPod and iPhone weren’t responses to dissatisfied customers. Instead, these ahead-of-the-curve products brilliantly introduced new ways to access music and to experience multimedia content. Apple has scored a string of successes by leading customers rather than reacting to them.

4) Craft a Message for Change…Better Yet, Create the Conditions for It to Happen

Once morale has dipped, leaders have to craft an upbeat message to reverse the tenor of conversation. Yet, a sunny outlook itself won’t do the trick. In the words of Lou Gerstner, the man who revived IBM, “You can’t simply give a couple of speeches or write a new credo for the company and declare that a new culture has taken hold. You can’t mandate it, can’t engineer it. What you can do is create the conditions for transformation, provide incentives.”

General David Petraeus knows well the challenges of reversing momentum. In Iraq, the general inherited a military operation muddled in a quagmire. He busily set about altering conditions within the country. Instead of attempting to seek and destroy enemy combatants, General Petraeus shifted resources in order to serve and protect the Iraqi people. As security improved, incentives were given for one-time insurgents to stop fighting and reenter public life. Thanks to the conditions orchestrated by General Petraeus, the situation in Iraq not only stabilized, it improved.

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