The STARS Framework: A Language for Business Transition



“Work to become, not to acquire.” — Elbert Hubbar

To improve your personal effectiveness at work, you need a shared mental model of the situation of the organization in terms of the maturity of the people, the processes, and the products.

If you think you are in startup mode, for example, but your manager thinks you should be in sustaining-success mode, it can create conflict.

It helps to have a language for describing the situations that you are in so that everybody can get on the same page, or better discuss how they see things..

In The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, Michael
Watkins writes about the STARS framework, which creates a language for describing the situation of the people, processes, and products.

The STARS Model

The key point is that businesses (and, for that matter, projects, processes, products, and plans) tend to move predictably from one type of situation to another.

The Four STARS Situations (Startups, Turnaround, Realignments, and Sustaining-Success)

The key is to walk the people, process, and product and determine which stage they are in (Start-up, Turnaround, Realignment, or Sustaining-Success).

Here are the four STARS situations according to Watkins:

  1. Start-up. You are charged with assembling the capabilities (people, funding and technology) to get a new business, product or project off the ground.
  2. Turnaround. You take on a unit or group that is recognized to be in trouble and work to get it back on track.
  3. Realignment. Your challenge is to revitalize a unit, product, process or project that is drifting into trouble.
  4. Sustaining-success. You are shouldering responsibility for preserving the vitality of a successful organization and taking it to the next level.

1. Start-up Challenges and Opportunities

Here are the key challenges and opportunities of the Start-up situation according to Watkins.

Key Challenges:

  • Building Structures and systems from scratch without a clear framework or boundaries.
  • Welding together a cohesive high-performing team.
  • Making do with limited resources.

Key Opportunities:

  • You can do things right from the beginning.
  • People are energized by the possibilities.
  • There is no preexisting rigidity in people’s thinking.

2. Turnaround Challenges and Opportunities

Here are the key challenges and opportunities of the Turnaround situation according to Watkins.

Key Challenges:

  • Reenergizing demoralized employees and other stakeholders.
  • Handling time pressure and having a quick and decisive impact.
  • Going deep enough with painful cuts and difficult personnel choices.

Key Opportunities

  • Everyone recognizes that change is necessary.
  • Affected constituencies (such as suppliers who want the company to stay in business) may offer significant external support.
  • A little success goes a long way.

3. Realignment Challenges and Opportunities

Here are the key challenges and opportunities of the Turnaround situation according to Watkins.

Key Challenges:

  • Dealing with deeply ingrained cultural norms that no longer contribute to high performance.
  • Convincing employees that change is necessary.
  • Restructuring the top team and refocusing the organization.

Key Opportunities

  • The organization has significant pockets of strength.
  • People want to continue to see themselves as successful.

4. Sustaining Success Challenges and Opportunities

Here are the key challenges and opportunities according to Watkins.

Key Challenges:

  • Playing good defense by avoiding decisions that cause problems.
  • Living in the shadow of a revered leader and dealing with the team they created.
  • Finding ways to take the business to the next level.

Key Opportunities

  • A strong team may already be in place.
  • People are motivated to succeed.
  • Foundations for continued success (such as the product pipeline) may be in place.

Key Takeaways

Here are my key takeaways:

  • Identifying which situation you’re in helps you anticipate what to expect.
  • Different situations call for different actions.
  • Having a shared vocabulary for the situations, helps get the team on the same page.

To make the most of your work arena, make sure you understand the situation you are in.  Use the four STARS framework (start-ups, turnarounds, realignment, and sustaining-success) to create a shared language with everyone you work with.

To be effective, make sure you understand the key challenges, and opportunities that are unique to each situation.

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