PURPOSE : Organisational decline has far-reaching, negative emotional and financial consequences for staff and customers, generating academic and practitioner interest in turnaround change processes. Despite numerous studies to identify the stages during turnarounds, the findings have been inconclusive. The purpose of this paper is to address the gap by defining these stages, or episodes. The characteristics of leaders affect the outcome of organisational change towards turnarounds. This paper focusses, therefore, on the leadership requirements during specific episodes, from the initial crisis to the full recovery phases.
DESIGN/METHODOLOGY/APPROACH : A total of 11 semi-structured interviews were conducted with executives from the public sector in South Africa who went through or were going through turnaround change processes and 3 with experts consulting to these organisations.
FINDINGS : Contrary to current literature in organisational change, this study found that, in these turnaround situations, leadership in the form of either an individual CEO or director general was preferable to shared leadership or leadership distributed throughout the organisation. This study found four critical episodes that occurred during all the public service turnarounds explored, and established that key leadership requirements differ across these episodes. The study shows how these requirements relate to the current literature on transactional, transformational and authentic leadership.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS : The findings on the leadership requirements ultimately inform the selection and development of leaders tasked with high-risk turnaround change processes.
ORIGINALITY/VALUE : Four episodes with corresponding leadership requirements were established in the particular context of public sector turnaround change processes.