By Michael Gunther
As originally published in The Tolosa Press on April 30th, 2009.
Historically, challenging economic times have provided a platform for business owners to analyze and reassess their business practices – and this “Great Recession” is no different. Perhaps you have begun to recognize that you can operate your business more effectively; that your customer relationships are more precious than ever; or that the mantra of “growth-growth-growth” you’ve been uttering has quickly transformed to “stabilize-stabilize-stabilize.” You may even have noticed that the solid financial foundation you thought you were building is riddled with cracks.
This economic downturn is a wakeup call for many business owners to get back to the basic principles of building a profitable and sustainable business – principles we seem to have let fall by the wayside. For some of us, it is too late -we either were not proactive enough or simply delayed reacting. Either way, some of us will have missed the opportunity to be part of this exciting time in business.
Yes, I did say exciting time! Through all great adversity comes strength and innovation. We have the opportunity to choose which path we will take to forge through this economic turmoil. Will it be the path of panicking and waiting to respond? Or will it be the path of true leadership: focusing on innovation, making hard choices regarding staffing and finances, and keeping employees centered and positive.
Let’s collaborate and explore these leadership options further.
Focus on Innovation. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with what is not working, we must focus on innovation, and determine what needs to change in order for us, and our companies, to build strength and efficiency.
We should be asking ourselves and our teams “how” and “what” questions daily: How can we deliver our products or services more efficiently than our competitors? What new products or services can we be offering and which should we cut? How can we operate our business more economically? How can we expand our client base in terms of size and geographic reach? What creative, low cost marketing initiatives can we undertake?
Make the Hard Choices. Leadership is fundamentally about making hard choices. Business owners tend to be optimistic, clinging to the hope that the situation will improve sooner rather than later. These economic times, however, are unprecedented. If we don’t make the tough choices now, we risk losing even more in the long run.
These choices may include laying off employees, renegotiating prices with vendors, minimizing key expenditures, etc. We should challenge ourselves to align our expenses with the changes in our revenue, so at a minimum we are breaking even.
We can always rebuild our teams, reallocate cash, and increase expenses once our businesses begin to grow again, but we must first survive these tough times.
Keep Employees Centered and Positive. Employees are stressed – and rightfully so. They see businesses closing around them, they hear of record-breaking unemployment numbers, and they probably know a friend or family member who has lost their job. To top it off, they are wondering if their place of employment is secure.
We must lead by example in order to keep our teams centered and positive. For starters, we should be watchful of our attitude because it will impact our team’s performance. Although we may be concerned about the future of our companies, we should not share that stress and negativity with the entire team. It’s not that we should hide the challenges we face, but instead we should share the challenges with our passion to find viable solutions to overcome them.
Employees want leaders who are forwarding thinking and decisive. They want to know that their leader is creating and implementing a plan to address the obstacles facing their organization. One way we can involve our team is by enrolling them in the process of getting the company back on track – again, start by asking the “how” and “what” questions.
As I said earlier, this is an exciting time for business. And as Leaders, it is time to face our challenges head on: create innovative solutions, make the necessary choices, and keep positive through it all – because attitude impacts thoughts and thoughts impact behaviors.