Leading in Hard Times

Newsletter 51

The partners looked shell shocked and bewildered. One finally spoke up. “What in the world are we going to do? Banks and financial service firms are self destructing, the stock market is imploding, retailers are going out of business, and people are losing their homes! How do we plot a plan of action for the company with so much financial uncertainty and misery all around us?”

These are fairly bewildering times for most of us. How do you lead an organization effectively with so much unpredictability in the economic environment?

Most of us also don’t have the personal power to change the current environment, but we do have an amazing amount of oftentimes underutilized control over how we respond to it. This is a good time to remember the Alcoholics Anonymous prayer, “Grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

TECHNIQUES

Technique #1: Remember what is really important. To be happy and fulfilled, you need only 1) good health, 2) people who care about you, and 3) a chance to make a difference in the world. Sure, your business success and your personal fortune are important, but much less so.

Technique #2: Keep a balanced perspective. Mark Twain said it best for many of us, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.” Don’t let your imagination run away with you-this isn’t a tea party, but it isn’t Armageddon either.

Technique #3: Do the greatest good for your organizational “family.” All organizations are patterned after the nuclear family structure, and there has never been a better time to use this metaphor to guide your actions. Your job is to insure that the family survives and to do the best you can for the greatest number of family members. Keep in mind that everybody may not make it through the current crisis.

Technique #4: Look for the opportunities. Somebody is always making money. Right now shoe repair shops are doubling and tripling their revenue. Where are the opportunities in your industry?

Technique #5: Streamline and strengthen your organization. Here are two things you can count on: 1) the quality of your people is the only real source of sustained high performance and competitive advantage, and 2) there is going to be a recovery of some sort in the markets and the economy. If your contingency plan for the current economy includes cutting personnel costs, then take advantage of the opportunity to trim the “dead wood” underperformers from your team. This approach is much more advantageous to long term organizational performance than traditional “across-the-board” pay cuts. Your team will be stronger and more competitive when the turnaround comes.

Technique #6: Keep your standards high during good times. Good economic times and free flowing cash cover up a host of organizational weaknesses. When things tighten up, people get nervous and cranky and suddenly “discover” these flaws. For example, how did you wind up with those “dead wood” underperformers that you are now trimming ala Technique #5? Take full advantage of your 20-20 hindsight, and resist the temptation to lower your performance standards when things are booming again.

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