Surviving Through Tough Times,
Things We've Learned
Dave Brock, Partners In EXCELLENCE
(Download PDF Version)
The past year has created new professional
and personal challenges. Almost every business faces tough new
realities. Focusing their strategies and sharpening execution are the top
priorities of most of the executives we work with.
I thought it useful share a few of the
things we have learned with our clients or observed in the performances of
other companies over the past year:
Down markets bring all past “sins” to the
forefront. The robust economy of
the past few years masked many poor strategies, bad decisions, and weak
execution. In some cases, the companies seemed to grow almost in spite of
their strategies. A bad economy and down markets immediately show the
impact of bad decisions and poor execution. This economy does not forgive
bad strategies. It is less important to assess blame for these failures
than it is to quickly understand and correct the situation.
Time to face reality.
Wishful thinking or denial are the fastest routes to failure. It’s critical
to face the facts, regardless of how bad they are. Sound decision-making
requires us to have the real facts and data, using them as the basis for
decision-making and recovery. Get the data, understand it, and face the
Stopping things is more important than
starting new recovery initiatives.
Stopping programs that do not directly contribute to the organization’s
goals is critical, but it is one of the most difficult things to do. In
developing “recovery strategies,” many implement program after program,
desperately seeking anything that works. Churning through programs and
initiatives merely waste resources and time. In many cases, organizations
have cut many people, but try to continue the work done before the
cutbacks. This is impossible. The most effective strategy is to do less,
stopping all but the few critical programs that produce proven results.
Focus, focus, focus.
In tough times, doing the right things with the right customers at the right
time is the only way to survive. Focus on the markets and customers where
you produce the greatest value and return. Real value must be produced in
order to motivate customers to buy. Anything that diverts the organization
from its principle focus must be stopped. Remember, too, that most
organizations can only effectively address a few things. Stop everything
beyond the core 2-3 initiatives.
Keep it simple, go back to the basics.
In implementing sales, marketing, and customer service strategies, go back
to the fundamentals, execute them with perfection. For marketers: What are
we offering? To whom? What distinctive value does it create? How do we
communicate that simply, clearly, and in a compelling manner? For sales
professionals: Are sales activity levels sufficient to produce the results
we need? Do we have the most effective and efficient channels to reach the
customers? Are we calling on customers that have a real need to buy and
are funded? Are we making it easy for them to do business with us and buy
from us? For customer service: Are we responding quickly and accurately to
our customers? Are we helping them solve their problems? Are we making it
easy for them to do business with us?
Give things a chance.
Too often, we see organizations thrashing, making change after change,
seeking the quick turnaround and the magical results. The reality is that
things won’t turnaround quickly. Develop a plan, commit to it, make it
work, and give it a chance. Make sure your plan provides early indicators
to make sure it is on track, and make sure you correct the plan when it
starts going off target. However, don’t abandon the plan before you have
really given it a chance to work.
This sounds contradictory to some of the points made earlier, but moving
quickly is critical. We have to clearly assess the situation that confronts
us, develop clear and simple strategies to address the situation, execute
them, measure them, and correct them. All this needs to be done at warp
Leaders emerge in down times.
It’s easy to manage when times are good. People get caught up in the
momentum of growth and success. They are more willing to tolerate bad
management. Tough times bring out the real leaders; those that inspire
others even though things look bad; those that will step up to the tough
decision, but do so with fairness and compassion; those that “stick it out,”
not just looking for the “quick payoff.” The key is to watch who emerges as
a leader, regardless of where they sit in the organization and engage them
in leading the recovery.
Leadership is critical.
People want strong leadership, not cheerleading. We are constantly amazed
by the resilience of people facing tough circumstances. This comes only
when they trust their leaders and feel the communication is honest, direct
and open. Strong leaders have the confidence to communicate good and bad
news to the people in the organization. They have the confidence they can
develop and implement the strategies that will lead to success. They have
the confidence to engage the organization in solving the problems and moving
forward. They spend no time assessing blame, focusing only on solving the
Cut once and cut deep.
Cut very deep when you must, but do it once. Don’t get caught in
incremental destructionism with round after round of reductions. This death
spiral demoralizes everyone, diverts focus, resources and energy. It slows
the recovery process. Jack Welch observes in his latest book: “I have
never seen an organization fail because they cut too deeply.” Cutting
deeply also forces the organization to re-examine everything they do,
focusing on those things that can be accomplished with the resources
available, rather than trying to continue everything, but with fewer people.
The light at the end of the tunnel.
Leaders must have an absolute determination to do what needs to be done to
achieve the objectives the company has set. Tough decisions need to be made
in the face of tremendous uncertainty. There can be no wavering in their
determination to survive and grow. This cannot be a blind confidence, but
rather a ferocious focus on reality and commitment to guiding the
organization through recovery.
Managing through tough times is difficult
work. Those organizations that handle the adversity of tough times well,
not only will survive, but are also laying the groundwork for strong
recovery when markets and the economy grow again.
In EXCELLENCE provides many training programs that help organizations better
address tough times. For information on the
Dimensions Of EXCELLENCE training programs, follow the link.
Partners In EXCELLENCE
works with its clients in assuring their organizations perform at the
highest levels in these tough times. For tools and white papers on various
specific aspects of managing in tough times, visit our web site at
www.excellenc.com. For more discussion and insight on the items
discussed in this article, please call at 949-305-7146 or contact us at
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