Clearly, the signs and indicators are mixed. For every upbeat comment, there seems to be another downer. Unemployment remains high and the economy seems to be forever on the brink. However, there are some promising signs. There are rumblings of a recovery. In truth, it may be modest, but it beats a continued downturn. So… now what?
What are you going to do now to be ready to beat your competition out of the hole? Research continues to support the fact that you cannot cut your way to success. You can cut your way to avoid going out of business, but that’s a defensive strategy. In war, you can dig deeper trenches and put out more mines--both defensive strategies. These may protect you from defeat but they will not lead you to victory. At some point, you need to go on offense. Research tells, and our experience confirms, that companies who maintain some offense in a downturn do significantly better in the recovery. There are a number of things you can do to get on offense. Here are a few:
Training and Development - Invest heavily in growing your people. For the first part of 2009, I was concerned. I knew we were busy, but it didn’t feel quite as busy as 2008 (which had been a record year for us). I finally ran the numbers a few months ago and it turns out we are ahead of 2008! I shouldn’t have been surprised. We have some outstanding clients who believe in developing leaders at all levels, and they have continued to invest in their people. These firms are on offense. How does your commitment to your people compare to these firms? Are you ready for the recovery? With revenues down, you may not be able to implement a full-blown training program, but you can lay a foundation to build on. Maybe you can deliver the first class of a multi-session curriculum--just not the entire curriculum yet. Get the idea?
Marketing – The other thing that firms cut when they go on defense is marketing. It never made sense to me that, in times when you need more work, you cut the people who get you the work. Business development takes time, and if you haven’t been keeping in touch with your clients, they’re not going to think of you when the recovery comes. They’re going to think of the firm that has been sending them direct mail and keeping in contact. So, when the work comes back, it won’t be yours.
Recruiting – This important process pretty much stops when you go on defense. That makes some sense, but it’s not a good strategy for long term success. I know one firm that brings all their college interns from the summer in for a weekend during the fall. They get together and share lessons learned, while being reminded that the firm thinks highly of them. The company continued this practice in the fall of 2008, after Wall Street collapsed, and is preparing for this year’s event as we speak.
Morale – A study conducted by Harris Interactive and the Workforce Institute at Kronos indicates that vital qualities such as teamwork and a can-do spirit often take a hit after a company has layoffs: 40% of surveyed employees complained that productivity suffered, and 66% said they believed morale was down and people were less motivated. Approximately two-thirds of workers felt there was now too much work to be done and not enough people to do it. And more than a third were concerned that, as the economy picks up, they will not have the right resources to meet demand. In other words, they are worried—and rightly so-- that they will not be able to go on offense.
Candid communication and engaging leadership is the key here. Don’t hide in your office and lob emails over the wall. Get out and talk to people. See how they are feeling. Ask for ideas on how to improve the business. They might surprise you with some powerful ideas and they will feel valued.
While we cannot predict the exact moment that our economy will recover, we do know that it will. What we can predict is that firms that invest and prepare for the future will do better. Now is the time to move yourself and your firm into position for future success. Remember, the best defense is a good offense.
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