12 tips for leading in a downturn

Slowdown, downturn, crisis, recession, words and condition that are around for some time now and for some businesses it seems to be the new normal.
I witnessed several companies’ and their leaders’ reactions when facing difficulties and I’d like to share my list of dos and don’ts.


Elevate your ambition

Chris HOHMANN

Chris HOHMANN – Author

When time is hard for business and everybody in the company gets anxious about the future, the ambition should be more appealing than the disappointing “live another day” and its variants. Yet how many times did I came across a similar sounding “ambition”! Frightening.

The leader’s skills, including inspire others, are supposed to show in troubled times. Gather your staff around a higher ambition, prepare all together the exit of the crisis and the turning of the vision into reality.

If the crisis is severe, people are more open to challenges and changes. Go for a leap, not a timorous step.

Focus!

When times get tough for your business, it’s time to (re)consider what your business is. instead of trying anything in order to meet the plan or budget, take a moment to (re)state what the purpose of your organization is.

With purpose clarified, the organization’s precious (and scarce?) resources can be focused on the purpose and deliver more, better.

I strongly believe that this exercise, in many cases, is enough to re-energize the staff and get better through the hard times.

Tip: with the Goal (re)set, the Goal Tree is a great tool to define all Necessary Conditions and on what to focus to achieve the Goal. Using the Goal Tree is a framework will help to break the new strategy down into concrete, meaningful and strictly necessary actions.

Search your blue ocean

The slowdown may be the result of recession and/or of competition. It may be the right time to question your offering and how it ranks compared to competition. You may be swimming with sharks in the blood-red ocean and then it is the right time to think about leaping into a quiet blue ocean, free from shark-like competition.

Make a side step, reinvent, do different

If you are to remain in the same business, and chances are you will, then what would distinguish your product, service, offering or company from competition?

Be bold. It’s about disruption, not small incremental change. You’ll have to surprize your customers, outmatch your competitors and inspire your staff.

So what sidestep would get you out of the war of attrition? How can you reinvent your business, products, services and get a wow effect in your market? What can you do different?

Ask your staff, all of them. Those closest to market and customers may have the right answers.

Sometimes brilliant ideas unexpectedly originate from people or departments you would not think about: accounting, finance, HR, delivery truck drivers…

Improve. Revisit your processes and create more value

In tough times customers are pickier, more demanding. They may be worried just the way everybody is but still have needs and problems to solve. Revisit your processes and improve in order to create more value for your customers.

Again, be bold! Competition may adjust to minor improvements and keep up. They may be afraid or unable to follow a bolder move.

Show confidence

Keep your worries for yourself or a very close circle. To all others, show confidence. Staff nor customers don’t like worried bosses/suppliers/partners. They are worried themselves. If you can’t show confidence in what you stand for, employees may seek more secure haven for themselves and customers will seek alternate suppliers or solutions.

Trust your staff, it’s not your enemy

Concentrate your energy to outmatch competition, not to harass your workforce. Too often worried managers turn their disappointment or anger towards their staff. Chances are few the situation is the staff’s fault, so why bother them?

Better build up a task force engage your team in finding and building a way out. Your staff is your ally, not your enemy.

So far for the dos , let’s see some don’ts

Don’t harass your staff because they have less to do in the downturn

When activity slows down it is normal to have more slack time. Consider using this freed time for training or creating new value for the customers, finding a way out of the crisis…

Refrain from micromanagement.

Constantly looking over the shoulders of your staff will not help getting out of the crisis, but will only stress your workforce more, show your lack of consideration and confidence.

Again, you cannot get angry with your staff just because business is not that good anymore.

Do not be unfair

If you are disappointed about some of your workforce not taking initiatives, first ask yourself if they ever were encouraged to take some or if this is a sudden expectation of yours.
Second, ask yourself if you gave enough insight and direction for people to understand where you want the organization to go, what the Goal and objectives are.
Third, if people are not the self starters you’re hoping, why did you / your organization hire them? What did you / your organization do to develop them?
If you objectively did everything to have autonomous self starters and they don’t behave like this, you may further ask questions about their attitude, by using the BlessingWhite X model for example.

Chances are that your workforce is nothing more than a representation of the general population, with some brilliant people, a bulk of average people and a some below average but still good enough for coping with their chores.
And chances are that your competition is not better off.

Don’t change direction every morning

In difficult periods doubt may surface about the strategy, the pricing, the customer relationship, about almost everything. Keep your cool and do not change direction too often. First because it will only confuse everybody, second because it will show your state of panic. Remember: people expect to have a self-confident leader.

You may conduct some experiments, but structure them with some consistency, show an overarching logic. If you can’t link the different ideas with some straightforward logic, some elements may have to be questioned.


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