We are in a sea change. Business as usual is no longer business as usual. We will emerge, but we will not return. Significant changes will be evident. It is both the change and the pause that provide significant opportunities to those who are alert and agile.
You don’t have to change the rules of the game; they are changing all around you. You don’t have to create disruptive innovations, such as the cell phone or FedEx, to establish a competitive advantage. With the playing field in flux, and consumer values and behaviors changing before our eyes, many bastions of success are teetering precariously. The field is getting flatter. The recession is, in essence, a great equalizer. Any company willing to examine the changes with an open mind, and willing to embrace the change has a good chance of finding new opportunities either for immediate results or for the not-too-distant future.
Slay the Sacred Cows
Good times breed complacency. Many companies that did so well for so long lost their sense of urgency. For years, they saw no reason to take the risks associated with change. The auto industry is a visible example of such blinders and blunders. They somehow allowed themselves to believe that gas guzzlers would sell forever.
But there are many less visible examples. Countless companies enjoyed the luxury of sloppiness provided by prosperity and they plodded along fat and happy, unconcerned with merely adequate quality, tenuous timeliness, internal waste and competition for resources, and insufficient respect for their most talented employees.
Suddenly, the recession shines a spotlight on sloppiness and complacency. This may be the gift you need. Now is the time to change your culture while everyone understands the need. Slay the sacred cows. Challenge every assumption. Lay the facts on the table, check all egos at the door, take a good hard look in the mirror, and start asking the tough questions. Just be sure you first make it safe for honest answers.
Engage Your Employees
Right now you need your best employees more than ever. You need to be sure they don’t leave, you need their cooperation, and you need their best ideas.
But the opportunity is bigger than that. This is your chance to engage them like never before, to truly share both the pain and the rewards, to renew respect at and for every level of the organization, and to learn from each other about the challenges and possibilities. Seize this opportunity whole heartedly and not only will it help you survive, it will help you thrive. You can emerge with a stronger, more committed, and better aligned workforce than you have ever experienced.
Seize the Day
Many companies are retreating. The road to success requires clear options and direction. That is not easy to achieve, especially in these uncertain and volatile times.
Countering the desire to succeed is a stronger force: fear and the desire to retreat. Fear paralyzes. Fear will take you down with it. Not only must you keep the desire to succeed on top, but if your competition is succumbing to fear, this is your opportunity to get ahead. Get clear about your options and direction, and then sing it from the roof top. Be bold. Be persistent. Be visible.
The Gift of Time
The recession has slowed most everything down and this slowdown can buy you precious time. If you are involved in product development, this can be a great opportunity. Unlike fast times, you may have the luxury of taking more time to get to market, improving quality, and ensuring a smooth launch. Or perhaps you can get to market sooner but with a more controlled, phased approach and opportunities to collect valuable feedback not possible under normal competitive pressures. Or maybe this is your opportunity to bite off something bigger than you would normally chew.
Get Your Ducks in a Row
Another benefit of slow times is the opportunity to focus more attention on getting your internal house in order. Those cumbersome activities that cause perennial sighs and rolled eyeballs could use some need new ideas and improved systems. Those frustrating department interfaces that erode morale could be addressed with a time-out to better define roles and responsibilities. The critical knowledge locked in a few expert heads could be captured and transferred. The myriad files and documents clogging computers and office file drawers could be sorted, updated or recycled while better reference systems are created. With a little spare time on your hands, now is an excellent time to pave the way for smoother processing and better work flow in the future.
Many companies are folding or laying-off large quantities of talented people. Now is a great time to pick up some exceptional and eager talent if you can swing it. The companies that let too much talent go will not benefit from the recovery when it occurs. You may be in position to benefit most from their mistakes, both immediately and in the future.
Attend Fire Sales
Used equipment, inventory and other assets are also becoming available at fire sale prices from folding or contracting companies. Again, for those with a good cash position, these could represent tremendous purchasing opportunities.
Bolster Customer Relationships
Last, but not least, now is a great time to strengthen relationships with your customers. Talking with them and helping where you can will make you stand out from the crowd. You will build goodwill, get to know them better, and develop trust. When their businesses recover, they will be more likely to call on you.
Consider these nine gifts of the recession with care. They represent genuine opportunities. More importantly, perhaps, they offer hopeful and productive alternatives that can keep fear and the desire to retreat at bay.