Life is not a straight line neither it is a line which keeps going straight upwards. Life is like an ECG wave, it continuously keeps changing with time. It touches the highs and then in some time it at the lows and is very dynamic.
Continuous change is life.Continuous Struggle is Life.While Winning is life so is losing part of life.
Businesses also behave like life, it’s never straight or doesn’t keeps growing all the time. Market conditions are dynamic, Technology keep’s changing with new innovations, Competition keeps getting fierce day by day, and Economy keeps fluctuating. This requires Skills & Capabilities of people to be upgraded continuously. Learning & development becomes an ongoing process.
When the times are good and business is doing well, no one bothers and many things tend to get ignored, on the other hand when the times are tough, every person from the management team starts poking their nose in the business activities. These are the times when real leadership and management skills are tested. While most of the so called leaders are just managers and are not really able to pass these times and start looking out for easy options.
Let me present my view on some of the qualities that are required to manage the business during tough times.
Understand the root Cause.
As we do not live in a perfect or ideal world, every moment is unpredictable and dynamic, there are always challenges which can be anticipated. We as business leaders should be prepared to manage these challenges and they won’t come by telling us. Yes these challenges or tough times will start giving indications well in time and as good business leaders we must understand them and start acting in time proactively to face them with well preparedness. When business is going through tough times, it is important for us as leaders to spend time on introspection. Analyse and understand the challenges being faced. Understand the reasons for those challenges.Do a detailed analysis of the market conditions, Technology shift, Competitive scenario, training needs or re-skilling of employees, Economic Conditions etc.
Most of the business leaders are reactive, they wait and look around to observe the impact of the upcoming challenge. Every challenge also brings with itself an opportunity. Good business leaders not only realize the upcoming challenge well in time but also discover the opportunity coming along. Preparing for the challenge is nothing but preparing for the opportunity and to be early in the market to en-cash the same before other competitors react and position themselves.
Preparing the Solution Plan
While businesses will have one or the other challenge impacting productivity and profitability, we need to be ready with our plans well in time. As business leaders, we should be in a position to recognize early feelers or signs of problem and start working on corrective plans. There are no formulas to resolve the problems however good business leaders must follow the following:
a) Initiate feedback discussions with the various functional groups.
b) Analyse market trends & Competitive edge scenario.
c) Analyse product / Service revenue trends.
d) Analyse Revenue churn trends.
e) Analyse client satisfaction and expectations.
f) Analyse Product / Service life cycle and emerging product /Service trends.
g) Analyse Employee morale.
h) Identify new service / product opportunities.
i) Analyse employee capability and skills
The above analysis will guide us to not only to the problem areas but also to the steps that need to be taken for overcoming these challenges and converting the same into an opportunity.
Be on the ground zero
Problems and challenges need to be managed in a practical way and with real ground knowledge and not just by theoretical knowledge or by sitting at thirty thousand feet. Many mangers managing from a distance or remote locations are generally not aware of the ground realities since they do not have any view of the local markets. The problems in my view increases if these distant managers or leadership in a company tend to be authoritative and start micro management. It is very important for the leadership or distant managers to understand that the reasons for problems and identify weather they are due to external reasons or internal factors. Most of the time these managers may ignore actual reasons and just focus on productivity issues instead of addressing the actual cause or even adding any value to improve the situation. Most of the time their focus will be on employee productivity and driving the Sales KPI’s. In such situations it is very important to manage things with patience and staying cool. Such situations are too challenging and need to be managed very carefully. As smart leaders we need to keep working on actual ground issues and keep working on the revival actions to demonstrate signs of recovery.
There is a saying that when there are strong winds and rough weather then it is important to stop, protect yourself and prepare to face the storm instead of reacting or fighting against the storm without any preparation. So it makes sense to go with the flow but at the same time protect yourself first. Use your local and practical knowledge of the market to protect your business. Keep your team motivated and well informed of the conditions and the corrective steps taken at the local level. While on the other hand it is equally important to keep the HO leadership engaged with positive sentiments.
Communicate well and frequently
When things are going good, no one bothers about the mistakes however if we keep a note of these mistakes in good times as well then in all probability the challenges can be managed somewhat easily. Communication and right communication is one of the keys to success. In difficult times many things need to change. It includes your Strategy, Skills of the team, Partnerships, Commission structures, Go to market, Organization Structure etc. Making these changes abruptly may create discomfort, panic and anxiety among the employees leading to de-motivation. We as leaders must ensure that we make this process participative and more engaged and hence frequent communication is maintained. Further involving employees in the decision making process after considering their suggestions, inputs & objections creates a sense of ownership in the transformation process. The level of communication and involvement should be at all levels of the hierarchy and should not be limited to CEO and his subordinates. The water must flow down from the communication perspective whereas the participation should flow up the ladder. This need to be smartly managed as this could lead to a confused state from a decision making perspective and channelizing the right thought process is the key.
Invest during tough times
Every business manager will go for cut in expenses whenever there are tough time. This is the most natural reaction by any business manager. It is important that we are conscious of our expenses and look at some cost cuttings through unwanted expenses however making a cut on the sales is suicidal in my view. We need to ask ourselves a basic question and the most simple one – when we start a new business or when we want to expand the same, what do we do? We make an investment. There is an old saying money makes money, so if we want our business to grow especially in the troubled times then we need to invest in Sales and Marketing rather than cutting the earning arms of the organization. Unfortunately in every organization the opposite happens and as a result the pressure to cut the cost keeps building year on year. These managers shy away from addressing the actual cause of the problem and just focus on keeping the organization bottom line which they forget to understand cannot be achieved without the top line. The impact of such cost cutting is disastrous on the morale of employees, shareholders and customers. Any cut is perceived as negative sentiment.
I would like to take the example of a cricket match or for that matter any team sport. When the team is not doing well and you have to either hit runs or take more wickets to beat the opposition team depending on weather you are batting or fielding, there are two ways of handing the situation. Either be defensive or get offensive. Being defensive is just accepting defeat, just protecting yourself without any strategy to win, letting things to happen and getting inside a shell like a tortoise. This way we in a way have already given up and accepted that the opposition team is better than us and that we can’t do much to change the situation. How long will the morale of such team stay high?
The other approach is to get offensive, get the right batsman or the bowlers to play and improve the fielding (backend) to fight the situation. In other words, a leader will not cut the resources rather he will go for investing in the right resources first to fight the situation and at the same time place the existing team in right slots, upskill and train them, invest in marketing campaigns, invest into new products, services and partnerships. In a cricket match or any other team match, just because the team is not doing well, you do not reduce the number of players. This kind of investments creates a positive environment and boosts the morale and trust of employees towards the organization. Further true leaders will go a step further by investing in social get together, team meetings, create positive vibes, an atmosphere of trust, and kill corridor talks. As a team we must keep on getting together, build bonding, remove any communication gaps or concerns and move together as one team. Being one force and one team is more important in tough times than in good times. A disintegrated team never wins.
Challenge and motivate the Team
Challenging and motivating employees is one of the most critical aspect of business in challenging times. When things are good, everything is praised and accepted however true leaders are meant to lead and sail through in tough times. Leadership by definition is a role to guide people to victory in tough situations. Leading in challenging times is much different than leading in good times. A true leader will identify the causes of challenge and addresses them with a solid plan. Employees form a major part of the success criteria in tough times. Their dedication, passion and commitment towards the organization success will come from their morale. All organizations will go through tough times and this is nothing new but not all succeed. In challenging times, as leaders we must ensure that we make our employees comfortable by being closer to them, being accessible to them , communicating more frequently, sharing the positive activities and initiatives, investing in their training’s and re-skilling, making them more meaningful and productive and capable of handling the challenging times with ease and comfort. Celebrate each success and give them a pat on the back. Increase the salary levels and rewards. Key to success of any organization are its employees and happy employees will ensure success for the organization. Treat them as partners and not just employees.
Stay Focused and Consistent
As leaders, we need to identify the problem cause, workout an action plan, create a special task force of capable and trust worthy employees to execute the plan and monitor the progress. As a true leaders we got to stay focused on the plan. It is important that we maintain consistency in our actions and communication. We cannot change our plans and communication too often. We got to be consistent and firm in our approach. Changing plans every now and then conveys badly on our personality and leadership skills. Managers with changing plans reflects poor decision making capabilities and covey’s an impression of weak leadership, this can further kill the confidence and trust of employees. Leaders need to have a clear and consistent vision and more so in challenging times. Stick to your words and commitments.