When you can’t get through the evening news without hearing another commentator asking another expert if we are in a recession you can assume we are heading into, in the midst of, or on the way out of the dreaded abyss.
So what does it all mean for your business and your employees? Whether it is ultimately called a recession or something else, there are too many associated variables for anyone, expert or otherwise, to predict with certainty what will happen to you, your company and your employees. Take a deep breath, make a realistic assessment of your specific situation, develop a plan and keep moving. Fear and inertia are your worst enemies in challenging times. You don’t control the nations’ economy so leave the hand wringing to your competitors and focus on making the choices and changes necessary to ensure your company doesn’t become a statistic.
This is the time to get an overall picture of your business and your industry. Know the current cash position of your business, sales trends in recent months as compared to prior years and the status of your economic universe, whether it is local, national or international. Getting a current picture is not the same thing as getting caught up in the paralysis of analysis. If you see red flags try to pinpoint the cause. Just because the buzz on the street is recession doesn’t mean you should make excuses for a weak sales team or ignore an outdated marketing strategy.
Try to avoid the coffee shop blues. You know, where you sit around with your colleagues and complain about how bad things are out there. True or not, that time can be better spent on activities that support your business. Make a sales call, finish a proposal or visit a client.
Look for the opportunities because even in the worst of times there are success stories. The foreclosure market has spawned new marketing opportunities for those who took immediate action when they recognized the boom market was taking a turn in the other direction. A recent news story showed one entrepreneurial real estate agent who takes real estate investors on tours of foreclosures in a tour bus.
Negotiate everything. If you are in the market to buy a product or service this may be the best time to make your available resources go a little farther.
Evaluate your pricing strategy and your target market. Recessions don’t last forever but if you make poor cost cutting or pricing decisions under pressure you may find yourself facing unintended consequences long after the economy picks up again. As things shift in the economy plan to make adjustments but maintain a long-term perspective too.
Keep marketing at the forefront. Business graveyards are littered with companies that took a short sighted view and pulled back on marketing to save money only to become a distant memory in the minds and wallets of their customer base. Rethink your marketing strategy, find ways to make every marketing dollar do more, but never abandon marketing in hopes that you will get back to it when things improve.
Spend your time on what matters most and what makes your business tick. This isn’t the time to start doing the filing yourself to save money if your strength lies in making sales. You will be costing yourself far more than you will save.
Employees are also a critical consideration when the economy is shaky. If business is affected then the economy is hitting individuals hard too. Just when you need your team at peak efficiency you may find yourself addressing issues with distracted or distraught employees. There are a number of proactive things you can do that may minimize the impact and keep things on target.
If your business is under financial stress be sure to keep your employees in the loop. Nothing will start people heading for the door faster than a sense of secrecy and fear. You may think you are hiding it well but employees know when things are off kilter. If the situation is challenging then engage your leadership team and other employees in the process. You might be amazed at the ideas that emerge when employees know you view them as keys to the success of the business. Make sure employees know the leadership team is looking forward and solutions oriented.
Be sensitive to employee financial challenges. Take a look at creative ways to provide support. Maybe you can offer an employee who has a long commute the option of telecommuting for one or more days a week. Be aware that younger employees have probably never experienced a real economic downturn before and may be anxious about the unknown.
If you have decided it is strategically necessary to downsize then take steps to streamline your operation. Fewer employees mean more opportunity for burnout among those who remain. Sometimes organizations cling to antiquated processes out of habit or simple inertia. Fewer people available to carry the load can create the opportunity to introduce more efficient methods. That can mean a leaner and more responsive organization.
Downsizing can also create an opportunity for businesses in need of additional talent. When other companies are forced to layoff talent you may find yourself in a position to reap the benefit.
Prepare your managers to expect employee stress to spill into the workplace. Be sure they understand the difference between being supportive and being overly involved. Offer them training on coaching employees who are facing stress.
If you know one of your team is facing a critical financial situation and you have an Employee Assistance Program be sure to steer the employee there for professional assistance. It can help take the pressure off of both of you to put some of the stress in professional hands.
Keep customer service a core value. When marketing dollars get tight your best source of referrals should be the happy customers you already have. Keep in touch and let them know you appreciate their loyalty.
Stay in touch with the business community. If you belong to business organizations stay active. It may be tempting to pull back when you are dealing with the challenges of a changing business climate but community and business associations can be an excellent source of support and referrals.
Finally, take the difficulties you encounter in an economic downturn as long-term lessons. It can be an opportunity to build your confidence in your ability to lead your company when you have successfully navigated through rough waters. A recession can be a great lesson in adapting to unexpected challenges and doing more than you thought possible with fewer resources than you thought you had to have. Who knows, looking back on it someday you may see it as the secret to your success.