Thriving In Difficult Times

ARTICLE
BY Barry Watson

At a recent gathering I attended with a group of industry peers, the conversation centered around the economic outlook. Noting that many experts believe a recession is on the horizon, the group began to discuss how best to deal with difficult times.

All the organizations represented have different circumstances, so it was unsurprising that perspectives on what to expect in the months ahead varied. Diversity was also evident when it came to how we each planned to respond in the event of a deteriorating economy; some ideas were widely shared and others provoked sharp disagreement.

Although no one solution will fit every circumstance, as I reflected on the conversation I settled on a few guiding principles that I think will serve most organizations well if and when the economy begins to struggle.

 

Put employees first

You’ve put a lot of energy into attracting and motivating smart, critical employees and building your business around them. For their part, they’ve invested in learning their roles and building relationships with colleagues and clients alike. With all these investments at stake, reducing headcount should be the last thing you do. Instead, if you face difficult choices, engage staff in coming up with creative solutions. There are many stories of in-house teams generating innovative approaches that reflect enlightened self-interest (a commitment to a healthy big picture, not just personal priorities); some solutions are so obviously effective they persist beyond the crisis that provoked them.

 

Stay close to clients and alert to their changing needs

Client needs can change on very short notice in difficult times. Moments of uncertainty are important opportunities to build relationships and show that you can be trusted when the going is tough; coming through at a time of challenge and stress can make you an indispensable partner. If economic headwinds are growing, clients will surely be facing new challenges of their own; these may present new business opportunities that could become win-wins.

 

Maintain perspective

When I got out of university and started my first job, interest rates in Canada stood at 14%. We’ve had four recessions since then. Stepping back for perspective can help build confidence that the situation is manageable.

 

Keep your strengths at the forefront

Your strengths are what you know best, and what your clients most want to pay you for. If you and others in the company don’t know what your core strengths are, make an effort to take stock and clarify them together. Now is the time.

 

Be cautious about short-term opportunities

Chasing after projects to build revenue if they are not on strategy has a high risk of making your problems worse and diverts valuable resources away from more important activities. Such initiatives might grow the top line but harm your overall financial situation.

 

Cash is king

This doesn’t have the same meaning for established companies as it does for new ventures, but not being at the mercy of lenders means having control over your own future. Maintaining a strong balance sheet means you will be able to act on the right opportunities when they arise.

The premise of this list – that there may be tough times ahead – may give the impression that I’m pessimistic about the next year or two. In fact, I’m quite upbeat. The Canadian economy is better positioned than many, and the sectors our company deals in and the services we provide are relatively resilient during any economic downturn. But assuming that everything will be fine is not a strategy. Being an adaptive navigator means being mindful of a range of possible future scenarios and consciously identifying opportunities where it will still be possible to thrive, come what may.

 

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