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Be Prepared

It looks like the dive into financial oblivion has been avoided. Are you ready for the upturn?

During a recent conversation with a very knowledgeable and successful company CEO, the question came up as to how many of today’s businesses will survive the next five years. His guess was that fully half of the companies now in business will either fail, fall by the wayside and be replaced by new start-up companies, or be bought out by and consolidated with other companies. I suggest that you want to be the consolidator and not the consolidated. 

Dealing with the Current Business Climate
Look at the structure of your company. The old top-down hierarchy/command-and-control model may be necessary in dealing with wars, major oil spills and other crises, but there’s a better way to organize and manage a company to meet all the challenges of today.

Move away from a hard rule-bound methodology with strict organizational charts and lines. Innovative organizations are guided by the interest and passion of those involved in doing the work. C-level managers need to be mentors and storytellers who are the keepers of the core values. If you don’t have core values, or if your managers don’t know what they are, this would be a great place and time to start.

Cross-train the sales, credit, operations, customer service and marketing managers on each other’s jobs. Doing this will uncover and reduce the inefficiencies created by old departmental thinking and behavior. Work groups that cut across old department lines are able to get the work done in a more efficient manner. These new work groups need to be inclusive, passionate about their tasks and driven by core values. They need to be part of the story.

A business manager not focused on improvement becomes an administrator at best and a bureaucrat at worst; it’s human nature. Consider having your key people stay late one night a week or come in Saturday morning for an “Ongoing Constant Improvement Meeting.” Constantly remind everyone, yourself included, that any little improvement has a real and significant effect on reducing the cost of doing business for your company and for your business customers. There’s a cascading effect to ongoing small improvements—one begets another. 

Take time to establish an understandable purpose for each major and key function that tells how that function can best contribute to meeting or exceeding expectations, at a profit. Organize and document the goals for each function and the methodology for achieving the goals. Remember that the people carrying out the processes are the best suited to tell you how the goals are to be achieved—they’re the experts. Put the right people in the right jobs and make sure that employees have what they need to carry out the processes involved. Monitor the key steps in your processes to ensure quality. Measure against the goals, and if you are not hitting the goals, review the process or the people involved. 

Have a Positive Attitude
If your sales and customer base is shrinking, seek out new customers and consider new products and services you can add to your mix. Do everything you can for customers and charge them for all you do. Look for ways to involve customers in your story and core values. 

To whom are your existing customers still selling? Where can you find more prospects like them? If people aren’t buying what you’re selling, what are they buying? 

Have “new customer lead” contests. Don’t limit them to just the salespeople—open it up to everyone in the company. It’s not who you know within the company, it is who they know outside the company. 

If you are the owner or CEO, or desire to be, get to the office early. If there’s snow, shovel the walk. If there’s trash, pick it up. Whether you feel like it or not, greet everyone you meet with a big smile and walk like you have places to go and things to do. It’s the lead-by-example thing. 

Nothing is worse and more detrimental to morale than having a sad sack boss being a “downer.” 

Spending some money on training sends a message of hope to your people and gives them permission to think and improve.

By this time, if you have not pruned the deadwood from your organization, then you need to move on it and get it done. Look for those employees who come in five to ten minutes late, who are the last back from a break and who are ready to leave five minutes before quitting time, and then cut them off. A word of caution about letting people go: Don’t cut good people just because they are getting paid more than others. It’s the cut-your-nose-to-spite-your-face thing. (Plus, if you cut good employees just because they are paid more than others, they may be the ones who go out and start their own business to compete with you.) 

You Can Ride Out the Rough Times
W. Clement Stone began selling life insurance in Detroit when he was 16 years old. In 1922 he borrowed $100 and moved to Chicago, where he rented a desk for $25 a month and started the Combined Registry Co. When the Great Depression hit in 1929 and other insurance agents sat around drinking coffee, Stone took to the street and found new customers. He’d stake out the parking lots of factories and companies that were still in operation and then he’d follow people home. He’d give the prospect 15 to 20 minutes to get settled, and then he’d knock on the door and say, “I’m contacting employees of your company about a financial security plan,” by which he meant life insurance. Even if they couldn’t or wouldn’t see him right then, he’d get a name and set up a later appointment to see them. 

W. Clement Stone was like the phoenix, the mythical sacred fire bird that rises reborn from its own ashes. Instead of wasting time and energy crying about what was wrong, he figured a way to not only survive but to excel. It was during the worst of times that he developed his “blueprint for success” and went on to found the Combined Insurance Company of America. 

More recently, Jim Stanley, managing director of Nexum Software, told me a story about a client meeting he attended in London at a highly respected and long-established business. The meeting focused on client retention and how to ensure that the business model changes to retain existing revenue streams. After an hour, George joined the group. He listened for a while as the board members journeyed through some “blue sky” thinking. George then stood up and glanced at each person in the room for a brief moment. It was only for a second, but it conveyed an intention to all; the room fell silent. “We have many competitors around the world,” said George. “You are focusing on how to prevent them from stealing our market share, but they have market share and they have clients. Your plan must be to grow, to survive, to ensure there is a plentiful supply of fruits coming into your company to feed your needs. By all means, defend, but also create a strategy to wobble the opponent, weaken them and eventually outlast them. This is what the next five years is about!” 

George is not employed by the company nor is he a director or a shareholder. He just walked into the meeting, everyone listened and it created such an amazing boost. George retired from the company in the mid 1980s, when he was 70. He was one of the company’s original founders and one of a handful of men that survived one of the most brutal Japanese prisoner-of-war camps during the second World War, a prisoner for four years. Now in his 90s, George is the most qualified thought leadership person I know on all matters relating to human survival. 

Keep a sharp eye out for opportunities. When you hear about competitors laying off people, run a help-wanted ad. Even if you don’t pick up any new jewel employees, at least find out who their customers are and then stake them out. Go out and mug some business. 

Training, Training, Training
You can’t continue to live off yesterday’s knowledge any more than yesterday’s meal, and neither can the people who will determine your company’s survival and future. Spending some money on training sends a message of hope to your people and gives them permission to think and improve. Things are tough right now, and they may get worse before they get better, but they will get better. The job at hand is to survive, improve and be prepared for the upswing. A better day is coming. You need to be ready for it. 

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
Abe WalkingBear Sanchez Meet the Author
Abe WalkingBear Sanchez is a speaker and trainer from the A/R Management Group, located in Canon City, Colorado, and on the Web at www.armg-usa.com.

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