There are many ways to recalibrate operations and find true success despite all the economic uncertainty.

Recently I had a conversation with a very knowledgeable and successful CEO, and a question came up concerning 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 and consolidated by other companies. I suggest that you want to be the consolidator, and not the consolidated.

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 of organizing and managing a company to meet today’s challenges.

Move away from a hard-rule methodology with strict organizational charts and lines. Transition to a flatter and more innovative organization 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 time to start identifying them.

Cross-train sales, credit, operations, customer service and marketing managers so they’re familiar with each others’ 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 better able to get the work done in a more efficient manner. These new work groups need to be inclusive and passionate about their tasks.

Inspiring Improvement

A business manager not focused on improvement becomes an administrator at best and a bureaucrat at worst. Consider having your key people stay late one night a week or come in Saturday morning for an “Ongoing 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.
Establish and document the goals for each function and the methodology for achieving the goals. Remember that the people carrying out the processes are the people best suited to tell you how the goals are to be achieved; they’re the experts. Put the right people in the right job, and make sure that employees have what they need to carry out the processes involved.

Monitor the key steps in your processes to insure quality. A good book to read in this regard is The Goal by Eli Goldratt. Measure against the goals, and if you are not hitting the goals, review the process or the people involved.

If you are the owner or CEO, or desire to be, get to the office early, and if there’s if there’s snow, shovel the walk. If there’s trash, pick it up. And 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 example thing. Nothing is worse and more detrimental to morale than having a sad-sack boss.

Learning From Stone

Don’t even start to believe that there’s nothing you can do to ride out the rough times and come out ahead.

W. Clement Stone began selling life insurance in Detroit when he was 16. 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 targeted new policyholders.

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 give mama and the kids hugs and take off their shoes. And then he’d knock on the door and say, “I’m contacting employees of the name of the company by the parking lot 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, if they had one, a phone number. Then he’d set up a later appointment to see them.

Instead of wasting time and energy crying about what was wrong, Stone 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 Co. of America .

More recently, Jim Stanley, managing director of Nexum Software, related the following story: “I attended a client meeting last week in London. The company is a highly respected and long -stablished business. The meeting focused on client retention and how to ensure that the business model changes to retain existing revenue streams.

“After an hour we were joined by George, who 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 – only for a second but it conveyed an intention to all. The room fell silent. ‘We have many competitors around the world, and you are focusing on how to prevent them 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 company to feed our needs,’ George continued. ‘By all means defend, but also create a strategy to wobble the opponent, weaken them and eventually out-survive them. This is what the next five years is all 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.
He was … one of a handful of men that survived one of the most brutal Japanese prison of war camps during the second World War. Now in his 90s, George is the most qualified thought leadership person I know on all matters relating to human survival.”

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 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. Keep busy and stay positive. A better day is coming. Always has and always will. You need to be ready for it.

T.S. Arthur wrote back in 1885

Life is a profound mystery the striving spirit motivated by selfish instincts.
There is a good time coming, if we work and wait for it.
But we must be patient and look in the right direction.
When we give care to the common good,
When we manifest a neighborly regard for others,
We look in the right direction.
And the light of a better morning will break upon our spirit.

De auteur van dit artikel, Abe Walking Bear Sanchez, is een van de topsprekers op de
7e Credit Expo op 10 november 2011 in het Nieuwegein Business Center.