Let your employees know that you're working to better your business

Today's organizational leaders have a lot working against their success, and sometimes they can be their own worst enemies. But this is no reason to crawl under a rock and hunker down. Sure, the press almost daily is exposing yet another dishonest corporate executive, especially in the financial industries. But that's not you. This is the time for action - for demonstrating to your employees that you have a plan - even if you don't have one yet.

Make Your Rainmaking Visible

To build confidence within your organization, your employees have to see that you're trying to turn things around. This gives them the hope they need to persevere during the cuts, challenges and fears caused by today's economic realities.

Executives at Mitsubishi Motor Sales of North America learned this the hard way in the early '90s after wasting one entire year trying to change the company's organizational culture. The lesson learned was simple: People believe what they see, not what they hear. The executives were telling everyone what they wanted to happen but were not living the vision themselves.

Similarly, a mistake a friend made over 30 years ago has always stayed with me. He and his investors went bankrupt on a golf course project. Their mistake was spending their money building the golf course before they built the clubhouse. Potential members could not see the progress being made, so many decided not to act on the special pre-opening offer, thus depriving the group of money it badly needed to finish the project. Again, people have to see it to believe.

What's Old Might Be New

Robert Rickenbach, owner of a fiber-optics-connector fabrication company, discovered that a railroad in India could use his connectors in a different application than that for which they were originally designed, and opened an unexpected international market for his company. What about you? What unexpected or explored markets could benefit from your products, services and other offerings?

How much time have you spent to develop new markets, new applications and/or new products and services? It has been said that most people spend more time planning their vacations than they spend planning their lives. What about you?

Who can help? The quick answer is your suppliers, your employees and your customers. Sometimes innovation is a happy accident and sometimes it is the result of intense organizational processes, individual champions and intellectual properties - and most times, a result of tireless hard work. What are you doing to innovate?

Back in the mid-'90s I served as a trainer for the Dunn & Bradstreet Foundation, delivering full-day public seminars throughout the United States. One of the exercises I conducted required an unorthodox approach to problem solving. Interestingly, it was never an organization's leader that came up with the solution, but people in administrative or support positions. That's proof for me that leaders need to involve everyone to find solutions to today's pressing challenges.

Responsibility And Accountability

Let's face it. Nobody really enjoys the mirror being brought up close. However, in times like this, that's exactly what is needed. No matter how good a leader you might be, you know that you can do better. (And if you are a lousy leader, you are unlikely to be reading this article.)

Listed below are some of the pitfalls, conscious or unconscious, to leading in a recession:

  • not being aware of the depth of your organization's situation,
  • not having a "rainy day" contingency plan,
  • not being open to innovation in market, product and process,
  • not honestly looking in the mirror,
  • living off past glory,
  • expecting others to act as rainmakers, and
  • hunkering down expecting economic conditions to quickly blow over like a tropical storm.
Your "to do" list should include the following:

Honest evaluation of your organization's current situation through the traditional SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis process with your company's stakeholders - first your employees, then with your suppliers and lastly with your customers. Oh yes, and listen! Generally the SWOT analysis is done only in the bubble of the executive suite, thereby missing needed additional perspectives.

Step it up and lead the charge, even if it is only activity for activity's sake. Activity begets enthusiasm, if positioned correctly and if your employees see that you are putting in the time.

Look to other industries for ideas. Adaptation is an important form of innovation that will serve you well.

If your organization is zipping along, perhaps you have already conducted the steps necessary to thrive. Then this article is merely an affirmation that you are on the right track. However, if your company is struggling, it might mean that you and your leaders have been asleep at the wheel. The good news is that there might be enough time to turn things around and put your company back on the productive path. Plant this thought in your subconscious mind: Your employees have been there for you, helping you to make your organization what it had been. Don't you think you owe it to them to show up and rebuild? It's their livelihood also!

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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