Peter Sullivan, editor of The Star in the 1990s and past group editor-in-chief of Independent Newspapers, says that those in the know have been warning businesses for years that a crash is coming, and a big one at that. The question is whether businesses are prepared for this and what strategies are in place to deal with the chaos of possible looming economic disaster.
“Recessions, double dip or otherwise, extended contractions, or depressions, do not affect all industries and organisations in the same way, so there would be no single recipe for facing a long downturn,” says Ricky Robinson, CEO of Performance Agency LRMG. “Whereas three years ago I may have offered a long shopping list of possible actions to take in the early stages of economic crisis, today I would suggest just one thing: Focus! Focus your vision. There is a time for broad, uplifting, change-the-world intent – and this is probably not it! Bring your vision into sharp, narrow and short-term focus.”
Robinson recommends focussing on what you do and what you’re best at. When award-winning National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones travelled to Scotland’s Outer Hebrides to interview world-renowned weaver Marion Campbell he asked her, “What do you think about when you weave?” Expecting some lofty insight, he was a little taken aback when she replied, “I wonder if I’ll run out of thread.” She explained further: “When I weave, I weave.” Similarly Captain Sully Sullenberger was asked in an interview on 60 Minutes, whether he prayed as he glided the stricken US Airways flight 1549 so brilliantly into the Hudson River to save 155 lives. “I would imagine somebody in the back was taking care of that for me while I was flying the airplane. My focus at that point was so intensely on the landing, I thought of nothing else,” Sullenberger said.
Robinson adds that organisations need to focus on the profit pools as these will pay the rent through the hard times. Adventures into low margin businesses and territories, or persistence in unprofitable activities, may best be kept for another time.
“Focus on your core business, and protect it jealously. Businesses should be simplifying and not complicating,” he says. Darrell Rigby in his Winning in Turbulence publication uses the analogy of the human body, and just as it automatically shuts down non-essential functions in an emergency in order to survive, this too can also be applied to businesses.
Lastly, Robinson says organisations need to focus on their best people and give them increased responsibility in tough times. “Only your best team can win the World Cup for you. And if you’re carrying passengers, make sure that you have good reason for doing so.”
“Preparing your business to deal with threats and change is essential to surviving and indeed making the most of an economic downturn. And mindsets shouldn’t just be defensive. Businesses can also choose to take advantage of a crisis to reorganise, simplify and streamline structures, products and processes, grow market share and even make clever acquisitions. As White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said: “Never allow a crisis to go to waste. They are opportunities to do big things.”
“Whatever your focus, business model or strategic position, the likelihood is there that you may need to change the manner and style in which your organisation is led, and if we look at current market threats, make sure it is sooner rather than later,” concludes Robinson.