Monday, March 2, 2009

Surviving and Thriving In A Downturn

Right now things aren’t looking so good. The Recession is now forecast to run through 2009 with rosiest predictions foretelling improvement in 2010. No matter when improvement actually comes, one thing is clear; it’s not going to be soon enough.

What are FM’s to do? Many of you may wonder if your own position is safe. Others must give bad news to coworkers and friends. It’s tough, and not uncommon to feel a sense of loss of control. Helplessness, however, is not healthy or helpful. It is important that you keep your attitude up and focus on positive actions that will contribute to positive change. That, really, is the only way it turns around. The government can throw as many life lines as it wants to, but in the end each one of us has to pull ourselves up.

Here are a few thoughts on what it will take to create a lasting turnaround. It is up to each business, each CEO, each manager and each worker to do their part. It will be hard work but as I said a couple of weeks ago, a good crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

Customer Service is important again. Back in style as a way of developing buyer loyalty, strong Customer Service initiatives will differentiate good firms from bad ones. The market knows, and the market votes.

The only way you know your Customer Service profile is to ask. Good firms do, and they measure and track customer perceptions and make changes accordingly. The point here is that you can’t change if you don’t know, you can’t know if you don’t measure, and you can’t measure if you don’t ask. Got it?

Favor solutions over services. Whether you are an in-house organization or face external customers directly, you should think of yourself as being in the solution business. You deliver solutions through your products or services, but the customer can probably get those anywhere. In times like this, solutions will differentiate you from the “low cost provider” of services alone.

Forget yesterday. It’s time to throw the old assumptions out the door. Simply put, what worked then won’t work now. It’s tempting to say “if we just do what we’ve always done but do it a little smarter” then all your problems will take care of themselves. It’s a lie, don’t believe it.

Take advantage of the opportunity to create a sense of urgency. Mobilize your people and engage them in the renewal process. Let them be a part of creating the smarter, better, leaner, more efficient organization that will emerge. Don’t feed them doom and gloom. Challenge them, energize them, empower them, and support them.

Check your alignment. Over time core values and mission can become diluted by good ideas and initiatives that are the enemy of the best. Search for and prune away these resource robbers that muddle the vision and direction of the enterprise.

Make sure your plan is big and small. Big change requires big thinking, strategy formation, socialization, and detailed execution. It’s not going to happen quickly. But, don’t fall into the trap of setting one large change initiative in place and then starting the march up the hill. The troops will get tired too fast. Once you have the big plan, break it down into smaller plans. Think in 100 day bites. This provides a sense of accomplishment, a chance to celebrate, and it develops momentum.

Take care of your most valuable resource. Retaining and recruiting good staff should be a priority item. It is these people, after all, who create the value the customer buys. You may need to be creative (probably a good thing) in how you do it, but look for opportunities to acquire good talent that other firms are forced to let go, and make sure you keep your own all-stars.

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