There comes a time in every business where executives, manufacturers, suppliers, retailers and the like find themselves navigating through rough terrain. Certainly there is not a business to be found that can claim immunity from the economic nosedive of 2008 and the side effects thereafter. In the closet industry, certainly one would be shy to argue that a decreasing US dollar, a downward spiral in the building market, and a tightfisted hold on luxury dollars, were clear no-brainer predictors that a revenue and productivity crash was soon to follow. The responses to such crisis, although difficult to initiate, are usually not that hard to define.
Businesses need to make definite shift decisions to survive. However, some indicators are not as powerful, and the best decisions to make during challenging times to benefit your company’s long term prosperity may not be so evident. What happens when you face a smaller crash? Perhaps a local dynamic is affecting your business, and you need to know how to respond. Or something higher in the supply chain is changing, and you need to evaluate your options. Thus the question raised in the minds of management becomes “How does one evaluate options in a challenging business environment and make the best decisions possible for continued success?” I believe there are few key concepts to examine.
Learn from the past
When challenge seems imminent, face forward while looking back. What strategies worked in the past for businesses who have survived rougher times? Who can you look to who has been in a similar position and brought their best thinking to bear? What has failed and why? Those who have brought their best thinking to the forefront in times of challenge are the companies who survive change. By seeking to be in their presence, you not only learn from their insight and intelligence, but are usually on the cutting edge of the future. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. They also get thinking, because they have to. Stick with innovation, innovation is the door to the future.
Look for creativity
Akin to the above, paramount is the need for identifying creativity. Some may argue that when things are rocky it is no time to initiate new ideas but to hold on tight to what works. I do not see this as an “and/or” decision. I believe it is best to fortify what works AND initiate new ideas. Of course it’s always important to fortify the practices your company is good at, but if you do not look for creativity you will be leaving more of your success to chance. When obstacles to success are high, it becomes necessary to do something new and innovative to move ahead. Align yourself with associates that think the same. Of course a quick fix may be tempting and may keep your company going for a few weeks or months, but creative, forward thinkers will hurl your business ahead in the long run, and long term sustainability is where your power lives.
Pay attention to ethics
I cannot speak highly enough about company culture and ethics. Business relationships are no different than personal relationships. Personal relationships are built on respect, trust, accountability, communication, empathy and mutual passion. Professional relationships are no different. If one of these attributes is out of line, the relationship will suffer. That is not to say that at certain times these traits are not challenged, they can be. However, if an individual or a company is self-centered, short sighted, or dishonest, it is only a matter of time before the tables are turned on you. Again, look back into history. Look at the patterns of other businesses and pay attention to their truth. Learn from their actions, positive or negative, and don’t let the allure of a quick fix blind you to the potential future downfall of short term promises.
Be a leader
There is no doubt that leading through business challenges conjures apprehension and all eyes are on you. It helps to understand that there are always going to be issues to be dealt with and that problems are inherent to activity. If you are in sales, your problems will be with people and products. If you are an accountant, your challenges will involve finances. If you are a supplier, you will experience problems with production. Challenges are not about if, but about when and how they are dealt with. Some challenges are nothing more than annoying nuisances and others require more strategic thinking to navigate. The approach for leadership is the same. Leaders confront challenges with intelligent, non-reactive thought, and focus on long term strategy, solutions and improvement.
As entrepreneurs navigate through the practical as well as the unanticipated challenges of business, at the same time juggling our many daily tasks and risks, remember that one of the most important indicators of future success is our collective adherence to economic as well as moral decision making. Perhaps a narrow perspective in this regard may just be the biggest challenge of all.
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