09 October 2008

In times of turmoil, stop and smell the flowers…

I know my last few blogs have been a bit heavy handed in terms of getting ready for the tough times ahead and in all likelihood, there will probably be a few tough loving blogs to come. That said, I remember chatting to a good friend of mine after the last major economic hiccup and he told me about how his business handled it whilst everyone else around them was falling apart. 

Neville ran a very successful consulting firm. He had about 20 staff, all based in Sydney. When it became obvious that the “times were a changing” he addressed it head on. He called all of his staff together for a morning to talk about what they need to do to survive (at this stage prospering wasn’t even an option). All ideas were welcome and no idea was considered stupid.

Now the business was very successful and everyone who worked there had been on board for a minimum of 3 years, some had been there for well over 10 years. They were a tight knit team, who worked hard and played well together. The idea of laying off staff to cut costs was certainly a last resort and never really considered.

This is what they decided to do – 

1. First of all acknowledge all that the firm had achieved in the last 5 years. Make an honour board and be proud of what they had all accomplished in a relatively short time and be really clear about the reason for their success.  

2. Some of them were well and truly in need of a good holiday, so plans were made to immediately make this happen. Anyone who wanted extra holidays that were unpaid, could take as long as they wanted off.

3. Everyone’s position was discussed – did anyone want to work less hours? Or retire? Some staff were very happy to cut back their hours but still have the security of a job. Two people took an early retirement but consulted to the firm as needed. 

4. As a team they spoke about the products and services they had been selling in the boom time and they soon decided that the demand for these would change in a tough time. They needed to get on the front foot and start to sell the products and services their clients will need to survive so they worked out a plan to do exactly that.

5. They looked at their clients and went through them one by one to look for ideas and ways that they could increase the amount of business they got from them or secure the relationship. Then a person was assigned to each client and their job was to meet with them within 7 days to discuss the account and the clients needs.

6. The marketing budget was laid on the table – and openly thrown around. The team decided that they needed to double their marketing spend. They also decided that as times were tough would not donate as much money to charities but they would all donate more of their own time to helping their favourite causes.

7. They agreed to meet as a group outside of working hours once per month to plot the progress of the business and to make any decisions necessary to keep the business going strong. Neville agreed to have open books for them all to see the exact financial position of the business at any time.

8. One person was put in charge of cutting operational costs around the office by 20%. Even if that meant spending some money in the short term on new equipment or resources as long as they saved the business money in the long run. Within 4 months he had cut costs by 30% with no impact on the operation. They had simply got a little leaner. 

9. They would keep their ears to the ground to find out what was happening in their industry and several senior people in the firm will step up their networking and direct business development activity.

10. They all agreed not to panic and to make sure that they stopped and gave thanks every day for what they had and what they achieved.

This consulting firm doubled in size, staff numbers and profitability in the worst three year history in the last fifty years. Clearly success is as much about attitude as it is about being a smart business person.

My advice? Make a great plan with your teams involvement. Don’t panic, plan for the worse and hope for the best and take the time to stop and smell the flowers. There is a lot of opportunity ahead, but there will also be a lot of fear. Only focus on what you can control – let everyone else worry about the rest. And remember in the words of the famous Dale Carnegie, 90% of the things we worry about never happen. 

2 thoughts on “In times of turmoil, stop and smell the flowers…”

  1. Nicky Jurd says:

    You’ve inspired me to talk more to my team. Business owners sometimes feel like they have the full weight of the business on their shoulders and forget that staff invest their emotional energy in the business too.

    Your post shows the people around you can contribute more to the success of a business than most of us might entertain.

    Today we had a discussion about what we love about working together.. our attitudes, creative spirit and personalities. It was a unique insight into who we are as a team, and we all left feeling inspired about the future.

  2. Good on you Nicky – most business owners are too scared to ask their staff what they like about working together and some don’t actually care!!!! The more you can connect with your staff, your suppliers and your customers the more rewarding and profitable your business will be on every level.

    I really do appreciate your feedback.


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