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MANAGING IN TURBULENT TIMES
By Dave Scott
Another market low, house prices tumble, foreclosures increase, Wall Street jitters, election uncertainty, recession looms; do all of these sound familiar? What does a company (manager) do during these uncertain times?
There’s not one answer that will ensure that all of these obstacles will disappear or that they will not affect your business, but there are some things that any prudent manager should do during uncertain times. Among them are:
• Maximize Sales
◊ Increase effort
◊ Maximizing delivery/quality products and/or services
◊ Additional personnel
• Control costs
◊ Discretionary expenses
• Manage cash
• Human resources
◊ Selection and placement
There are likely others, but let’s take a closer look at some of these.
Maximizing Sales – It is during difficult times that every effort must be made to secure new orders and to deliver the highest quality products or services on time. Meticulous care of existing customers is tantamount to maintaining a base on which to grow into the future. Everyone in the organization needs to be coached on customer care. In addition, there may be opportunities to divert operations personnel into temporary roles that support the sales organization or possibly even become additional “feet on the street”. Do you have personnel in non-sales roles that have been aspiring to sales positions? Or are there operational people that can accompany the sales force in their visits to customers to assure them that you will continue to support them during these times. However you approach this, increase your sales efforts.
Controlling Costs – This obviously goes without saying, but be vigilant in this effort. Look at all discretionary expenses, reduce overtime, except where absolutely required to satisfy customers. Try to cover the overtime requirement by diverting personnel instead. Look at travel; can you accomplish the same thing with video or teleconferencing? Maybe you can defer fixed asset expenses until the next quarter or next year. Say no to all capital projects and see who returns with solid documentation that supports their specific project. These are typically the ones that are worth considering.
Manage Cash – This typically involves two distinct efforts; collections and controlling expenses. We’ve already looked at controlling costs and expenses; that effort provides two benefits. It reduces your cost and it also conserves the need for cash. Secondly, diligently manage the collections process. Call customers/clients just before the due date to inquire if payment is on schedule. If the payment date passes by, follow-up to see when you can expect payment. You may need to “beef-up” this effort by temporarily assigning someone from an unrelated area to assist in the collection efforts. Maintaining your cash position is critical to survival during troubled times.
Human Resources – This is probably the most important of all of your efforts in good times and bad. Adhere to Jim Collins’ advice from his “Good To Great” book. Make sure that you have the right people on the bus and in the right seats and if necessary, get the wrong people off the bus. Carefully consider your organization. Do you have a need for additional personnel? This may be a great time to recruit? Is everyone contributing? If not, is it their issue, or yours? Are they adequately trained? Can you do more to assure them (and the company) of success? Utilize this time to provide additional skills training, cross training and knowledge of Lean and Quality improvement techniques. This will generate long term benefits to the company and strengthens employees’ overall skill sets. Your goal is to build up and enhance the organization for the future.
Finally, managing in difficult time requires all managers to be introspective. This is a time of real opportunity to transform yourself from a manager to a leader. Do you know where you want your organization to go? What are your plans for getting there? Do you have the right resources in place? Even though times are difficult, it is not the time to only fight fires. Plan for the inevitable better times ahead. Managing in difficult times is the real test. Are you up to the task?
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