When Business Slows Down

16 May, 2016

Hands rubbing together

Your company is faced with high debt, cash flow is at a critical level, morale is at an all-time low and every business conversation revolves around an ailing national and world economy. One starts to doubt the decisions you made when business was booming; “Where did I fail the company? Or, “I wish I applied better financial control”; “How could I have missed the signs?”

How do you turn this around?

Businesses evolve; one can compare this evolving cycle with the way nature creates a seasonal rhythm. One may argue that winter has arrived. But nobody knows how long winter will last, unless you create the conditions for spring. People are the solution. I know this sounds rather obvious, but how to engage people that operate in an environment of low morale is another story.

Watch out for self-pity, your employees will display selfish behaviour, do not expect a pat on the shoulder or any concern for you missing out on sleep, as you try to come to terms with reality.

This tests leadership, faith, self-belief and integrity. Why integrity? Well, when one’s business is failing it evokes feelings of guilt and being a failure as leader. The author of The Road Less Travelled and Beyond; Scott Peck provides a definition of integrity that fits your situation like a glove:

Integrity requires, among other things, the willingness to endure discomfort for the sake of the truth.” Peck (1997:219)

Integrity demands us to display the guts to acknowledge your business’ current reality. This is the first step in turning your business around. Yes, it starts with you, the leader. Now is the time to publicly acknowledge that you are vulnerable, in trouble and depend on the buy-in and commitment from your people as well as your service providers.

Survival depends on cash. Contact your suppliers personally and explain to them that your business is slowing down. Politely ask for smaller instalments to settle debt over time. Instead of feverously cutting costs by counting tea bags and buying long life milk, focus on your frontline teams to optimise service delivery.

Relive times of success and ask yourself why were you successful. Take stock of what you have and imagine the business being a new start-up. You will be amazed to see how far ahead you are compared to new entrants into your market.

Focus on current customers; new marketing initiatives can take at least eight to ten months to translate into sales.

Celebrate every small win and acknowledge those involved by verbally thanking them for their effort (do not employ a reward scheme). Involve everybody about the recovery plan and emphasise that a culture of interdependency is required between departments to gain traction.

Create cross-functional (members from different departments) and cross-hierarchical (representatives of different levels of authority) circles of excellence where employees are challenged to generate new ideas to enhance service delivery.

Every team member is very aware of your state of mind, always try to be positive and hopeful. Thank those trying to help.

Remember, as human beings we all face challenges at some point in life. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and smiling to yourself in the mirror when you wake up, may sound corny but it works, I’ve been there…

Dr. Chris Heunis

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