“Good Times, Bad Times, You Know I’ve Had My Share”

If matters go badly now, they will not always be so.

– Horace

Business is cyclical, and the ups and downs are unavoidable. You have limited control over the corporate environment you operate in, and it’s often hard to exert immediate influence even within your own company.

But understanding this should help rather than hurt the way you manage your business affairs.

What you can control is the way you anticipate and react to the circumstances that cause periods of growth and decline. Always be aware of what factors influence the success of your business most strongly, and try not to be too phased when times are tough.

One of the most common mistakes I see amongst leaders of failing companies is that they re-act instead of take a proactive attitude towards their business.

Learn from their mistakes.

Don’t rely on the numbers you’re given. Don’t become complacent. Don’t believe projections. Have contingency plans. Have checks and balances. Face the harsh reality of your situation. Develop alternatives to your primary model and product offerings. Walk the floors of offices and manufacturing facilities.

Take Blockbuster, for example. Since its founding in 1985 until recently, things had been going well for the video and gaming rental giant. The company found a combination of products and services that were in high demand and it grew nationally as a result. But they failed to proactively seek an opportunity like their now main competitor, Netflix.

Now Blockbuster corporate strategists spend most of their time reacting to the evolutions of the movie rental marketplace that Netflix overwhelmingly controls. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September, 2010. Your company, like Blockbuster should have done over the years, needs to keep evolving whether the times are good or bad.

It is true that the biggest battleships are most difficult to turn around, but there isn’t a battleship too big to sink.

Keep Your Business Healthy

There are a few very important things to keep in mind to keep your business afloat and healthy:

1. You need to focus on overcoming the turtle mentality in your company. When things are going  badly, many people have a tendency to try to hide from and ignore the problem. Make sure that through an open communication policy, people feel comfortable sharing their concerns regarding the business. Wouldn’t you rather know if there is a problem that needs your attention while it can still be fixed?

2. Remember, it is not only your own perceptions and attitude you need to manage. Keep a positive attitude even during hard times. People look to you as an example, and they often jump to conclusions based on your behavior. You need to communicate with your colleagues and employees. If the business is in bad shape, be honest, but engage and reassure everyone in the process to make things better. Ask for their ideas and opinions, especially if they are key stakeholders.

Once, acting as CEO at a company with 24 hour operations, I decided to hold a barbecue for those working the night shift. At 1 am, I began cooking on the grill and talking to the team members. As a result, I discovered a multi-million dollar fraud case. Act out of the ordinary and you never know what you’ll find.

No matter how tough things are in the business, you have power. If you take steps to be a proactive leader, keep a policy of open communication with your employees and colleagues and maintain a positive attitude, you will likely land smoothly when a wave comes, rather than crashing onto the beach.

What bad times have you experienced? How did they end?

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