A bullish 2009: Seven ways to bring your company out of recession mode; start thriving again

Are your weary of trying to exist in recession-inspired survival mode? You’re not alone. Consultant Gayle Lantz, author of the new book, Take the Bull by the Horns, says it’s time for leaders to find inspiration and take action to move their businesses forward.

By Manufacturing Business Technology Staff January 30, 2009

Though we didn’t get the official word until December, you suspected all along we were in a recession—and you responded accordingly. You cut costs to the bone. You laid off anyone not absolutely critical to your operation. You stretched your resources—and probably your employees—to the breaking point.

But now you’re ready to take the bull by the horns and start producing revenue again. You’re just not sure how.

“Fear can paralyze even the most dynamic leader,” says Gayle Lantz, author of the new book, Take the Bull by the Horns: The Busy Leader’s Action Guide to Growing Your Business…and Yourself . “It’s almost like you forget how to move from‘survive’ mode back into ‘thrive’ mode,” says Lantz. “But to set your company apart from its more timid competitors, you’ve got to figure out how to aggressively move forward—now, if not sooner.”

Lantz argues that the success of businesses is not based only on the quality of talent in their organizations but also on the quality of thinking done by their leaders. Now is the time for leaders to achieve what’s most important, and coach others to do the same.

“To be most successful, you need a fearless mind-set coupled with strategic action—a balance of inspiration and practicality,” she adds.

Here are a few tips you can implement right now:

Remind employees that the current situation is temporary . Your employees are probably mired in the doom & gloom that’s permeating the rest of America right now. No wonder. It’s easy to let the current mood convince you that the future is bleak and it’s never going to get better. By assuring employees that the recession is just a blip on the radar, you free the creative energy you’re going to need to pull your company out of its slump.

“Call your team together and emphasize the bigger picture and long-term focus,” advises Lantz. “Paint a very specific scene in which employees can see themselves thriving. Discuss the positive impact the organization will make serving your market. The psychology of this is very powerful…if your employees can see it, they can achieve it.”

Shine a light on the optimists in your company . Seek out the most positive, “can do” people in your organization and put them in more prominent and visible positions. Encourage them to share their ideas. If at all possible, implement them. Even if the ideas don’t ultimately bear fruit, other employees will “catch” the optimistic spirit that brought them into being. By fanning the flames of optimism in your company—even if they’re mere sparks—you can create a conflagration.

Ask better questions . Too many leaders feel pressure to come up with solutions themselves. In so doing, they deprive themselves of a rich storehouse of creative ideas. Somewhere in the minds of your colleagues and employees lies at least one company-saving idea. Your job is to excavate it by asking the right questions.

“Set a positive tone with your questions,” says Lantz. “Instead of asking,‘How can we get through this?’ ask, ‘How can we take charge of this situation and achieve outstanding results?’ Resist the urge to tell too much. Use coaching questions like ‘What support do you need to be successful?’ and ‘What’s holding you back?’ ”

Be willing to try something completely different . The status quo brought you to this point. Now it’s time to take calculated risks. You don’t have to—nor should you—throw caution to the wind, but continuing to do business the same way you’ve always done it may be even riskier than experimenting with something new.

“Don’t think‘failure’—think ‘testing,’” suggests Lantz. “By experimenting, you are testing an idea. If it doesn’t work, there is no harm done. Just try something else.”

Help customers win their own recession war. The absolute best way to shore up relationships with your top customers or clients is to ensure they are fiscally healthy. This year, concentrate on understanding their unique challenges and opportunities. Make it your mission to develop a new solution for them. Not only will you keep them happy, you’ll inspire them to refer you to others.

“Anyone can help companies do the same old, same old,” remarks Lantz. “But even if you do a bang-up job at it, that’s not what they need. They need fresh ideas that will help them grow and thrive, too. Serving them in this way ultimately serves you, too.”

Infuse your workplace with a wave of energy . Help your teams and engage in their work and with each other in stronger ways. Break silos by creating opportunities for people to come together from different areas to talk about ideas and solutions, and leverage the natural energy of your most motivated employees by getting them involved in projects that interest them. And remember: Optimism is the best energy booster of all.

“Celebrate every success or breakthrough, no matter how small,” Lantz advises. “And squelch negative attitudes when they raise their ugly heads.”

Identify and invest in your top 5 percent . Remember, your future is only as strong as the people who will lead you into it. Make a list of your top 5 percent of leaders or potential leaders—those highly motivated men and women who show strong energy and the desire to move your company forward. Then, suggests Lantz, invite them to participate in strategic discussions about your future.

“Help these 5-percenters understand what’s most important to the organization and how decisions are made,” she urges. “Then, schedule a meeting to request specific action on their part—such as communicating plans to the team, gathering feedback, or assessing potential for a new project.”

Ultimately, says Lantz, by setting your expectations higher—a lot higher—than you did last year, you’ll almost certainly see an improvement in your business.

The recession itself is the result of our low expectations.

“You can’t control the level of performance the rest of America will accept, but you can control your own,” concludes Lantz. “Take the bull by the horns this year and start business flowing again. We’ve been bearish for too long now, and it’s time to get bullish.”

Free report : Lantz offers a free Special Report called Bull Bytes: 12 Bull-by-the-Horn Strategies to Boost Your Business.

About the author:
Gayle Lantz is president of WorkMatters Inc ., a corporate consulting firm that helps companies improve performance by growing great leaders, engaging employees, and helping people make the most of their work.