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Take Advantage of the Slowdown

With the economy nearing the bottom and trying to recover, many businesses are slower than they would normally be. The reduction in customers has forced many businesses to reduce staff. Many of the remaining staff feel overworked and would like to co

by F. John Reh
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Position your company now to take full advantage of the coming recovery

With the economy nearing the bottom and trying to recover, many businesses are slower than they would normally be. The reduction in customers has forced many businesses to reduce staff. Many of the remaining staff feel overworked and would like to complain but are afraid to do so for fear of losing of their job. Even so, most businesses have some free hours available from their employees. Now is the time to take advantage of this slowdown and make maximum use of those available hours to position your company for a leading position when economy does recover.

Here are five things you can do during the slowdown to best position your company for the recovery. Most of them require only a minimal investment of capital at most. Instead they are opportunities in which you can invest the available time.

  • Plan For The Recovery
     
  • Cross-Train
     
  • Innovate
     
  • Sell
     
  • Celebrate Small Victories

Plan for the Recovery
You have weathered the painful downturn in your industry. You made the painful decisions and took the difficult actions to help your company survive. Now you're seeing the bottom and may even be seeing the first signs of an upturn. Don't wait for the recovery to become obvious to your competitors. You know the kinds of problems that you will encounter when business picks up again. Now is the time to put in place the solutions for those potential problems. Make your plans for the recovery before your competitors do so that you will stay ahead of them when the recovery arrives.

If your company owns a fleet of vehicles used for distribution, for example, you may have disposed of some of your older vehicles, terminated leases on others, and delayed scheduled purchases. Right now, vehicle lease and purchase rates are the lowest they have been in a couple of years. If you place your orders now, you will pay much less to acquire the vehicles you will need later than if you wait to buy them.

Cross-Train
This is an ideal time for cross training your employees. Cross training is always a good idea. It is one of the best investments you can make in your employees and in your company. It increases employee's value. It increases the flexibility you have as a manager. Now, while all of your employees are not as busy as usual, have the ones that are busy teach some that aren't how they do their job. This provides you with more employees who are trained and capable of filling the busy positions. It provides some relief for employees who may feel overworked. It gives employees who are less busy, and may be concerned about being laid off, an increased sense of value to the company.

For example, you could send a Customer Service Representative (CSR) from your call center with an Account Executive (AE) to call on a key customer. The AE gets a fresh pair of ears to listen to the customer. The CSR gains firsthand experience with the customer and their needs. Even your customers will benefit. The addition of a second person from your company on the sales call reinforces for your customer how valuable you consider their account.

Innovate
You may not have much cash right now to invest in research and development, but now is the time to invest what cash you do have and however much time you can spare in continuing to innovate. The employees who usually are too busy to stop and think may have that opportunity at the moment. Find ways to encourage that thinking and to capture the results it produces. Hold brainstorming sessions. Ask your customers for feedback on what changes they would like to see and try to figure out how to make them possible. You could even hold a contest for your employees to reward those who produce the best or most innovative ideas.

Sell
No company ever "cost-cut" their way out of a downturn. Certainly an economic downturn requires that companies eliminate any unnecessary expenses. However, you could theoretically cut out all expenses and you still would not turn a profit without income. Therefore, while it is always important, a downturn in an industry makes finding sources of income even more critical. The single most important key to your company's economic health as it emerges from this slowdown is its ability to sell. You need to find ways to keep the customers and you have and to sell more to them. You also need to find new customers, new ways to sell to your customers, and new products and services to sell.

The effort you put into your sales plan and execution now will help your company survive the downturn. However, it will also place you ahead of your competitors with new markets and products when the turnaround comes.

Celebrate Small Successes
Your most important job right now is leadership. Among other things, it is up to you to keep the team focused, working together, and moving ahead. During periods of economic uncertainty it is not uncommon for employees to be distracted, fearful, and less productive than normal. One thing you can do to help keep the team focused on the important issues and to keep them moving forward is to acknowledge and celebrate their victories.

Right now, it is unlikely that you will have major victories to celebrate with your employees. It is unlikely that anyone on your sales force, for instance, will land the company's largest-ever sale in an economic downturn. So instead, celebrate the sales that they do achieve. They may not be the largest sales ever, but they are certainly some of the most important, because these are the ones that keep you in business until the economy improves. Celebrating the small victories in the areas that are important to your company's survival will keep your employees' attention focused on these key areas, will keep morale higher, and will build a sense of teamwork that will be equally valuable when business picks up again.

Manage This Issue
You are doing okay. Your company has survived an economic downturn and some of your competitors have not. This is the time to take steps to keep your company ahead of its competitors when the recovery happens. Don't wait for the recovery to become apparent. Right now, the only resource that may be available to you is a little free time for some of your employees. Put that time to good use planning and preparing for the future recovery.