Depressions, recessions, or simply weak economies weed out weak and unfit business managers. And if there has ever been a time when weakness in management skills shows up, it’s managing during tough economic times. Over the last three years, I've read hundreds of articles on the topic, and all of them reference one of three reasons for business failures: weak leadership, lack of planning, or poor execution.
Ironically, these maladies are treatable, but for those who won't learn how to lead or won't take the time to review the fundamentals of good business planning and apply them — natural selection will take its course.
In business, as in sports, music, and hundreds of other skill sets, there are naturals — those born with the talent and skills necessary to perform at the highest levels. This certainly is true of leadership. Some just have it; the rest of us have to learn and practice the difficult skills of managing a business, whether large or small. Often small firms are more difficult, there’s less cover.
Attributes of great leaders at great companies are often displayed in excellence at communicating their organizational vision, motivating employees to want to fulfill and participate in that vision, and constantly driving home the vision in individual and group meetings. Salespeople know this axiom; tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them.
Communicating the vision of what your company is all about should be easy – if you can't do this off the cuff, how can you expect to keep and attract employees, customers, or prospects? Start by writing down your vision. Spend some time working and reworking this statement until it becomes part of who and what you and your company are. Make some copies and paste them up where you are sure to see them throughout the day. You will find it becoming easier to communicate this vision to others as it becomes part of your everyday thinking.
Motivating employees is a matter of taking the time to speak with them regularly to understand their needs, wants, and goals — both for the short and long term — and then giving them opportunities to obtain and achieve these. Find time every week to ask one of your employees: What are we doing to make your job easier? And what are we doing to make your job more difficult? Listen carefully to their responses. Let them know that you want them to succeed, and to expand and improve their abilities and skills.
Speaking to employees as a group is almost always a learned skill. Face it — you're not Vince Lombardi trying to get alphas motivated to run through the proverbial brick wall. Your task is much more refined and difficult because your "locker room" isn't filled exclusively with alphas and omegas. Your challenge is to motivate the B’s and C’s. Only practice and persistence will give you the skill set necessary to get Vince's results. One way to practice this skill is to hold all-employee weekly meetings to review the week ahead — what goals and targets are set and what is expected from everyone. Work these talks into your weekly routine, and you'll find your speaking skills improving by leaps and bounds.
Where's your game plan? If your business plan is more than 12 months old, you're gambling with your company's future. Without a clear strategy and plan that can be communicated to all of your employees, they are left to guess what needs to be done and in what sequence. Keep it simple and short. And above all, share it with every employee.
Companies win or lose because of good execution or the lack of it. To execute well, your company strategy must be clear, simple, and grounded in economic reality so it supports and drives all actions and initiatives. In addition to this document, employees need to understand the company's plan. If employees have a full understanding of what's expected of them and how it helps to achieve the plan, they will be more motivated, creative, and innovative in finding ways to succeed. All too often, employees do not see how their work and actions relate to the company's success. Make sure you can show them how they fit in and track their performance. Tracking enables you and your employees to make necessary adjustments to improve.
In business, the natural selection process isn't much different than in nature. The strong use leadership skills to do whatever is necessary to survive during the drought. When the economy turns, they will be poised for profit growth.
Terry Tanker is the owner of JFT Properties LLC and publisher of HVACR Business magazine. He has more than 25 years of experience in the advertising and publishing industries. He began his career with a business-to-business advertising agency. Prior to forming JFT Properties LLC in January 2006 he spent 20 years with a large national publishing and media firm where he was the publisher of several titles in the mechanical systems marketplace. In addition to his experience in advertising and publishing Terry has worked closely with numerous industry-related associations over the years including AHRI NATE and ABMA.