How to Survive Your Survival

March 3, 2010
The keys to successfully shifting into growth mode.

Here's the good news: So far, you've been able to survive one of the worst economic downturns in American history. Before you congratulate yourself, you need to face the bad news. The very things that have enabled you to survive will cause your downfall if you don't shift into growth mode now. Regardless of how far along you believe it to be, there is broad consensus that a recovery has begun. What remains unclear is just how fast and how far this recovery will go. Strategic change is the operative phrase, and as a leader, creating strategic change is your number one job.

Here are a few key pitfalls and how to avoid them as you shift gears and get back into growth mode.

Don't Pop the Clutch and Kill the Engine

For some time now you've been retrenching. You've been focused on defending your business and cutting costs. This has probably resulted in the elimination of programs and people who were not viewed as "mission critical." There are two problems with the environment you've created that need to be dealt with as soon as possible.

First, retrenching efforts create organizations that look backwards instead of forwards. It's an unfortunate but unavoidable fact. Everyone remembers the good old days and that makes the current situation appear even worse.

Second, you've probably had to make changes that have severely eroded trust. Layoffs and cuts do that regardless of how you position them and how logical they may seem.

Change Keys: Begin to change the atmosphere, rebuild trust and look forward slowly using actual new business wins after you have them in hand. Don't project or promise. Focus the message on what you've done and not what you're going to do. Remember, people believe what they see and experience far more than what they hear. The last thing you want is another projection that doesn't come true and further destroys your credibility.

Get an Alignment, Check the Oil, Make Sure There's Enough Gas in the Tank

If you're going to make a successful shift back into growth mode, you have to retool the organization for driving revenue vs. saving money. It's time to realign people from efficiency to customer-driven effectiveness. Don't underestimate the differences between these two approaches. Resources, talent and priorities must flow toward revenue drivers. Utilizing superior talent will help ensure that you don't waste precious resources or overspend and create a financial burden that the business can't support.

Change Keys: Now's the time to build your team. The available talent pool is better than ever because of the downturn and subsequent failure of many organizations. Recent surveys show that a majority of people are not satisfied with their current positions. Take advantage and think outside of your immediate industry if necessary to get top performers on board before your competition.

Think GPS, Not Roadmap

The downturn has forever changed the competitive landscape. Your customers, your competitors and your suppliers, just like you, are different. Are you acting that way? Retrenching is more straightforward than growing. Retrenching is all about analyzing, planning and executing -- making steady and quantifiable progress. Growing is about sensing, evaluating, anticipating and adapting -- creating and seizing opportunities. Growing requires that you become a strategic thinker instead of a strategic planner.

Change Keys: Rethink your customer base. B and C tier customers may be the keys to starting your growth shift. Rethink your concept of value. How can you provide more comprehensive turnkey solutions to your customers to help them better deal with their resource and workload challenges? This will also allow you to get away from an unhealthy and unsustainable competitive platform built strictly upon price. Rethink your supply base. The market has likely contracted, so you need to lock down a reliable supply chain before your competition does.

Retrenching is at best a short-term strategy. If you're not growing you're dying. It's just a matter of how long it takes. The recovery winners will be those organizations that get out in front of it. By the time the recovery is strong enough to pull everyone else along, it will be too late. Make the shift back into growth mode now.

Cory VanBuskirk is President of CVB Consulting Group ( CVB Consulting Group is focused on helping their clients grow profitably by embedding strategic thinking throughout their organizations as well as developing and implementing innovative customer relationship building processes.

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