I?m not one to promote other people?s work, but I happened to find myself in Orlando two weeks ago listening to a keynote speaker who was actually giving relevant advice.
Admittedly, this is usually the point in a conference when I start to doze off, daydream, check messages, or search for cool apps for my iPhone (sorry HP? the wireless print app is nice, but it pales in comparison to vlingo, whose Star-Trek-like voice-activated app makes finding the nearest Sushi restaurant as easy as Kirk asking the Computer to ?activate shields?).
The conference was Konica Minolta?s annual Dealer get-together, and the keynote starred Geoff Colvin, senior editor at Fortune Magazine.? Colvin was basically promoting his book ?Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else? but the message he brought the audience was immeasurably more valuable (though I?m sure the book is interesting too).
In elevator-pitch brevity, Colvin?s advice laid out a roadmap for how the rest of us might be able to navigate our way out of a nasty economic slowdown.? Whether our vocation in life is selling printers or selling research about selling printers (and just anything else in between), I found the takeaways from the keynote very heartening.
How the Best Businesses Behave in a Downturn:
1) They face reality the fastest
2) They invest in the core of their business
3) They communicate like crazy
4) They give customers new solutions to address their new problems
Optimism is great, but let?s face it.? Some companies and some leaders are so caught up in appearing
optimistic that they become too obscured from reality.? I heard the other day that 3 out of 4 people in the U.S. are optimistic about the future with President Obama taking the helm this week.? Don?t get me wrong ? it?s amazingly reassuring to know that the U.S. economy is once again under adult supervision.? But, even Obama urges us to temper our optimism and get down to the business of dealing with reality.
Businesses can also get into big trouble when they stray from their core specialty ? and this is especially magnified during an economic downturn.? This is not the time to abandon your old customers, throw out the company mission statement and march off into the unknown in search of greener pastures.? Instead, businesses that survive and thrive in the long-run take the opportunity during a slowdown to invest in their core technologies so that when business does cycle back (and it will cycle back), they?ll be geared for stronger and possibly faster growth.
I can?t begin to count the number of times I?ve encountered friends or colleagues down in the doldrums because of negative rumors and innuendos circulating their respective corporate gossip networks.? When things go sour, the best businesses communicate honestly and directly ? and they do it often.? They tell people how they think about the situation and give the bad news straight, direct, unvarnished, and right between the eyes.? Straight talk breeds respect ? a core value, especially in difficult times.
Finally, the best businesses ? those that will still be around 5 years and maybe even 50 years from now ? are those that redefine value by giving customers new solutions to their new problems.? Here at the start of 2009, the world is remarkably different than it was just two or three years ago.? A different world also reflects changes in industry and markets.? Who would have thought that the U.S. financial system, once the envy of the world, would now be characterized with terms like ?the walking dead? and on the brink of nationalization?
In my younger days I was an avid cyclist and loved to compete in road races.? And like any bicyclist or long-distance runner will tell you, the outcome of race is always determined in one place ? the hills.? Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven
times ? an athletic feat virtually unparalleled in modern sport (OK, 14 gold medals for Michael Phelps is pretty untouchable too).? Each year, Lance would hang back in the peloton until the start of the grueling mountain stages at the base of the Alps.? Then he would put on his superman cape and will his way to the top faster than anyone else.? And this was after beating advanced cancer that had spread throughout his body.
We?re in the middle of a long distance race, and have probably just started going up a long, steep hill.? How we manage this hill will dictate where we end up in the flats.