Fifty U.S. business leaders, representative of Fortune 500 companies and both small business, shared their perceptions and reactions to today’s challenging business environment at Transform Inc.’s September 2008 Enneagram Leadership Conference in Alexandria, VA. Mary Anne Wampler facilitated the session which took place on the third and final day of a Enneagram Leadership Conference when attendees had established rapport and comfort level with one another.
By day two, Mary Anne said, “It is as obvious as an elephant in the room,” And while no one was coming out and saying “this is the toughest time I’ve had as a leader,” it was evident that everyone had something on their mind. It was nothing short of a huge sigh of relief when leaders were given the opportunity to discuss their feelings about today’s business environment. This article offers a summarization of those comments – with the hope that other business professionals will find both solace and renewed optimism from the shared perspectives.
Transform: What are the specific business challenges as a leader you are facing?
– What used to work isn’t working now. We are having to evaluate what we are doing and make decisions on how to do more with less resources, time, effort.
– The sales environment is tougher. We have to be better at sales. We have to work harder and be more focused on the highest pay-off activities. We need more skills. The sales people who were successful when the economy was good are now struggling and even the very best sales people are struggling or working twice as hard to get less of what they got before.
– My clients are not as confident. They are reluctant to invest. I have to work much harder to instill confidence in the buyers. The sales cycle is also longer and requires more hand-holding, listening, reworking of quotes to fit tighter budgets. Price is a major factor.
– Traditional offerings and services of the past aren’t enough. I need to be very creative in meeting my clients’ needs and budget.
– Keeping morale up is a full-time job. Sales professionals are impacted by external factors – news, friends being laid off or downsized. Leading others and instilling confidence in employees takes more effort.
– When working under stressful conditions, the ego operates on automatic and little things can have a big impact on others.
– There is the need to constantly reevaluate our internal organization in order to respond to the marketplace and customers. The demands made of our employees need to be centered and focused – not reactive and impatient.
– Balancing long-term and short-term focus is difficult when you don’t know what is going to happen externally from one day-to-day to the next.
– Constant change is the reality. Learning to manage change in one’s self, in one’s employees and the business forces is crucial.
Transform: Given your current reality, what opportunities does this situation offer for you, as a leader, your organization and your employees?
– With things a little slower, you can take time to improve processes and retool employees to become more adaptable and responsive to change.
– You can take time to develop and grow one’s self – to work on leadership skills and hone sales skills.
– It’s important to focus on where the opportunities are as opposed to what’s not happening.
– You have to be laser-focused on where time and resources are being spent – both personally and with all your staff.
– We’re being forced to think outside the box – to think differently and more creatively on how to keep and sustain relationships. We’re learning what services and products to offer and how to stay in front of buyers.
– Now is the time to build collaborative relationships – to look for partnerships with other companies to offer more efficient services and offerings.
When reflecting on these comments, Mary Anne and I were struck by a few things that perhaps run counter intuitive to what we are hearing from the news, media and fear-based leaders. First, leaders who are truly leading during this tough time are fully committed to the continued growth and development of their employees and themselves. Now is not the time to abandon developmental training. Rather, it is the time to invest in your people. Second, now is the opportunity to rethink ‘how’ you are doing business – a ‘housecleaning’ if you will. Take stock of how you are delivering services to customers and, of that, what is most efficient and productive. Third, heightened your attention and focus on customer relationships. It is a crucial component to riding out these challenging times. Build stronger, more collaborative relationships with your customers. Spend time with them. Learn what’s going on in their business and how you can add value to what they offer. Ensure that every encounter they have with your company is exactly the experience you want them to have. Lastly, successful leaders are those who are taking care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and even, spiritually. Pay attention to the impact you are having on your their employees and be intentional regarding the impact you want to have. Work diligently to keep their teams focused on the opportunities and priorities that exist.