BUSINESS LEADERSHIP IN FAST MOVING TIMES

What a turbulent few weeks we've had since the outcome of the EU Referendum and I wrote my article What Does Brexit Mean For UK Small Business! No sooner had the new leadership of the Conservative Party been resolved and a new Cabinet was put in place with Boris Johnson at the helm as our top diplomat than the world was shaken by another terrorist attack in France, the Turkish military launched a coup to oust President Erdogan and at least three police officers were shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. How can we future proof our business in a turbulent world? And what does this mean for business leadership in these fast moving times? Business Leadership In Fast Moving Times

Tough times will always come and go. That’s a given. That’s why it’s important to be a storm proof leader, capable of both weathering the tsunami of change, and capitalising on the opportunities that will inevitably arise from this. Yes, it will probably be two years before Brexit is enacted, if indeed it happens at all. But far better to future proof your business now - and be in a position to make the most of new opportunities such as new trade agreements.

Here are five ways in which you can show robust leadership in these fast moving times.

1. Assess The Reality Of The Situation

This is the time to go back to your business plan and review:

  • Your market research
  • Your SWOT analysis
  • Your PESTLE Analysis

Now ask yourself a series of key questions about what Brexit could mean for your business. Questions such as:

  • It could take at least two years for the UK to disentangle from the EU. How will this period of uncertainty affect our company?
  • How much business do we conduct with Europe?
  • Would a less favourable trade agreement hurt us?
  • Would a delay in a new trade agreement with Europe hurt us?

Take this information and assess, as best as you can right now, the likely impact this will have on your business and the potential consequences. Then put together a contingency plan to storm proof your business.

[callout]I’ve put together an information sheet, complete with a checklist of the key questions to ask, to help you to assess how Brexit will affect your business. You can download a copy HERE.[/callout]

I also strongly recommend that you read Jim Collin’s book ‘Good To Great’ which sets out what the most successful business leaders do to storm proof their business.

2. Be Brutally Honest In Your Assessment Whilst Remaining Optimistic

Being both brutally honest about the reality of your business situation and simultaneously remaining optimistic may sound like a paradox. But this is exactly what the most successful business leaders do. I explain what I mean in detail in my article Take Stock Of Where You Are Now: Four Lessons From The Stockdale Paradox.

In a nutshell, the Stockdale Paradox derives from the story of Admiral Stockdale, who against the odds, survived as a prisoner of war for eight years in Vietnam. Asked by a reporter, how he got out, Admiral Stockdale replied:

I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

Then the reporter asked him who didn’t make it out to which Admiral Stockdale replied:

Oh, that’s easy. The optimists.” Isn’t that funny? They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come… Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

In Good To Great, Jim Collins explains that an attribute of truly great companies and great leaders is that they’re able to embrace simultaneously the truth of their current reality AND their ultimate triumph. They don’t candy coat the situation and try to pretend it’s other than it is. They don’t stick their head in the sand by ‘waiting to see’ what will happen. They assess the brutal reality of the situation, and then determine what steps they can take as a business leader to triumph. Then, leading to point three, they take decisive action.

3. Take Decisive Action

I was listening to the Andrew Marr Show (where the BBC’s former Political Editor interviews key newsmakers and shines a light on what’s happening in the world) just before I sat down to write this article. I was struck by how few of Andrew’s guests actually gave a decisive answer to his questions despite the fact that two guests are vying to lead the Labour Party and the UK’s opposition to the government. This begged the question of whether either candidate was capable of decisive action.

If you hedged important key decisions in business, you’d soon go under!

When I first became a CEO, I took on a severely bootstrapped and under-resourced company doing far more than it had the capacity to do safely. The options were clear. Make dramatic cuts to ‘fit our cloth.’ Or expand. Neither option was going to be easy to execute; not least because two regulatory services were due to carry out time intensive inspections and I also had to prepare for the statutory annual audit. But neither did I have time to prevaricate. The company was in a dire state. Nobody liked me telling them the brutal reality of the situation. But they liked the idea of service and job cuts even less.

I decided that we would go for rapid expansion, and submitted an application for bridge funding to ease our financial and resourcing issues. I then played hard ball – and I mean hard ball - in the subsequent negotiations to get the funding we desperately needed agreed. I pursued this strategy because I knew that the window of opportunity to act was small. If I hadn’t taken such decisive action, the company would almost certainly have died a slow death.

[callout]Here is an information sheet, complete with a checklist of the key questions to ask, to help you assess the impact Brexit will have on your business. You can download a copy HERE.[/callout]

4. Shift The Allocation Of Resources

Not allocating resources to deliver their highest priorities is a common mistake I see small business owners make. They'll spend money on expensive online programmes but they have a tiny marketing budget. They keep an under-performing employee on even though this is hitting their sales. They insist on doing the bookkeeping themselves even though they don't know what they're doing.

Michael Hyatt discusses the importance of allocating your resources to the delivery of your highest priorities in a recent podcast, How To Be A Storm Proof Leader. He explains how as CEO of publishing house, Thomas Nelson, his team realised that about 80% of revenue was coming from about 40% of the book titles they published. The company was in the middle of the recession and Michael knew he had to act fast.

Some of those titles were unexpected surprises, so I couldn’t know with absolute certainty which books were going to work and which weren’t, but I was pretty sure which books were a long shot. So we decided to go in and reallocate our resources by cutting out all of the titles we didn’t think had a very good chance of success so we could reallocate and refocus those same resources on the books we thought had the best chances of success.”

As a new CEO in charge of a bootstrapped business that had long been starved of investment, one of my first tasks was to look at exactly how we were spending our meagre resources and whether these represented best value. I invested in three key aspects of the infrastructure – financial management, HR and IT. At the time a lot of people were critical of these decisions. But financial management was an area of weakness so I wanted to ensure I had a knowledgeable Virtual Finance Director who was able to advise me when it came to making important financial decisions. This decision had the added bonus that our annual audit went without a hiccup. My team couldn’t do their jobs properly without IT, and were delighted with the networked system we invested in. And with a large staff team, I needed somebody to run the personnel function, not least because we were constantly expanding, recruiting and on-boarding new staff.

This leads me neatly on to my final point, focus on your workforce.

5. Focus On Your Workforce

Richard Branson is famous for saying:

Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

Harvard Business School Professor and former Medtronic CEO Bill George expands on this in his insightful article on the 5 Lessons Business Leaders Can Learn From Brexit. He makes the point that politicians were out of touch with the British electorate’s views on membership of the European Union. And then poses the question: could the same be happening at your company?

I know from my own experience as a CEO that it can be hard to get real feedback from managers and front like employees. Some will tell you what they think you want to hear. Others are scared to say what they think for fear of offending you. And a few will use employee engagement exercises to vent their frustrations and grievances.

In his article, Professor George makes the point:

Business leaders who ignore their workers’ feelings do so at their own peril. Unhappy employees lead to disengaged workplaces and mediocre results.”

He goes on to explain:

According to Gallup polls, employee engagement scores have dropped to 30% or lower. More people are simply showing up to pick up a pay check, while their passion for the business and commitment to pleasing customers has waned. To turn around these attitudes, business leaders need to stop trying to please the stock market – which will never be satisfied, no matter how strong the results – and engage and inspire their front-line people. Instead of cutting employee costs, they should be investing in them through training, added compensation incentives, attractive healthcare, and by creating an empowering culture.”

Whilst Professor George is talking about corporate business in this article, his points apply equally well to any business that employs staff. A culture of employee engagement is of vital importance. And setting the right culture starts with leadership from the top.

[callout]Here is an information sheet, complete with a checklist of the key questions to ask, to help you assess the impact Brexit will have on your business. You can download a copy HERE.[/callout]

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About Denyse Whillier

I help micro business owners (with less than 9 employees) formulate and implement the right business strategy so that they can make the transition to a small business (10 to 49 employees) and then on to a medium sized business (50 to 249 employees). I do this by helping them to increase profitability, continuously improving their business results and focusing relentlessly on their core priorities. A former CEO, I took a leap of faith when I left my 25 year corporate career to set up my London based business coaching and consultancy practice. Because of my practical experience in the trenches, hard work, warm, no fluff, down to earth approach, I've built a global reputation, and am delighted to have a client list in the UK, US, Canada and Australia.

To find out more about the different ways of working with me, click HERE. If you're familiar with my work and would like to discuss how I can help you grow your business, book a 30 minute informal Skype coffee chat using this link. There’s no hard sell. Just solid advice and a straightforward, honest assessment of whether 1:1 business coaching or business consultancy would be a good fit for your business, the results you can expect and how to get started.