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Being agile in a Downturn

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  An economic downturn affects everyone whether the impact be declining customers and confidence, poorer cashflow, less expenditure in development and staff or, even, the identification of opportunities in the market or to address issues at home or work as potentially more time becomes available. One factor long recognised as critical to determining whether a business or team survives a recession is their agility. In other words the inherent ability to adapt, respond, and maintain relevance and focus on what is important and what really matters at the end of the day. Agility comes more easily to smaller businesses and teams. Like a large ship large groups can take longer to move and often are pushed as much by their own inertia as pulled toward something. But smaller groups can also find agility difficult to find and maintain. The following key elements determine a team’s inherent ability to be agile and respond quickly and, therefore, survive and thrive.

  1) Honesty. In good times everyone makes money and does well, and problems can be tolerated more easily. In bad times that ain’t so. It is important that issues are not buried and are addressed appropriately, be they about people, systems, or the fundamental aspects of the business itself. Lack of self- and business-honesty is the number one reason why businesses and teams fail. Pretending a problem isn’t there or not recognising it for what it is, does not mean it doesn’t exist. To compete and deliver effective responses to customers, staffing and market challenges must be met quickly and creatively. The key to this is a standardised process, and clear standards and expectations. One of the myths of standardisation is that it prevents innovation but this is not the case if part of that standardized approach is a method for identifying and actioning recommendations for improvement. Shared values and standards allow people to stop wasting time on basic activities and focus on higher order issues and concerns.

  2) Collaboration and partnership. Work with others, not against them. Share resources, contacts and ideas. Explore and identify who your business partners may be by engaging your network. The keys to a successful business partnership are shared values and beliefs, and open communication. There is generally plenty of business around but we have become used to working only one or two ways. Learn from others, ask questions, be prepared to help others out. You will be surprised how much it will benefit your business and team.

  3) Innovation and point of difference. Be prepared to think outside the square and, if an idea has merit, explore how it may work for you. We are products of our environment, and so is our team. To paraphrase two well known quotes from unknown authors “Necessity is the mother of invention” and “Don’t be afraid of adversity. It may move you in the one direction you always wanted to go.” Be prepared to stand out from competitors by your attitude, approach, philosophy, and branding. In a crowded market these pay real long-term dividends.