Industry week recently ran an article on how to recession proof your business by three authors that had a rather interesting take on how you go about this. According to the article, you start by identifying the tribes that constitute your business and determining where they are in their sociological progression. If they are in the “life stinks” (stage 1), “my life stinks” (stage 2), or “I’m great” (stage 3) stage — where the latter is said to be the case for 48% of workplace tribes in the U.S., then the consensus (of the authors) is that your business won’t survive the recession.
It’s obvious that a “life stinks” and “my life stinks” mindset is a recipe for disaster. But why is a “I’m great” mentality mindset insufficient? As the author’s note, this is where the theme is “I’m great, and you’re not”, people at this stage have to win, and winning is personal … they’ll out-work, [out-]think and [out-]maneuver their competitors, and the mood that results is a collection of “lone warriors,” wanting help and support and being disappointed that others don’t have their ambition or skill. As I’ve mentioned before, the day of organization man is over … it’s the era of networked person, who’s a team player.
In comparison, a tribe that has reached the “stage 4” mindset, where they believe that “we’re great”, have evolved beyond a loose organization of lone-warrior organization men into a tightly knit organization of cooperative networked persons. As the authors note, they are nimble, innovative, stress-resistant, and adaptable — the qualities that help them do well no matter the circumstances. They align on core values, build strong relationships, and develop plans in real time — the key to the responsiveness needed to navigate the troubled waters of a downturn and the uncertain demand that it brings.
Thus, the authors contend that the best way to “recession proof” your business is to do what it takes to help your team reach “stage 4”. Now I’ll agree that this is a necessary factor for success, and one of the keys to surviving a downturn — but, I hate to say it, it’s not necessarily sufficient. It takes a good team — but this team needs good data, good technology, great support, and resources. If your team doesn’t have good data, how will they make good decisions? If they don’t have the technology they need to capture good data and analyze it in real-time, how will they be able to take action with any confidence? If they don’t have your support, how likely are they to be willing to put their neck on the line when it counts most? But most importantly, if they don’t have the resources, and more importantly, if you don’t have the resources, does it matter?
Innovation, enabled by an innovative team, is the best way to survive a downturn and come out as a market leader, but that team is going to need good systems, good management, and the resources to ride it out. That requires you to be running your company appropriately in the first place — to be making smart long-term decisions on a regular basis and spending the corporate coffers responsibly. If you’ve been following the market, throwing money away like the boom is never going to end, making bad decisions year after year, or acting like an Enron or Boo.com (remember them? — if not, look them up) — in short, running your business like an idiot, then chances are that a great team is not going to save you — because, at this point, there won’t be enough of your company left to save. And when it comes right down to it, if you’ve kept your team free of idiots, there’s a good chance that your teams quickly achieved “stage 4” on their own — which would mean that your business is already recession-proof. So isn’t the answer to idiot proof your company?