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Managing Uncertainty in an Economic Downturn

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Our economy is proof-positive that history repeats itself. Over the course of every decade or so, the economy seems to slump, recover, and boom. As we await the up-swing, leaders and managers must tend to themselves and employees to ensure that fear, turnover, "survivor's syndrome," lack of hope, and sinking morale don? t sabotage performance or damage the company culture. Once these occur, the company's prospects for turning the corner of this latest downturn sink, too. Both leaders and employees can take steps to encourage positive mindset management and peak performance during this current cycle when the economy seems listless.

What Leaders Can Do

Skillful leaders will stay abreast on their reading about the economy and remain tuned in to the organization's strategy and status. They'll also honestly and effectively communicate economic realities and the resulting company strategy, as well as a vision for how the company and its people can emerge stronger when the economy begins to lift. As a leader, you can rejuvenate yourself and shore up your positive thinking by:

Focusing on your vision: Fear-based decisions, such as slashing every expense to the bare bone, can immediately redirect your organization? s course, in addition to instilling fear in stakeholders (employees, investors, etc.) If these constituencies joined your company because of its vision, they? ll most likely stay because you maintained it, even through the tough times. On a personal level, the organization? s vision is a manifestation of who you are and how you want to operate. Use it as a source of inspiration and a touchstone that grounds you when you? re feeling unsettled and unsure of what to do next.

Using tension as creative fuel: Stress is an inevitable outcropping of economic downturns. However, stress is also the foreshadowing of innovative breakthroughs and tremendous ideas. Channel any tension you might be experiencing into brainstorming sessions or solution-based thinking. These activities and their resulting action also help reduce stress. Start with the question, "If we don? t want this, then what do we want?"

Spending "found time" on new adventures: Slower business cycles allow you to attend to the ideas, professional development, and business-maintenance that you always wished you had time for. Use this time to reconnect with your vision, to develop specific areas of your business, to improve on what you? re already doing well, etc. Build these activities into your weekly rhythm, ensuring that they remain when your enterprise is flush with business again. Why? They are the cornerstones of a fulfilled leader and a successful business.

Revisiting successful approaches from the past: This is most likely not the first downturn that you? ve experienced. Reflect on the approaches that have worked well in the past, and that suit your vision, to earn new business. This thought-technique also strengthens your self-confidence, allowing you to see that you? ve successfully weathered storms in the past, and will again.

Help Employees to Help You

Leaders cannot and should not try to steer the ship solo. Employees are the people who help put your vision and strategy into action. Your positive, productive mindset will go only so far without the employee complement. To help employees manage the uncertainly of an economic downturn, try these tips:

Communicate consistently & honestly: Without straightforward, ongoing communication about the company direction and next steps, employees will fill the information void with fear-based projections. Understand that every business has a grapevine of communication, and if you don? t feed it, someone else will. Your honesty will help to engender confidence with employees, which can increase loyalty and quell uncertainty.

Ensure employees reconnect with the vision: Employees are invested in your vision, too. Give them the opportunity to reconnect with the vision as a group, refuel with its message and recalibrate their actions to its purpose. You? ll have a team of aligned people focused on the same positive goal, and a heightened awareness of what the group is doing and why.

Encourage employees to explore the possibilities: Unleash all creative juices and brainstorm with employees how you can make your vision a reality. Don? t just "think outside the box" ? throw the box away altogether. Fresh ideas, stretched minds, and energetic interactions can lead to higher morale, cohered teams, a keen focus on what? s most important, and a clearer picture of desired opportunities (allowing you to better recognize them when they appear).

Last updated: Sep 4, 2001




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