How Smart Leaders Manage Uncertain Times
BY Kevin Daum
If one thing is certain, times are uncertain. Still, everyone wants a path to success. Here Inc. columnists share tips to create stability in this constantly changing world.
Once again, the politicians have led this country to the brink of economic destruction. Maybe the issues will be resolved in time, and maybe they won't. I don't know about you, but as a businessperson I find all this posturing and whipsawing of the economy exhausting. This century to date has been one stretch of uncertainty after another. War, economic crisis, technological disruption and political upheaval have forced everyone to do business in a world where the only consistency is in change and unpredictability.
Assuming our world doesn't stabilize anytime soon, you'll need to figure out how to plan and succeed in this constant volatility. Jim Collins, this week's Inc. 5000 keynote speaker, provides great examples of companies who excelled at managing through uncertainty. You can learn their best practices in his book Great By Choice. My own approach is to prioritize areas I can control so I am ready for whatever the fates have in store. My top planning priorities are managing cash flow, creating intellectual property and budgeting my time. Everything else can flex as events unfold.
Here are more insights from my fellow Inc.com columnists:
1. Ride the Wave
Instead of fighting the waves of change--or even worse, drowning in them--learn to surf them. Change is not going anywhere anytime soon, so the sooner you learn to deal with uncertainty and unpredictability, the better. Do this by upping communication throughout your organization, creating fluid hierarchies, being fully transparent and improvising whenever necessary. Invest more in your knowledge workers and encourage your employees to be entrepreneurial. Keep your eye over the horizon and anticipate change rather than respond to it. Peter Economy--The Management Guy
The question is not if your organization will experience uncertain times ... the question is when. In order to be successful during times of uncertainty, your organization must be patient, it must be consistent and it must focus on a goal that serves as its one true North. The goal of your organization--the reason you exist and what you bring to the world--should serve as the litmus test for everything that you do as you work through uncertainty. Staying true to your organization's goal helps you prioritize as you sort through the chaos surrounding you. Make sure your company knows what its mission is, remind your team of that goal and drive toward it. Doing so puts uncertainty in its place as an unnecessary distraction from your company's true potential. Eric Holtzclaw--Lean Forward
In times like these, the adage that "cash is king" carries more weight than ever--poor cash flow kills otherwise successful companies in uncertain times. Keep in mind, too, that volatile environments create big opportunities as well as big problems. Having available cash or credit will allow you to grab those opportunities when you see them. Finally, don't be frightened by rapid change. If you're running a company, you know how to tolerate risk and make decisions in the face of multiple unknowns. You already have the right skills for unpredictable times. Minda Zetlin--Start Me Up
The only constant is change. Over the past fifteen years, thanks to the Internet and social media, the business world has seen an unprecedented rate of change. In today's landscape, adaptability is key. The secrets to adaptability are threefold: build a strong, open-minded leadership team; maintain as flat, non-hierarchical an organization as possible; and ask lots of questions of your staff, customers and prospects. Their answers and your ability to listen and implement change will help your organization thrive in an ever-changing world. Dave Kerpen--Likeable Leadership
When the real estate market crashed, one of my coaching clients, a real estate attorney, immediately positioned herself as a short-sale expert. Her business boomed while competitors closed their doors. If your revenues are generated by one product or service, or worse yet, one major client, look for ways to diversify your offerings. Branch out into other markets, or fill a gap in your existing market with additional products or services. Perhaps it's time for a strategic alliance or joint venture. And don't get too comfortable if sales rely on that one big account; even giants fall in tough times. Marla Tabaka--The Successful Soloist
Do you know how long people have been saying, "Change is the only constant?" Literally more than 2,500 years. There's nothing unusual about the pace of change in this century. Look at the last century. RCA introduced television to the U.S. at the 1939 World's Fair. A little over a decade later, 44 million people (29 percent of all Americans then alive) watched a single episode of "I Love Lucy." In between, we saw a depression, a world war, another war in Korea, the development of RADAR, mass production of penicillin and nuclear weapons. So don't worry about trying to predict the future. Instead revel in it, and train yourself to react quickly. "Plans are nothing; planning is everything." Bill Murphy Jr.--DC Bill