With all the uncertainty in the world today, it's hard for any business owner or entrepreneur to stay positive. Based on my experience and a business advisor and mentor, this is the ideal time to get back to the basics of business leadership and innovation.
There is no magic formula, but I'm certain one of the keys is to build and maintain a positive team culture, despite all the unknowns.
For example, I've always been impressed with how improvisational comedy never loses its positive impact, no matter how controversial the subject matter. It draws on the current social culture and harsh realities to make everyone approach a negative subject with a fresh look and innovative approaches.
Here are some ways that same outlook can be applied to your business:
1. Try new things, and keep the focus on learning.
Make sure everyone on your team sees every new business experiment as a positive learning experience, even if it fails. You are the model here, so keep a smile on your face, provide positive feedback, and continue to think outside the box to find new approaches while minimizing risk.
Elon Musk, as an example, is impressive in his broad knowledge and interest in electric vehicles, getting humans into space, and new energy technologies. He proclaims that constant learning is a key part of his success, as well as his motivation to work harder.
2. Provide the resources and training to get the job done.
Empower and facilitate your team in getting change done, with or without you. Don't tolerate or play the blame game. Also, don't be hesitant to remove those who refuse to stay current, or who undermine the remainder of the team through actions or attitude. Small teams are often most effective.
3. Double your positive communication on the "why."
Team members can't help you overcome any challenge if they don't understand where you are coming from and why. Make it a positive message, and the team will line up with you to creatively deliver. The human response to no message, or a negative one, is to hide or jump ship in a crisis.
These days, customers as well as team members, need to be able to relate to a higher purpose for your business, such as protecting the environment, or helping the disadvantaged. Toms Shoes, founded by Blake Mycoskie, has led the way in the why.
4. Be persistent in your change implementation.
Team members recognize and support business leaders tenacious in their implementation of change, rather than ones who quickly jump from one idea to another, with minimal follow-through or analysis. Be sure to tie changes back to the why: Customer value, business objectives, and competition.
5. Publicly reward risk-taking and new ideas.
Peer recognition is a powerful motivator, and is often more effective than monetary bonuses. Practice active listening and frequent feedback, but be sure to hold people accountable for follow-through. Through mentoring and coaching, you can build a culture of sharing and collaboration throughout the team.
Richard Branson, who now controls more than 400 companies in multiple industries, attributes much of his success to his focus on rewarding key people with the opportunity to run his new companies. He considers mentoring one of his most critical roles at work.
6. Schedule regular brainstorming and practice sessions.
You and your team need to be comfortable working together, and practice makes perfect. Sessions can be off-site to create a sense of entertainment, but need to be realistic in creating a sense of urgency and building a culture of thinking outside the box, and creating implementation plans.
7. Make forecasting future business needs a way of life.
All businesses are facing huge challenges in the world today, and that won't be changing anytime soon. If you approach your present difficulties as a near-term problem only, your competition will outpace you. Set the model and send the message that you expect your team to think like futurists.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon proclaims that his company has always taken a long-term view of change, assuming a five- to seven-year time frame before a change idea is fully vetted and implemented.
Uncertainty has been the norm for startups and entrepreneurs for a long time, and I see no sign of it changing. Unfortunately, many business leaders have forgotten the principles that helped them to thrive and survive while the business was young, in favor of the apparent comfort of stable unchanging processes, and "the way things have always been done."
Let this new age of uncertainty be a reminder of the challenges you once overcame, and the confidence and skills you already have to continue to prosper.