Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Business Mistake #17: The “Possum” Strategy

News that home foreclosures are continuing to rise has put a wet blanket on consumer spending. The banking bailouts have not only shaken the confidence in one of America’s most conservative business institutions but it has also made precious credit for growth even more difficult to come by. And, on top of all of this, we have a new President about to take office with practically a one party Congress.

How is a business owner suppose to plan in this environment? If you are like most, you will freeze and resign yourselves and your company to whatever fate bestows upon you - hoping for hopes sake you can react quickly enough to limit the damage from the new market forces.

In psychological terms the act of “freezing” in the face of anxiety or danger is known as tonic immobility. It is a natural state of paralysis that animals enter, in most cases when presented with a threat. Though often proven beneficial in the natural environment, in the world of business, where time can be a costly enemy, this in-action can have grave consequences.

A quick calculation can show you the cost of a one month delay in reacting to a downturn in the economy. Let’s assume that market forces drove you to the difficult conclusion to reduce your workforce by ten employees. If these employees were making an average base salary of $60,000, then a one month delay in making this decision would cost you roughly $150,000. Two months, $300,000 in cash.

So, what is a business owner to do when faced with an unknown horizon. I have found from working with numerous companies that the unknown is really not that big of a mystery. The toughest task is usually finding the time for you and your leadership team to get away from the day-to-day chaos and really think about this. A facilitator may be helpful here as they are equipped with a wealth of information gathering and processing tools and can keep you focused on the task at hand. The goal is to identify the most likely scenarios you may be facing. Most, who complete this exercise, end up with a “good” scenario and then a “worst case” scenario. The rest are just variations in between.

The way to prepare for this exercise is to talk with others - your customers, suppliers, or clients and see what they think about the future. But try to be as specific as you can. Ask leading questions that will garner answers you can work with. It is one thing to hear from you customer that they are forecasting fewer sales next year. It is significantly more helpful to learn they are forecasting a 30% reduction in sales. Also, read your industry magazines and see what the editors are saying about the horizon. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn from all of these sources.

By writing these different scenarios down you will have taken the first step in establishing control over your company’s destiny by eliminating some of the mystery about the future. But writing this down is not enough. Creating a strategic plan for each scenario will provide you additional piece of mind - a script for each play. Defining the “indicators” that will help you judge which scenario is actually occurring and then watching for these signs will also further empower you.

Playing possum may work in the wild kingdom. In a good economy this in-action may result in your missing a business opportunity or two. But tonic immobility in a demanding and challenging economy, where every bad decision has exponential consequences, can be catastrophic.

About the author: Mike Gomez is the President of Allegro Consulting, an Atlanta-based business growth specialty firm. Allegro provides operating advice to businesses and organizations on a wide range of management issues that effect growth, such as strategic and organizational planning, marketing, sales and business process improvement. www.AllegroConsultant.com