Opinion: Prepare to Lead in a New Business Climate

A picture of RVDA speaker Mike Bensi

I had to replace my AC unit this summer. It stopped working during a week of 90-degree heat at the end of June. I told my wife the fact the unit broke caught me by surprise, but deep down, I knew the AC was on its last leg two summers ago. I did nothing about it because the AC was still working, so why would I bother to fix it?

The same week the air conditioner stopped, I had the opportunity to facilitate an executive team retreat. The company was coming off its best quarter ever. Many in the group were excited about the future and how they could continue to grow.

Many leaders in the room had not experienced the issues arising in businesses today. Even with the pandemic, the company saw successful years in the past decade. Everything was working, so why would the group fix anything?

Perhaps their view is like yours. For the past couple of years, the RV industry focused on ensuring you had enough people working in departments to meet the overwhelming sales and service demand.

If you watch the news, we were given recession warnings. Others say we already are there. Sales may be slowing and/or demand is decreasing. Perhaps your employees and customers are worried about what is to come.

This article is not about predicting whether we are headed toward, or are already in, a recession. I stopped predicting things after I thought Covid would be over by July…2020.

Rather, if we are returning to more normal or slower business cycles, this article will show how your requirements as a leader are different from those practiced the past two years. Here are some points leaders need to keep in mind in a changing business climate.

Don’t fight change. We often hold ourselves, and others, back when addressing issues because we are afraid of the accompanying changes. Maybe we fear something small, like a tough conversation with a co-worker. Or maybe we want to avoid starting a new project. Resisting needed change is a strong warning sign the time to act is now. If you are feeling concerned about today’s world, don’t fight the concept of how the world is changing. Recognize change is necessary.

Don’t believe your current state lasts forever. Seeing revenue increase over multiple quarters may have given the leadership team a false sense of security. However, avoid letting success get to your head. Use the success period you have now as an opportunity to ask what could be better—or perhaps just, “What if…?”

Know the problem won’t disappear on its own. I thought the AC unit would last forever, and if a problem arose, the situation would magically fix itself. If you are dealing with an issue in your business today—with a customer, employee, etc.—you may think the problem will resolve itself.

You hope someone will suddenly understand the performance issues you have discussed with them about for months. You hope your newly promoted manager will understand what showing empathy means. Problems, however, typically do not age well. Act rather than wait.

Have a plan. The company I mentioned earlier was coming off its best quarter. A different client, however, was in the same boat but looked at more than mere revenue numbers.

Rather than planning for more growth and trying to continue its winning streak, the second client saw things differently. Luckily, they saw enough in the market to know business was going to slow. Though the client does not have a crystal ball (and neither do I), that client
is creating a plan to be prepared for new circumstances.

Go deeper, not wider. This saying is a useful reminder about intentionally choosing the customers you want to work with, the employees you want to keep and hire, and the products and services in your skill set. Over the past two years, perhaps you have expanded services or hired different employee skill sets than you did in the past. That is not always a bad strategy, but sometimes leaders become distracted from a business’ core and the people they want to serve.

Address situations quickly. When the time to act arises, be ready to move quickly. When we are facing change, for the above reasons, our decision-making often slows or stops entirely. For example, if you know you must address poor performance with an employee
or a group, do not wait to conduct the conversation.

Share more than you want to. Early in the pandemic, employee engagement was at an all-time high because companies were transparent and communicating constantly. We do not have to return to that pace, but you cannot expect employees to just fall in line with the adjustments you need to make.

You and the leadership team worked diligently on upcoming changes. You looked at those changes every which way. You’ve got this. Your employees, however, have not been part of that work.

They did not have a say, and they do not know whether you’ve got this or not. They may not even understand why adjustments are necessary. When teams have worked persistently on deciding which changes to make, to keep talking about those changes can feel exhausting. Still, be prepared to continue the conversation beyond the initial announcement.

Read. I am a firm believer you do not have to listen to everyone, not even me. Most predictions are wrong. Still, you are not allowed to stick your head in the sand. Continue to read and stay in touch with your customers, employees and core vendors to understand where you may need to act or pivot.

Look for opportunities. Many companies get started during downtimes for a reason. Mergers and acquisitions, as well as many other prospects, arise during slower business periods. However, you must be open and looking for opportunities rather than residing in a place of scarcity.

Mike Bensi helps organizations build strategies for transforming their culture and employees, as well as the leaders who support them. Bensi trains leaders on the importance of culture, putting employees first and the role leaders play in accomplishing both. Bensi previously worked with small companies, global organizations and the government. He is the author of “The Success of Failure” and is a keynote speaker on employee engagement, HR and leadership.

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