Tools & Technologies

How to Manage Your Business in a Recession: "#2 Keep Investing in the Core"

The January 19, 2009 edition of Fortune magazine features an article entitled “How to Manage Your Business in a Recession”, authored by Geoff Colvin (pp.66-71). Inside, Geoff lays out 10 ways to weather the current economic storm. He starts:

“Exciting as it is to be living through historic economic drama, you can’t just stand by and watch. You have to act–yet you have no script. So much of today’s turmoil is unprecedented that we can’t find much guidance by looking to the past. For managers across the global economy, as well as for Team Obama on its way to Washington, today’s great question is, What do we do now?”

Let’s take Geoff’s 10 principles, and analyze the implications for your collaboration strategy (see the links to all 10 principles). Let’s turn our attention to principle #2 … “keep investing in the core.”

2. Keep Investing in the Core
When this recession ends, will your firm be more competitive or less? Geoff writes that you need to keep funding your most critical competencies, such as product innovation, customer service, employee development, and more.

Here are key actions to take with respect to your collaboration strategy.

Optimize Your Core
This isn’t about getting 6-pack abs, but rather re-examining how you execute on your most critical competencies. If it’s product innovation, are there ways that you can get more bang-for-your-innovation investment dollars by using collaboration technology to propagate new ideas better and faster across the business?

If it’s customer service, you should already have a great knowledge sharing and expertise identification strategy to ensure the right customers get serviced by the right people every time. Are there ways that you can increase the capability of this, to make customer service work even better? And if you don’t have such a system, or if the “system” requires too much manual cross-checking and correlation across multiple systems by front-line staff, then it’s time to look for efficiencies.

Clarity on What Makes Us Special
I’m sure that you have clarify on what makes your firm special (right?), but is that shared across the firm? If it is likely that the composition of your employee base is going to change over the next few months, you will need to find a way of keeping the “what makes us special?” discussion alive and well. You need to keep reinforcing the principles and differentiation that should remain consistent, even while the rules of the game are changing.

Collaboration technology could support this via a blog on your intranet where top management can post thoughts in text and video about what makes the business special. It could also become a place where employees could tell stories about how they are enacting the firm’s points of differentiation on a daily basis. In other words, it’s a place to stake claim to what the core is, and to reinforce it in a social setting.

Employee Development
Don’t stop developing your employees! You may want to cut out the expensive conference trips that are “really nice” but not essential, and allow employees to get the same learnings in other ways.

If you have a suitably large employee base, or you can aggregate demand in a smaller firm for certain learning objectives, collaboration tools that support the formation of communities of practice or communities of interest are good to do. Using collaboration tools for these purposes means that employees have a virtual place to meet and share stories, experiences and insights … which both spreads the ideas to others in the firm, and provides an ongoing place where others can join in the future and discover what’s been done before and who the movers and shakers are. Systems such as these provide a place for employees to build engagement with others from the firm, and can become a force multiplier that keeps great employees from looking elsewhere. Any system that provides email-enabled discussion forums–that is, a place for having discussions, and email alerts to pull people back into the place–is what you need. And equally, if you have a way to host online meetings on a topic of interest, and to then record and publish that for later access, you have most of what you want. Add a community moderator / facilitator / agitator … and you’re on your way.

Some learning objectives can be met just as well through outside organizations. Toastmasters for excellence in public speaking should be a natural choice for developing employees in this way. And in such cases, beyond the core learning objectives of public speaking, these local organizations provide a forum for employees to network and develop relationships with like-minded people from local firms.

What Else?
What strategies of success are you embracing as the economic indicators spread fear and alarm?

Categories: Tools & Technologies