by Granville Triumph
We live in complex, often turbulent, times. Terrorism, violence, economic uncertainty and political brinkmanship — just to name a few of the issues we face — make it difficult to plot a long-range course for your business. How do you adjust your growth strategy? Where do you make investments? What level of risk are you able and willing to tolerate?
These are the questions that trouble leaders when the future is especially ambiguous and uncertain. When tomorrow looks bright and rosy, it’s easy to focus on driving growth. When black clouds are gathering, survival becomes paramount. In times of uncertainty, leaders must strike a balance — not giving up on growth, but taking care not to overextend the business, either.
The good news is that organizations can not only survive but thrive in this environment. The trick is to focus on disciplined, sustainable growth while carefully managing risk and emphasizing strong business relationships.
Disciplined growth involves playing to your strengths. Emphasize the products, services and skill sets that made your company successful. Invest in your employees, their talents and the tools they need to work together as a team. Ensure that your policies and management propel them forward rather than holding them back. By building upon what you do best, your business will continue to grow without the risks associated with entering new markets and launching new products. Growth may not be as fast with this strategy but it will be sustainable.
Managing risk requires you to analyze potential weaknesses in your operations and take steps to minimize the impact of a negative event. For example, are you overly reliant on one particular customer? What about one particular employee? Are your suppliers reliable? What about your IT systems? Managing these potential risks is vital in any business climate but becomes especially important in times of uncertainty. Organizations need to ensure that they have sufficient autonomy to weather breakdowns in systems or relationships.
This requires a clear strategy and focus on the overarching needs of the business. Leaders need to ensure that employees understand the big picture, and give them the authority to respond quickly to any issues that threaten your operations.
At the same time, businesses need to build strong relationships that can sustain them in times of uncertainty. If your relationship with a customer or supplier is through one individual, what happens if that individual is no longer there? If one employee is solely responsible for 10 customer accounts, what happens if that employee leaves? Strong relationships are built with multiple interconnections involving a number of people in different roles. They involve teamwork and information sharing such that the parties feel invested in one another. They create a network you can call upon for assistance when issues arise.
Leading in times of uncertainty is not easy. It requires a different set of skills and strategies than leading in times of prosperity or economic distress. However, leaders who are capable of mastering uncertainty will build stronger, more resilient organizations that thrive in any climate.