Plenty of manufacturers and technology-based companies have endured difficult times before, particularly in the Great Lakes Region, home of the US Rust Belt. Companies located in all parts of the US and the world are now enduring the impact of the world-wide economic downturn. So what do we know about how companies have actually managed to grow and prosper in difficult times?
One of the best studies into these questions has been conducted during the last 20 years by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and Built to Last. The lessons of now quite large firms like Proctor & Gamble, General Electric, Boeing, IBM and Johnson & Johnson survived and grew are useful. These companies all survived the infamous Depression in the 1930s, WWII and other economic challenges during the last 50 years. Unfortunately, other some other companies like AIG, Lehman Bros, General Motors and Chrysler, which survived similar economic downturns, have become victims of the current global recession. What is there to learn? Read on.
The lessons of the companies that have managed to sustain themselves are useful. Consider the following characteristics of these survivors that have all grown:
- Take the long-view, focus on developing a 10 year Vision of where you aspire for your company to be.
- Be clear on what you stand for as a company and the Values that your company holds closely. In difficult times your Values become your anchor.
- Understand what your company is the very best at doing and make these capabilities stronger, resist doing the things you don’t do well.
- Identify what “drives your economic engine”, which market segments and customers are your most profitable and that your company matches up the best with in terms of sales and profitability.
- Keep a close watch on your competitors, know what they are doing, which markets and products they are focusing on, and what customers say about their performance.
- Continually improve your competitive advantage against your competitors in every market segment you serve.
- Make sure your message is clear and compelling, is directly connected to your competitive advantage, and that customers understand:
- What’s in it for them to work with your company,
- Why they should care about your products or services and
- Why they should believe that you can deliver on your commitments
- Most importantly, if your are the leader of your company balance the Catch 22 of humility and drive to achieve your vision. Focus on your people first and find the best ones you can to be on your team long-term.
These characteristics of companies that have survived and prospered over a long period of time should be a guiding light for your company to develop its own plan to survive and prosper today. This approach will allow your employees to have ultimate confidence that the company will survive and grow through difficult times, while simultaneously focusing on improving weaknesses and changing anything necessary to achieve your vision except what your stand for, your Values.