Leading people during the downturn

BUSINESS MATTERS BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE - Francis J. Kong (The Philippine Star) - February 28, 2021 - 12:00am

“Cost-cutting measures are in place. Preservation of resources. Cut down on marketing and training; these are expenses we do not need during the downturn.” These are familiar expressions running in many business organizations. Why do all these things and terms strike a sense of nostalgia with me?

That is the privilege of having gone through similar economic downturns in the past. It indeed reminds me of the knee-jerk reactions business organizations would do when a crisis strikes. And being an entrepreneur myself, I would say “rightly so!” because of the initial shock and the necessity of preserving cash. But history serves as a good teacher – but only if the student is willing to learn. Hindsight is 20-20 vision – but only when we are eager to see.

Many organizations that embarked on these measures may have recovered through the initial shocks. But what they may not have realized is that stop-gap-measures are not long-term strategies. When the economy rebounded, they found themselves losing their lead and market share and their people unprepared to take on new opportunities that would open up. In marketing, the age-old adage applies. “Out of sight, out of mind.” Successful companies are building their brands even during the downturn. The difference here is that they are doing marketing creatively and resourcefully. And what about training? With digital platforms, future-focused companies are now actively engaged in utilizing these tools to train and prepare their people and equip them with the readiness to explore and exploit opportunities when the economy opens. Marketing? You still have to build your brand. Training? You still have to equip, empower, and enable your people and even more so today, as you prepare them to take the lead when the economy opens up.

Pandemic or no pandemic, this leadership principle remains the same. When products and services are alike, the only competitive advantage your business will have is that your people will have to outthink, outperform, outsmart, out behave, and outsell competitors.

If these were normal times, we would have sent our people to the industry’s leading conferences if the virus is not there and had the budget to do so. However, in these challenging economic times, we need to be creative and resourceful. We have to find more imaginative ways to equip them as leaders. Here are some suggestions:

1. Address their stresses and challenges

Provide the people with webinars on achieving physical, mental, relational, and fiscal wellness. Guide on how to do Remote Work effectively. These training pieces should not come with a strict instructional set of teaching but with an inspirational and encouraging tone that can uplift their spirit and provide them with the knowledge to navigate the new work norm and environment. It has been said that “Any training that does not include the emotions, mind, and body is incomplete; knowledge fades without feeling.”

2. Lead by listening

Many leaders are fast and driven to impart what they know, but they may be too slow to learn about the issues, challenges, or people’s strengths and contributions. Reverse the process by first studying and observing the strong suits of your teammates. Then, lead by listening. Good leaders have mastered the art of asking questions that prompt people to develop their solutions and guide them as they design their systems for getting the job done. John Holt said, “The biggest enemy to learning is the talking teacher.”

3. Let their ideas fly faster

Empowering people means equipping people. Leaders provide a safe environment for their people to voice out their ideas. If the ideas presented are worth implementing, then lessen the bureaucracies and egos and make things happen. William Pollard says: “It is the responsibility of leadership to provide opportunity, and the responsibility of individuals to contribute.”

4. Provide them tools

Provide the team with relevant articles and update them with developments. Point them to webinars or online conferences that can equip them with the knowledge and information to deal with the situation now and poise them to take the lead tomorrow. Training may at first look like time is wasted, and it drags down productivity. But the principle to consider is that in order to bring another up to speed, specific tasks may have to be sacrificed in the short term to equip people for the long term properly.We want our people to have a vision of hope. To equip them now and poise them to explore and exploit future opportunities once the economy turns. Support that vision with provisions to avoid frustration.

There is a myriad of things happening that we do not understand. But as the old saying goes: “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forwards.”



(Connect with Francis Kong at ww.facebook.com/franciskong2. Or listen to “Business Matters” Monday to Friday at 8:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. over 98.7 DZFE-FM ‘The Master’s Touch,’ the classical music station.)

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