Facing Business Turbulence – Jump, Fasten Your Seat Belts or Soar Higher?

One of the biggest challenges faced by business leaders is knowing when to stay the course and when to realign the strategic path when conditions drastically change in the market or industry. As a leader, you’ve surveyed the external environment, looked at your organizational strengths, developed your strategy, and have rallied your workforce behind the vision….then….something beyond your control hits you from out of nowhere.

Just as everyone waits to hear the announcement from the pilot and looks towards the fasten seat belt sign when things start to get bumpy, your direct reports and employees look to you for guidance and reassurance that the path you have chosen is the correct one. So, is this the time to stay the course, push higher to gain altitude and rise above the turbulence, or drop down in the hopes of riding it out?

If you have been diligently following good management practices of continually surveying the external environment for early indicators of change, hopefully you will never find yourself here, but in these economic times we have learned to “expect the unexpected.” Only resilient and adaptive companies have been able to weather the storm and emerge stronger. Does this mean that you have to change strategy and recast your vision every few months- no, but contingency planning has to be part of any corporate action plan.

While expect the worst and hope for better might seem like an overly conservative way to run the business, if the fundamentals are in place, controls and accountability are established, robust forward looking metrics have been developed, and there is ongoing management dialogue, minor tweaks to actions or changes in timing are probably all that is needed to stay on course.

Based on my experience of navigating the unprecedented storm that occurred in the North American automotive industry I would recommend leaders facing turbulent times keep these 3 actions in mind:

1. Establish a 3-5 year vision but recognize that there is more than one way to get there.

We have all looked at a map and identified a number of highways that will take us to our end destination. Depending on the terrain (business conditions) we may choose to take the fast highway or the meandering side road. We will reach our destination but we have to be prepared to adapt to the changing conditions and change route from time to time.

2. Engage management and workforce in the journey

Open communication and partnership will ensure that everyone is adapting to the changing environment. By encouraging conversation and dialogue, leaders will gain credibility and trust through consistent messaging. By sharing the information regarding the environmental change, the entire workforce will gain an understanding of why changes are taking place and will work in partnership with leaders to stay on course.

3. Don’t change everything- find your touchstones

Consistent management practices, continuing to live core values, maintaining traditions, avoiding the tendency for “executive retreat”, and “doing what you said you would do” go a long way in reestablishing balance and security during turbulent times. By having these familiar touchstones everyone involved can remain calm and focused allowing the business to weather the storm and emerge with the its foundation intact. Recovery is quicker, trust is preserved, and the business is stronger having faced the challenge and overcome it successfully.

Prudent business leaders continually survey the external environment for changes but when unexpected turbulence hits, whether you decide to jump, fasten your seat belt, or climb higher, having the support of your management and workforce can make the difference between just surviving or thriving. By demonstrating adaptability, maintaining open communication, and preserving the unique identity of your business, you will gain the trust and loyalty of those who are in best position to help you weather the storm.