The most critical step for businesses enmeshed in today's troubled economy is to take a critical look at the future. Too many executives and senior managers are preoccupied with increasing government intrusion and control, financial survival, and fear of the unknown. The challenge facing most company executives is how to foster a shared vision that will motivate discouraged employees, provide direction through uncharted waters, and survive the ravages of the economy.
The question of "How do we remain competitive in the perfect storm of changing culture, increased reliance on vulnerable technology, and stressed out cash flow? Companies have painted themselves into a corner by reducing resources and placing a greater burden for performance on those that remain. Instead of identifying and reducing waste and getting rid of it, too many managers have simply "papered over" these problems and taken the easy way out for making the bottom line look good - lay offs.
Many managers operate without a clear cut sense of purpose or shared vision. Their focus is on their own survival rather than on the whole organization. They place the greater importance on the attainment of their goals and objectives, failing to see that if they make the entire organization whole, they will meet and exceed their own goals and objectives. This self-centered approach blindsides them when it comes to planning and implementing realistic improvement programs and initiatives. This often leads to lip service type support which in turn results in "just another flavor of the month".
The management of today's failing companies is failing their stakeholders because they lack the ability or perhaps worse - the will to take an approach of anticipation and innovation.
The Manager's Sphere of Influence
A manager's ability to influence self is much greater than his/her ability to manager others or things. This self influence is driven by the manager's vision; he/she exerts influence by building a shared vision. When people enroll in a manager's vision, they become much more committed to making it happen. Things are inanimate object and as such are not susceptible to the influence of a human being.
The company's management team must shift its focus to the long term and address the company's very survival. They can only accomplish this by building a strategic focus and communicating it to every employee. I was fortunate to be a part of such an initiative when I worked for NABISCO. Mr. Jim Kilts came on board and performed a turn around miracle by just such an approach. He taught his management team to think strategically and then apply that thinking to accomplish the vision he set forth.
To begin with Management must have a sense of the mission of the company and their part in it. The next step is for the Senior Management team to agree on and communicate a vision for accomplishing that mission. It is not enough to just come up with a vision statement, it has to be a shared vision that all employees have enrolled in. Buy-in will not work because it is coercive in nature. People have to "WANT" to be a part of the vision for it to work properly. Another aspect of a successful vision is that it must be "wrapped" in a set of corporate values, by which all employees will operate to accomplish the mission and vision.
Making the Vision a Reality
The vision will be little more than a dream unless it is put into motion with a set of strategies for accomplishing it. The strategy is a high-level look at a set of goals and objectives coupled with a plan of action for accomplishing each strategy. A strategy is a complete waste of time without a measurement system to determine if the goals and objectives are being accomplished in a timely manner.
Once the strategies and measurement system are in place, the management team establishes a set of strategic initiatives to carry out each strategy. Each strategic initiative is then defined by the personal objectives of lower level managers and a budget agreed upon to carry out those planned objectives.
In the recent past, too many managers took very risky short cuts and circumvented the controls which keep the system functioning as it was designed to. To make matters worse, there was little accountability in the system. Without a value system tied to the mission or any accountability for those who did have a defined set of values, the walls came tumbling down.
The Current System Is Built On Fear
When the bubble burst on the housing market and the Sub-Prime scandal came to light, management shifted into a culture of worry and fear. They tool their eyes off of what it takes to keep their companies afloat and the fear spread at an alarming pace. They took the easy way out caring little for those they hurt.
Worry is the misuse of imagination! In this case it was a gross misuse as it took away energy vital to surviving the resulting economic turmoil. The energy should have been applied to creating a new culture of anticipation and innovation. They missed the golden opportunity to create long term stability and profitability.
Sure it was compounded by the instability of the financial markets and the inability to maintain cash flow. The problem is they became self eating hotdogs that did little to help quickly restore confidence to the market and to the financial institutions.
The lack of a systematic long-term approach did more to prolong the impact of the recession than any other factor. Simply put; they were all caught flat footed because they were looking in the wrong direction and failed to see the signs that should have enabled them to anticipate and create. They became paralyzed by fear and selfishness.
The fear continues as the government seizes control of new and uncharted waters in the name of saving the economy. It has been said that we are experiencing a jobless recovery. That is hogwash, for without jobs; there will not be a recovery. We are stretched too thin economically.
Government is not the savior, no matter what they claim.
The solution to our economic woes lies not in more and more government, but in the inspired leadership of America's boardrooms and entrepreneurs. Until companies step up to the plate and meet their obligations to their stakeholder, companies will continue to flounder and the economy will be lack luster at best.
It is time to stop making excuses and looking for handouts and to apply that "Yankee Ingenuity" that made this country great and the example for the world. They must provide the leadership and vision necessary to turn their part of the economy around and they must do it quickly. If not, they don't deserve the pay associated with their positions regardless of whether or not they have a contract.