Have there been times during your career where you felt like you have lost focus in your business? Outside influences may have affected the course you had set, tossing your business plan into a turbulent storm – or even into chaos. Perhaps the policies coming from Washington, DC, have left you scratching your head as to directional control of your business. You may have been elated by election results, or perhaps dismayed.
Tax reform, health care, immigration, and trade policies all are major issues as the Trump Administration tries to find its governing legs. These shifts in policy can induce headaches for business owners.
In manufacturing businesses, many employees, customers, and suppliers look to their manager as that gray-haired, seasoned hand at the controls, steady-as-she-goes leader to guide them safely through the unsettled air. What happens when all you see around you are ominous clouds of change with no clear path to predictability?
"Uncertainty" is where many leaders have been flying at one time or another. Optimistically, they are heading towards a destination, but not seeing the safest route to follow.
Picture yourself as a pilot, navigating your aircraft through some particularly rough weather. You’re at 10,000 feet, making moment-to-moment decisions. You’re maintaining all of the proper protocols, minding all of the necessary instrumentation—when suddenly your control panel lights up like a Christmas tree and gauges start fluttering wildly. Alerts begin to chirp throughout the cabin. There’s a problem—and it’s up to you to rectify it, or mitigate the situation as well as you can to ensure a safe landing.
After some clear-headed evaluation under pressure—and following the methods and protocols you’ve been taught—you identify the source of the problem and make the educated decision to continue your flight until its final destination. You land safely, a bit shaken but relieved that proper training allowed you to make the right decisions to ensure the safety of the passengers on board.
Leading a business through policy or regulatory turbulence can make you feel like a pilot making snap decisions when the weather and atmosphere has suddenly turned threatening. In such a situation, it’s important to know that confusion becomes normal, that every past assumption may now be a challenge, and that it is your preparation, experience, and trust in your training that will guide you through the adversity. The four steps that follow can help you to keep your company flying high and stable when the winds begin to shift.
1. First things first. In your businesses, you have to do the most important things first — and keep doing them while dealing with problems that inevitably will arise. So, what are your business's core elements for success? Can your employees list them? Many business owners or leaders will respond that "customer service" is among their core principles. But, what are the three most effective drivers of excellent customer service that are unique to your business? Ask yourself, and your team, to excel at those three things.
If you don't know the essential elements of your success, you had better figure them out quickly. The real turbulence will start when customers go looking for a better, more in-control supplier.
2. Confession time. Not unlike identifying where you are going to execute an off-airport landing, you need to have an honest discussion with yourself about the turbulent situation and your capabilities. In the context of business, you need to be honest with yourself about what you’re struggling with and find a better way of getting the job done. Perhaps in your business, it means outsourcing HR to an employment agency, switching suppliers, or firing a problem customer. But, be honest with yourself about the weaknesses in your operation and commit to addressing them.
3. Organize your affairs. Are you communicating with everyone in your supply chain who is vital to your business success, from customers to suppliers, to vendors and financial advisors? Do you have a communication plan for each of these critical constituents and who owns that plan? To whom is the plan owner accountable?
Sit down with a blank piece of paper. Draw a circle in the middle of it, and inside the circle write the name of your business. Take 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to write down all the key connections/relationships you need to maintain your business's success. Next, write down all the names of the people in your organization who should be the “owner” of each of these vital relationships. Meet with those persons and be clear as you explain to them the importance of that responsibility for the success of the organization.
4. Trust the system. Finally, work on the problems. How many times have you seen people work hard at a problem without ever really taking on the core issue? You are the pilot of your business. It is up to you to take control and keep your team focused. Many companies have vast institutional knowledge within the organization. Identify that knowledge within your organization, and trust that experience to solve the problems. If those individuals know what is critical to your business success, it’s likely they will resolve the problem without needing very much input from you.
“Good” times are just that; they’re easy. It's the challenging times where you need to extend your confidence and engage the wisdom available to you or in reserve. Confidence and wisdom are the resources that you will need as the political and economic issues that impact every business develop around us, issues like corporate tax reform, healthcare options and requirements, and changes in U.S. trade policies. You may determine the climate for business is turbulent, but if you follow your training and trust your experience and decision-making ability, you can guide your organization through adversity.
Jeff Bush is a financial industry veteran, a specialist on tax and fiscal policies, and the author of "American Cornerstones: History’s Insights on Today’s Issues." He works with executive teams, business owners, and high-income individuals to prepare to succeed in an evolving market. Learn more at www.JeffBush.net.