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Life has continually shown us that nothing lasts forever. This is useful to remember as we struggle to keep afloat amid a depressed global economy and tough local business conditions.
This, too, will pass. However, according to Spencer Johnston of Who Moved my Cheese? fame, how you act during your peaks will affect how well you are able to survive the valleys and vice versa.
This is worth remembering during challenging times, even though it’s easy to lose sight of anything other than pure survival.
In order to cut costs, many companies react to hardship by cutting staff, systems and capital expenditure. Sometimes this is crucial for survival, but prescient managers and business leaders who have weathered previous downturns understand the importance of balancing cutbacks with an investment in what remains behind.
Before you downsize, it’s essential to ask two key questions.
First, how are you going to maintain your business standards and productivity? Second, how are you going to ramp up when things improve?
History has provided plenty of examples of companies that took many years to reap the rewards of an upturn because they didn’t have the staff to maximise fleeting windows of business opportunity.
Instead, they spent their time employing new staff to fill the holes created by their last wave of retrenchments. It’s a common mistake, but one that can be avoided.
Instead of focusing on the number of employees, emphasis should be placed on the quality of staff, and the ability of leaders to draw the best out of them.
Essentially, one highly talented and motivated employee can be far more valuable than three average and uninspired workers – great news for companies that are struggling to maintain productivity after retrenchments.
The secret is to get the most out of existing staff. How well you do this will depend on your ability to recognise and use their natural talents and strengths.
This is not about skills, but rather about innate ability. For example, some people have a keen eye for detail, while others might be great strategic thinkers. Individuals use these strengths daily to solve problems and take on challenges in work and personal life, but often aren’t aware of their unique talents.
Yet when people become aware of their strengths and enhance them, the results can be remarkable. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, because we are most energised and motivated when doing something we feel good at.
In addition, discovering strengths can help a team to realise it has valuable assets that it can utilise. Many people are in positions that don’t use their full potential.
At Avo Vision, we’ve noticed that when the strength discovery exercise is done as a team, there is an increase in tolerance.
For example, when a manager learns that an employee is particularly good at finishing something, then recognises and harnesses this value, the manager is less likely to focus on the fact that the person is not a good starter.
Similarly, when team members know what their strengths and weaknesses are, they are more likely to take a tolerant approach to fellow team members.
Some may argue that during tough times you need staff to work harder, reach higher and strive to be better. However, it’s also true that nobody is good at everything.
If leaders accept this and focus on what people are good at, it can lead to greater team cohesion, increased morale, improved retention and enhanced performance. Plus, this is a sustainable and realistic approach to business management.
And when the economy starts picking up again, you’ll be in pole position to reap the awards and grow your business.
l Jules Newton is chief executive of Avocado Vision. 011 614 0206. www.avovision.co.za