Dealing with the thorny issues in your business

As I look out of my window upon a garden making its way through a Highveld winter, I see clearly the effects of little rain, low temperatures and a weak northerly Sun.

The grass is dormant. The leaves on the trees have fallen or are khaki green. The winter bedding flowers are doing their best to put on a “show”, but even they are struggling in the harsh conditions. I can also see the evidence of my efforts to prune the roses. Looking at my hands, the scratches inflicted by the rose thorns are still slowly healing.

Present economic conditions are recessionary, harsh and unforgiving. Our commercial enterprises are stressed, many are in “survival mode”. It serves little purpose to complain about the policy drought and poor growth prospects.

So what are we to pay attention to at such times? I would suggest our energies are better spent trying to maximise the “benefits of winter”. “What are these?” you ask. In a nutshell, pruning your business. Do it thoughtfully, because this is most likely the best time to do it.

• Remove the unrewarding dead stems that have produced so little for so long. Let them no longer be part of the future, even though they may well have been significant in the past. Sentimentality is expensive and sometimes destructive. This is often why consulting with someone who was not around in the good times can be so valuable.

• Look at the structures and processes that supported the recently passed period of growth. Cut back the tangle and interference that is clearly visible. Be careful to do so as a preparation for stronger growth. Simplify. There are many Managing Directors/Owners who need the benefit of a disciplined process, facilitated by a skilled OpenCircle Associate.

In this era of ever-shortening company life-cycles (some are saying as low as 3 years), the need for almost continuous strategic review is considered to be too demanding. The erstwhile practice of “going away for a week for annual Strategy review” is certainly too demanding, dare I say costly and far too infrequent.

Perhaps, the way forward is to respond to the less frequent periods of economic downturn during which to do the organisation “pruning” and then to do more frequent growth management exercises?

Use any one of the many business analysis tools, like our OpenCircle “Cup of Coffee Free Business Review” or put in the effort to install our OpenDashboard. In this way, the strategic review process is kept conversational and current.

In this case, the use of “story-boards”, to which everyone contributes, is also a helpful tool. On a “story-board”, all employees get an opportunity to reflect daily successes and failures – amongst these, there is often evidence of fundamental trends/changes taking effect.

Such fun and colourful activities move serious discussions, like those to do with strategy, away from formality and “never-read-again” documents. So, make the most of the hard times and have some fun all together throughout the rest. Somewhere in this, there is considerable common sense.

Pip Masterson

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