Tips for Guiding Your Business Through a Rough Patch
In recent months, the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has negatively impacted businesses all over the world. Sales and revenue are falling short. Your company may be facing the prospect of downsizing. Your best employee might be struggling to work remotely full time. Your team's morale is at an all-time low, and it's your job as their manager to lift their spirits and get them back on track.
Every small business eventually hits a rough patch. It’s easy to get discouraged when it happens. But look at the upside: you have an infrastructure in place, you have existing customers and most importantly, you have the hard-won experience of knowing what works and what doesn’t.
This is no easy task. It can be hard to see the positive when everything seems to be falling apart. But every company goes through rough patches and growing pains, and it's during these times that a team most needs a strong leader to help them weather the storm.
"If employees don't have confidence in the leadership team, they may question the future of the organization, wonder whether their role is safe, and either become disengaged or start to look for a new job," said Kim Littlefield, senior vice president of Keystone Partners. "Employees need to feel heard, understood, recognized and appreciated by their managers ... especially during rough patches."
With that in mind, here are some ideas to get things back on track:
1. Focus on triage:
Just like a hospital ranks patients for attention according to the severity and urgency of their injuries, you need to rank your biggest issues. First list what needs to be done urgently, such as paying bills, making payroll and delivering orders. Then rank what is most important long-term, like reviewing expenses, improving marketing and advertising, and gathering sales leads.
For this reason, “It’s extremely important to have good accounting records when your business is struggling. Otherwise, you will not be able to efficiently diagnose where your problems are in the business,”
This process means setting aside the idealistic business plan you had before you ran into problems and focusing on the nitty-gritty business realities of revenue, expenses and cash flow. You can pick up the business plan after you plug the holes in the boat, and revise it based on what you learned from your difficult period.
To alleviate potential cash flow problems, consider obtaining a credit line ahead of any downturn in business, A lender is more likely to advance credit when your financial picture is more attractive.
2. Find the lessons to be learned.
It is critical to learn from your mistakes so you can handle similar situations better in the future. In the process of analyzing and evaluating mistakes, it is important not to place blame and create animosity among your team, said Branch. You should also be open to thoughts and solutions from employees.
Try not to point fingers at any staff member because working as a team is key to getting through tough times. Always be open to new ideas and strategies from any staff member. You never know where the next big idea will come from!"
3. Share your vision for the future.
Being clear and communicative about how the team and company plan to move forward will help part the storm clouds for your employees.
"You need to know where you are going before you can get there," Littlefield said. "Great business leaders know how to paint a vivid picture of the future. Fueled by their passion to achieve their vision, they make it crystal clear what employees can do to get involved and emphasize how crucial each person's role is."
For employees to truly hear and remember the message, they need to be exposed to it several times, said Littlefield. She advises encouraging all managers to ask their employees, "How are you doing, and how can I help?"
"By asking how they can help, managers show their investment in that person's success and their willingness to be a resource in some way to help them get there," Littlefield added.
Once your team starts to bounce back, don't lose the momentum you've created. Maintain your leadership strength when things are going well to make sure you've earned your team's trust for the next low point.
Leadership needs to be strong and solid all of the time, If leadership is not consistent with managers and staff during normal times, they will not receive the trust and hard work of their team when needed most."
4. Celebrate large and small wins.
When your company is going through difficult times, it can be easy to dwell on everything that is going wrong, which will eventually result in low morale across the business. Remember to celebrate large and small wins to keep morale high and to remind your team that their work is valuable.
Whenever possible, break large company goals into smaller, more attainable goals and start tracking team progress. Whenever your team achieves a small goal, such as meeting a project deadline, getting a higher click-through rate or launching a new campaign successfully, celebrate the win.
Reinvigorating your team with positivity will help boost morale during tough times. As a result, you will see more confidence and productivity in your team.
5. Improve your operations.
Your product or service may be great, but for some reason, it’s not getting the attention of customers. Meanwhile, a competitor may be outselling you with something inferior. If that’s the case, you’ll need to revamp your operations: your marketing, advertising, sales, and online presence. You can use the same A/B process you used to improve what you’re selling to improve how you sell: change one variable at a time and learn from trial-and-error what works and what doesn’t.
6. Ask for honest feedback.
It can be tempting for business owners to want to fix everything and bear the burden when things aren't going as expected. However, trying to solve problems on your own can do two damaging things to your business: You could inadvertently create a negative company culture in which employees don't feel they can collaborate or solve problems together, and the rough patch may become bigger than you are capable of solving alone.
When you're in a rough patch, ask for honest feedback from your employees. Prepare for tough feedback that you may not want to hear. Listening to the different perspectives of your employees allows you to look at the problem holistically and can result in a stronger team dynamic.
Avoid asking vague questions. Get to the root of the issue by asking engaging questions, such as these:
- "How is this affecting you and your team?"
- "What changes do you think would most benefit the company?"
- "What can I do to better support you and your team?"
Remember, great businesses are those that address problems and use them to grow. When seen in this light your business will often become stronger as a result of periodic challenges.
We know these are challenging times, and we want to do all we can to help businesses stay afloat.
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