Is Recessionary Thinking Killing Off Your Green Shoots?

I belong to a group of peers; we meet semi-monthly to discuss whatever business issues we see. Lately, we’re seeing a theme emerge.

Most businesses been operating under stressful circumstances for at least the last 12 months. For most organizations, profits were down (or non-existent), resulting in considerable price/service pressure from clients/buyers/customers.

So it’s not surprising that, as we end this difficult calendar/fiscal year, many are still painfully looking in the rear view mirror as we consider how to address the new year.

But, in doing so, we may well miss a turn — an opportunity to take advantage of the "green shoots" by thinking differently about our organizations and about how to get the most out of our people.

The Market Has Driven Focus Away from Teams

In the midst of all of the recent economic pressure, there has been a common return to focus on individual performance and a movement away from collaboration and collegiality.

Perhaps some of this shift is valid, because a tough market penalizes lingering mediocrity, but the pendulum has swung to the business equivalent of baseball’s VORP (value over replacement player).

But successful organizations are rarely built by teams of super-heroes. Most extraordinary unit performance is a function of ordinary beings banding together to strengthen each other’s weaknesses and to collectively make whole greater than the sum of the individual parts.

The cost-cutting and recession-based inward thinking which we’ve all had to endure for the past year drives us to self-absorbed, protectionist, fear-based behavior.  And just as solo behavior doesn’t drive great success, neither can you save or cost-cut your way to prosperity.

Sling-shotting Your Way Into Recovery

We have no insight into the timing of the recovery. But one thing is clear. The firms that will benefit the most, when recovery does come, will be those that have managed to think their way out of the rear-view mirror mentality. In particular, those who have managed to re-discover collaboration.

Collaboration is something that can help ‘slingshot’ us out of recessionary thinking.  Team behavior can accomplish extraordinary things with ordinary people.  Collaboration fuels innovation, and feeds souls.  All that drives financial bottom lines too.

Leaders need to manage the tension between surviving in the short term and leading towards the medium term. Leaders need to help pull/push people out of the scary place we’ve been in, focused—of necessity, to be sure—on survival.

Collaboration responds to the need to motivate people, refocus their efforts, and ignite their spirit. And you don’t have to wait for the recovery to get there. In fact, getting there probably, in its own small way, helps kick start the recovery.

Doing Collaboration from Trust Principles

Collaboration is, in fact, one of the Four Trust Principles  (the others being client focus, relationships over transactions, and transparency).
There’s no single simple tool to being collaborative, and each organization will vary in its approach. But a serious effort at being more collaborative will probably include some of the following:

  • Goal setting—done collaboratively
  • Spending time together
  • Getting to know each other
  • Speaking directly to each other
  • Speaking about more things to each other
  • Developing common language
  • Skewing incentives and rewards toward groups
  • Honest and transparent leadership
  • Clear, repetitive articulation of the philosophy of collaboration by leadership

Development is back on the table. If it’s not yet on your table, ask yourself when you think the recovery is going to happen—and how far in advance of it you need to starting consciously thinking about shifting perspectives.

Discuss it collaboratively with your team.