Dienstag, 13. März 2012


Economic Downturn - Managing Along the Cutting Edge



Think smaller: Most CEOs have strategies for good times. This recession will require a new set of skills.

Like it or not, many companies will need these contingency plans. In theory, every manager should have the skills need­ed to guide companies through a reces­sion, the way every baseball player is sup­posed to know how to bunt or steal a base. The reality is few CEOs earned their stripes by executing layoffs, killing prod­uct lines or leaning on clients to pay bills faster—all key tasks today. “After spending their careers in single-minded pursuit of growth, business leaders have to adjust their mentality,” writes the consultant Ram Charan in a new book, “Leadership in the Era of Economic Uncertainty.” “The new reality is that, barring acquisitions, [the average] company will be smaller two years from now than it is today.”


Some seem to be shrinking by the day. Last week Caterpillar, Home Depot and Starbucks announced huge layoffs. Cuts of this scale are a fairly recent phenomenon: as Louis Uchitelle writes in “The Dispos­able American,” until the 1980s firms saw large-scale permanent layoffs as a mark of managerial shame. By the 1990s, however, “downsizing” became a routine task and an easy way to boost share price, and ruthless cost-cutters like “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap of Sunbeam Corp. were widely admired—at least briefly.


Since then, the role models for manag­ing in a down economy have changed. Today Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at Yale’s School of Management, cites former IBM chief Lou Gerstner and current Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy; they cut billions from their companies’ cost structures while try­ing hard to preserve the corporate culture. “They’re almost apologetic about the tough moves they’ve had to make, but they made them with a very clear eye, driven by a con­sistent sense of purpose,” Sonnenfeld says.


It’s not just a sense of humanity that determines how well managers lead dur­ing recession. In good times, the best CEOs tend to be what recruiter Steve Mader of Korn/Ferry International calls “strategic creators”—people who excel at sifting among new ideas and placing bets on the likeliest winners. Managing in a down economy, in contrast, is mostly about taking bets off the table, a process that requires fewer big thoughts and more painstaking attention to detail. Which CEOs are up to the task? Mader says bosses like John Thain, who was revealed to have spent $1.2 million remodeling his Merrill Lynch office last year, epitomize a chief who seems ill suited for hard times. Son­nenfeld points to Carly Fiorina, who took over HP during the Asian financial crisis and then “flailed around, swatting at strate­gically inconsistent, splashy options,” like its 2001 merger with Compaq, as a CEO not equipped to deal with a recession.


No matter what industry they’re in, many CEOs will be forced to make further cuts to their payroll: according to a survey released last week, 39 percent of U.S. busi­ness economists expect “significant” job cuts over the next six months. While these help the bottom line, they’re also creating a poisonous anxiety in cubicle land. Today many offices feel like an episode of “The Apprentice,” as employees jockey for position, form alliances, backstab and constant­ly recalculate the odds they’ll survive the next round of cuts. There’s only so much that CEOs can do to assuage this panic. But good bosses are taking pains to be visible: walking the hallways, holding all-hands meetings and sending frequent e-mail up­dates. “In the turnarounds I’ve been associ­ated with, I’ve found it very helpful to let people know the reality, which oftentimes isn’t as severe as the fear,” says Mitt Rom­ney, the former governor and presidential candidate who specialized in leading cor­porate turnarounds in the 1980s. “The ru­mors and fears can grow well out of propor­tion to what a company actually faces.”


For the right way to communicate in uncertain times, some observers point to Washington. Leading a company is far different from leading the country; in the most obvious current example, while firms are making draconian budget cuts, the new Obama administration is embarking on an epic Keynesian spend­ing spree. But in trying to calm a freaked-out workforce, there are parallels between presidential and C-suite leadership, says Robert Reich, the former labor secretary. “It’s possible to be very hopeful and at the same time to be quite sober about what we’re going through, as Obama is show­ing,” he says.


Some CEOs try to sound hopeful by talking up the great opportunities they’re seeing as a result of the downturn—to steal market share, make acquisitions or take advantage ofweakened competitors. There is, in fact, a long history of younger com­panies that took root and sprouted during hard times: consultants Scott Anthony and Tim Huse of Innosight point to firms like Home Depot, Best Buy and Google that made big gains during the last three reces­sions. CEOs can also set the stage for growth by protecting key R&D invest­ments even as they cut budgets. Boston Consulting Group’s David Rhodes and Daniel Stelter, writing in this month’s Har­vard Business Review, cite Apple, where R&D done during the last recession led to iTunes and the iPod. “Companies that cut back on research and new product devel­opment do so at their peril,” says Intel chairman Craig Barrett.


Good bosses are taking pains to be visible: walking the hallways and holding all-hands meetings.


But the extent to which companies can use the downturn to their advantage varies tremendously by industry. There are some firms that will clearly emerge from the crisis with a strengthened hand because of a rival’s missteps: for example, Best Buy and Bed


Bath & Beyond can’t help but pick up sales that would have once gone to Circuit City and Linens ’n Things, both going through liquidation. But in sectors like the auto in­dustry, where every player is struggling, there may be few winners.


For firms that hope to go on an acquisi­tion spree, the credit crunch will remain a constraint—as will the fear they’re buying assets whose value still has further to fall. Just ask Bank of America chief Kenneth Lewis how he now regards his purchase of Merrill Lynch, or Warren Buffett how the stock market has done since Oct. 17, when he proclaimed himself a big buyer of un­dervalued U.S. equities. The answer: the S&P 500 has fallen another 12.2 percent since then. (Buffett, too, is a Washington Post Company director.)


There’s a lesson there: managers every­where would be wise to plan on things getting worse before they get better. When restructuring experts meet with their clients they usually deliver a simple message: if you’ve done your budget figuring sales will fall by 5 percent, they say, try re­figuring it based on a 15 percent revenue drop. “Every company should be ready to pull the trigger on a plan that imagines a scenario worse than they could ever pre­dict,”. All of which means that for anyone whose job involves mak­ing a number—and, by extension, those of us who work for them—the rest of looks to be an anxious and uncertain.




About ReManagement:
During crisis, usually the entire wealth of the owners is put at risk, it’s about rescuing a lifetime work. No tips and fancy concepts put on shinny paper will help – only quick action and real upshot will do the job. The need for practice-proofed advisory together with taking responsibility for recovery is the only helpful hand lend to companies in order to succeed during downturn.
In more than ten years of experience we managed winning the trust of our clients, by dealing every problem with the required amount of attention from our top level professionals. Pointing out outcome-oriented solutions, integrating actions and keeping an upright management is what distinguishes us. We believe in performance as a team result and quality in our accomplishments. This is what makes us proud of our tasks. This is the key to our joint success. 

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