Not a Business Plan
By Albert J.
In your kitchen you probably have a spice or powder-filled
container with a plastic top that has two tabs – one for pouring or
spooning, and one for sprinkling. That top is most likely derived
from the original Flapper my company invented.
Today there’s an entire line of Flapper products used by over
150 companies, including Durkee, Cremora, San Giorgio, Ronzoni, and
McCormick. Thanks to that initial success, over the years I’ve been
able to build a multimillion-dollar manufacturing company that
provided me with the means to be a major philanthropist, endowing
hospitals, universities, and charities that offer valuable help to
thousands of people.
I tell you this not to brag, but to make the point that the
tips I share with you in this article concerning leveraging
adversity to reach new heights of professional success in a tough
economy have stood the test of time.
These tips will help you stop worrying and start
doing… Remember, when it comes to all types of adversity, taking
positive action with the ideas you believe are the wisest at the
moment, (knowing that things may change for the better or worse
tomorrow), can’t help but lead to eventual success. Let’s
start with the first and fundamental rule of successful management
through good times and bad. It’s one, tragically, that
executives often forget:
employee success are intertwined:
I can gauge the health of any business in the faces of the
employees, for beyond all the mechanics of the place there is one
truth: a viable business is a collective human endeavor. Indeed,
much of what is wrong in a good deal of current business theory –
and which has come to the surface now that times are hard – is the
failure to recognize that the heart of any business beats to the
rhythms of its employees.
The bottom line
must not be profit, because profit can only come as a fruit of the
health and dreams of the human endeavor the business represents.
Management’s training and development responsibility, then, is to
cultivate within the work place an environment which lends itself to
creativity, dreams, and collective spirit larger than the sum of its
paychecks and mechanical parts.
For example, at one
of Weatherchem’s first staff meetings we discussed company benefits.
As we knocked around ideas to promote productivity, commitment and
creativity, the plant controller asked, “Why bother? People are like
cattle. You can herd them any way you want.”
I fired him. Of the
original handful of employees, he was the only one who did not stay.
From that day forward I made sure everyone at Weatherchem understood
my lifelong fundamental conviction: everyone deserves to be loved,
respected and honored; we all win or lose together. This brings me
to the second tip I want to share with you concerning how to survive
the current economic adversity we’re all experiencing and strengthen
your business for the future:
Make collaboration with employees your path to success:
It’s far better to collaborate. I’ve always preferred to plant
seeds in other’s minds while they plant seeds in mine. Some
germinate and some don’t. But those that do tend to sprout and bloom
for me in wonderful ways.
So if your business
is currently suffering, walk around and talk to all your employees.
Ask: How can we improve this place? What’s wrong here? I
guarantee you will get more valuable information in just a few hours
than you could possibly act upon in a year! Allow me to share with
you a personal reminiscence to illustrate my point…
Fifty years ago
at the age of 30, when I was working for my father at the
Weatherhead Company, I sat down with the 15 members of the AFL-UAW
Local 463 union negotiation committee led by its president, John
Allar, to discuss the financial hardships we were suffering.
We were in a
helluva pickle. Annual sales at the Cleveland plant were $9 million
and we were down $2.7 million.
I said to Allar, “Rather than be at each other’s throats as we sink,
let’s work together – collaborate – and figure out how we’re going
to get out of this mess…”
You know what? The Weatherhead Company and the union
did get out of that mess – by working together.
To his day I don’t
understand why Congress had the top executives of the auto industry
come to Washington to participate in hearings, but didn’t call in a
union negotiating committee from one, two or all three car
companies. Why would Congress not want to hear the union side of
things? For that matter, why didn’t Congress have the smarts to
invite a contingent of assembly line workers to share viewpoints
from the factory floor? (Those hard-working, blue-collar folks would
probably have put forth the most valuable testimony of all!) The
bottom line is that Congress and the Executive Branch may have
comprehension of the problems facing the auto industry, but they
don’t have practical knowledge on how to rectify what’s wrong.
Don’t you make the
same mistake: Talk to your employees. Discover what’s
running through their minds, and be sure to let them know what
you’re thinking, and that you want their help because you’re all in
the same boat. If you must cut salaries, for example, also make
sure your employees know that there will be a firm salary
restoration date or make clear the company performance
criteria/metrics for reinstating full salaries.
While we’re on the
subject of cutting things, be it salaries or the number of your
employees, let me tell you that the word “cutting” is negative, and
for that reason I dislike using it or even thinking it. Don’t speak
or even think in terms of cutting, instead, use the term
saving. For example, I would position a company-wide salary
cut as a company-wide salary savings.
It may strike you
as mere word-play, but trust me, substituting the positive imagery
of “savings” for the negative connotation of “cutting” will help to
rally your employees and persuade them to view you as a caring and
compassionate leader doing your best to fairly and evenly spread the
pain – which, I hope you truly are!
Finally, we come to
my last tip, which is to pay extra-close attention to your
customers. Here, two rules of marketing/sales during
times of economic strife come
(The tried and true
80/20 rule is actually called the “Pareto Principal” after the
Italian economist who first recognized it in the early 1900s. It
applies to many areas: 80% percent of contributions come from 20% of
a charity’s donors... and so on.)
Chances are, many
of your customers are going through the same economic turmoil you’re
experiencing, and are looking for ways to realize cost cutting (I
mean cost savings, of course.) Your timely customer
service visit, telephone call or email might be just the ticket to
let that 20% treasure-trove of current best customers know how much
they mean to you and get them thinking they would be better off
reducing – or eliminating – the business they do with some other
company, as opposed to yours!
Use these tips and
build upon them one after another, and you will be the ultimate
master of your adversity during tough economic times – as well as
when financial prosperity once again returns, which I’m confident it
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