Dealing with a Harsh Economy: The Window and the Mirror
“There is no such thing as bad weather,
The economy is a mess. Is your business?
The current economic conditions will affect your business. No doubt. But that effect is only one contribution to your end results, not the main contributing factor.
As I’ve been speaking with executives over the last month, they fall into two broad categories:
• First, there are those who see the economic situation as a reason to “hunker down” in a sort of bunker mentality. They are cancelling strategic projects as though tightening their seat belts while they wait for the impending roller coaster ride.
• The second group includes those who see this financial crisis as a call to action and are encouraged to make concerted efforts to succeed-- as much as possible-- given the conditions.
The first group is metaphorically looking out the window, blaming all of their woes on factors outside their control. (After all, very few of us, except for those named Paulson or Bernacke, can, as individuals, have a meaningful effect on the economy.) So, if people say that the economy is the driving factor determining their business results, they are basically saying they can’t do anything but sit back and take their hits. Many people are talking this way.
The second group also recognizes the problems they can’t control – the problems that are outside the window. But this group, in contrast to the first, spends most of their time looking in the mirror, at what they can personally control.
Business results are not determined by the outside world. They are determined by how we deal with factors from the outside world, such as customers, competitors and conditions in the marketplace. Years of consulting have shown me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the factors that limit success in most companies are internal. No matter how bad the competition or market conditions are, we are usually our own worst enemies.
I had an interesting experience the other day. I was conducting a workshop for a group of senior executives, all from different companies. At the beginning of the session, as the group introduced themselves to me, everyone spoke about the ill effects of the economy on their businesses. We then began our 3 1⁄2 hour intensive workshop, focused on how to make the participants’ businesses more profitable. At the end of the session, I asked the attendees to imagine it was a year from now, and they had successfully implemented the ideas they learned in the workshop, creating major profit breakthroughs. “What would be key to this success?” I asked.
No one mentioned the economy. People said things like, “If we make this initiative a priority.” “If we get the entire senior team bought in.” “If we dedicate ourselves to it.” “If we communicate well with all of our employees.” What happened in that 3 1⁄2 hours to encourage these people to look away from what the economic situation is doing to them and focus, instead, on things they can control?
Our initial, natural reflex is to blame our troubles on the outside world – things going on “outside the window.” However, when we look, with scrutiny, at the things that can really affect our success, we find that the most critical our those within our control – things that are “in the mirror.”
Don’t ignore what is happening outside the window. Just see it as something that you need to deal with. As I quoted at the top of this article (with apologies to those living in the paths of hurricanes), “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”
So, as you continue to hear about and feel the effects of our economic downturn, don’t look straight out the window. See the world reflected in your mirror, recognizing that your ultimate results are not a function of the outside world, but of how you deal with it.
As you talk to colleagues and friends, or hear business people interviewed on TV, notice whether they are looking out the window or looking into the mirror. Is this a person who focuses on what the current situation can do to him, or on what he can do about it?
How do you compare?
Now, consider yourself and your organization. Are you window-gazers or mirror-gazers? Do you see yourselves as victims of the situation or as prepared to deal with it? (As Stephen Covey might say, are you the hammer or the anvil?)
Each time you hear a piece of doom and gloom news about the economy over the upcoming weeks, answer these questions:
Yes, I’m very concerned about what’s going on in the financial world. I can’t help but notice that the more experienced the speaker, the more pessimistic he or she is. However, I’m very aware that each time I see something out the window, I need to quickly turn and look into the mirror.
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