December 2008

To gird for storm, be realistic

By Gregory Hale, InTech, Editor

A sure sign a winter storm is approaching: Drive by a grocery store, and take a look at the parking lot. If there are no empty spaces, the aisles housing bread, eggs, and milk are under siege. That is because there is an unwritten rule that says, when the weatherman predicts a storm, everyone has to rush the grocery store and buy bread, eggs, and milk.

Some might call it the panic before the storm.

Instead of rushing out to the store and purchasing unneeded essentials, it might be time to think about protecting your domicile from the elements. Yes, if the cupboards are bare, you should fill up. In other words, it might be time to think ahead and truly understand your immediate and long-term needs to make it through the impending storm.

The price for gasoline is coming down, and almost immediately, you can feel the collective sigh of relief from everyone. No more $70 fill ups. Now everyone can jump into their SUVs and drive around town in their gas guzzlers again, right? No, just think ahead.

Rain finally fell over the Southeastern U.S. this past spring and summer, and state and local officials lifted drought warnings and advisories. Now everyone can water their lawns to their heart's content.

Wait a minute. What is wrong with this picture? One Monday we had to conserve, the next Monday we could water a patch of grass to the point of over saturation. No, think what is more important for the future: Your grass or your thirst?

All industry pundits are saying next year is going to be a doozy. Some companies' projections look, at best, as not being projectable. Others are honestly saying, with energy prices the way they are, and financial issues the way they are, it is going to be a difficult year to say the least.

Look overseas. Britain's unemployment rate rose to 5.8% in the past quarter, as the economic slowdown hit the job market and increased the number of jobless to its highest in over a decade.

Germany's economy will slow to a standstill next year in the wake of the global financial crisis, according to the government's independent panel of economic advisers. Look at China's bailout and Russia financial issues. The list goes on.

The situation does not start and stop with countries; take a look at the ever-growing list of companies already starting to jettison employees and close down operations.

Now is not the time to macho up revenue projections for next year to impress the board. Be realistic.

Rather, now is the time to get smart and gird for a tough difficult year. Know that you have a strong team that will help get the organization through what lies ahead. Who knows, maybe this "projected storm" will not materialize, and things will get better sooner than later. There are some who say this could be the case.

No matter what, it will all boil down to communication and leadership. Live, active, real-time communication and strong effective leadership. If everyone is reading from the same script, it will lead to empowered decision-making from the plant floor all the way through the enterprise. Effective leadership will understand the end goal and not allow superfluous tangents to get in the way. No, some decisions may not be in anybody's comfort zone, but if everyone understands they are in it together, a team will emerge, and no type of storm will ever get in the way.

Talk to me: ghale@isa.org or (919) 990-9275.