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Posted: June 02, 2009

Strategic course changes turn potential disaster into success

Course changes start by revisiting your company vision and making revisions based upon a new set of realities

Allen Fishman

Times are tough for small and mid-sized businesses. Economic factors outside your control may even be threatening your company’s survival. The approach you take to confront these challenges can mean the difference between success and failure.

The economy is a threat not within your control. But you can take charge of how your company responds to this threat. Historically, business owners who make strategic course changes and adopt a planning process and the leadership techniques to turn potential disaster into success.

An error many business owners make is to counter a recession with panic or knee jerk reactions. They head straight for the Company Action Plans and push and pull, trying to reshape old plans to fit new economic pressures. But course changes take more than just shifting your plans. Those plans need to lead towards your vision of success and your current vision, the one you were shooting for before the economic crisis hit, may no longer be realistic.
A company vision is typically a long-term dream of success. Course changes start by revisiting your company vision and making revisions based upon a new set of realities. Company survival may require radical changes, but more often, a single or less drastic adjustment to your business model is all it takes to achieve your vision. You need to spend time identifying your Company SWOTs (the strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats that can benefit or hurt your success).

The SWOTs will give direction upon which to build the plans to execute successful course changes. 

First rule, put it all in writing: your Company Vision, your SWOTs and your company plans. Written documentation will also help you clearly articulate course changes to your employees so there is no confusion over the changes and how you intend to make them happen.

For many business owners, course changes in this economy will include a strategy for what costs to cut and what deals to offer. Get creative like the company that offers a discount to first-time buyers or the technology company that offers customers extra features for free rather than slash prices. Remember, it’s a mistake to cut back sales efforts during a recession. Instead, see what other areas can be cut back to redirect funds to your sales budget. And don’t try to copy someone else’s business model. You don’t know what part of that model created the success. If it were that easy to replicate a winning model, Starbucks never would have stayed on top of the game for so long.

Before making any changes, consider the following:

What is the evidence urging the change?
What are the intended results and measures?
What challenges can I anticipate?
What have I learned from similar course changes?
What will effect the greatest change?

Business owners can often be their own worst enemy when it comes to proactively addressing roadblocks that hinder course changes. Lead with confidence and don’t be afraid to admit when you make mistakes. Clinging to the wheel of a sinking ship just to prove you were right is a guaranteed route to failure. If you’ve got a company culture in place, make sure you are living it. It’s not just there for employees to follow, and how can you expect them to respect a culture if you don’t. And if you don’t have a company culture, get busy making one, preferably one that positively embraces change.

When putting course changes into play, don’t assume employees know what you want and what the impact will be. Tell them what the future holds so they know why they are making a change and how they are supposed to make it happen. And remember, most people find change stressful, and the workplace is no different. Identify the employee emotions that can get in the way of the success of your plans and deal with them proactively. Get your people aligned and rowing together in the right direction, and keep the pressure on until the course change happens. If you lose focus so will everyone else.

Making course changes is an ongoing process that I liken to turning a wheel. Your company vision, SWOTs and company plans are the spokes on a wheel that spins and moves your company forward or backwards. Where that wheel goes is up to your control, so let it be your hand, and not the hand of fate, that decides what happens next.

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Allen E. Fishman founded The Alternative Board® (TAB) in 1990. It is the largest franchise system in the world providing peer board and coaching solutions for business owners headquartered in Westminster, Colo. TAB organizes peer advisory board meetings of owners, CEOs and president of privately held companies. TAB members meet monthly to present challenges and opportunities to one another for seasoned, practical advice. For additional information visit Fishman is also the author of the Wall Street Journal best-selling business book, "9 Elements of Family Business Success and the 7 Secrets of Great Entrepreneurial Masters."

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