by Darren Shirlaw
A recession typically pushes a management team's focus into becoming very micro (budgets, staffing, banks, costs, refinancing, saving money). If you're not having a macro conversation right now, you'll be disconnecting from your business vision. Worse, if you're not connected to your vision, your staff will almost certainly be feeling rather lost and detached, and your business will move into the next boom in that way.
A way to reconnect
Remember why you started the business? Remember why you come to work each day?
The easiest way to connect with your original vision is to rediscover your business history. It is described as a "camp fire" conversation. We ask each other, "What's the history of this business? Back then, what were we trying to achieve?"
The key word in this history conversation is perspective. The danger of trying to reconnect with your vision straight from a recession is taking the recession's negativity forward into your future. As a result, the re-set vision will be too small. It won't fully accommodate company traditions, culture or values because it's still connected to lots of angst, anxiety and anger.
If you try to build a future vision, but unwittingly include the recession's negatives, it won't be connected to your original business intent. You'll miss out the perspective of where you originally began.
Document your history
We've been advising clients to document their business journey, moment by moment, and reconnect back to those many instances. People normally begin by saying, "On day one we did X, Y and Z." But they must go back before day one because this is not when most businesses actually begin. In some cases, people spend years planning their business before launching and it's rarely an instantaneous start-up. They may have frustrations from working for someone else, or spot a market opportunity and spend time in research. Recognising your early history as part of the total business journey is vital.
Having a camp fire conversation with business partners doesn't need a facilitator or coach. It's something people can easily do themselves.
Here are some questions to get started.
- How did this business start?
- Why did we launch originally - only commercial gain or did we have a cultural aim too?
- What were we trying to achieve?
- What were we hoping to do?
Why I love coaching
One of my early clients was a financial adviser. On our first appointment I asked, "What do you want me to do for you? What help do you need?" He replied, "I've been in business seven years. Ever since I opened the doors I've been earning about $350,000 a year."
At that point I was left wondering what I could possibly do for him and asked if he now wanted to earn $1m.
He said he'd been with his family watching the television recently, and then told me the following story "I looked at my two older children, six and seven, and then to the new baby in my wife's arms. I was looking backwards and forwards between the youngest and the eldest and had a sudden, blinding flash. I said to myself, 'Oh my God, I don't know my kids.'"
He realised he'd spent the last seven years working hard to build his business and earning $350,000 a year, but the cost had been not spending time with his children. Remember the old fable? On the day you die, your gravestone probably won’t say, "I wish I'd spent more time at work."
My client gave me his brief, "I don’t need to earn more money. Just make sure I spend as much time as possible with my children." I said, "Wow! What a great brief." That's the reason I fell in love with coaching - it's such a great job.
Not just the money
Gaining perspective takes us back to the question of why we got into business originally - and it's rarely just the money. By the end of the year I'd taken my coaching client from working 6.5 days a week and earning $350,000 a year to working 4 days a week and still earning $350,000. The joy I got from the job was fulfilling because this man now had more time with his family.
I asked him why he started in business and whether he was still delivering for his clients. He admitted that he was no longer doing this so I explained that he needed to free up time in his office. This would allow more time for his clients – the reason he’d started up in the first place. I helped him build a back-office team, which released his time to spend with clients. This generated more money, which meant he could work less hours and maintain his earnings.
When you reconnect to your own history, you'll remember why you first set the business up.
A camp fire example
Shirlaws has grown into the international company we are by practicing what we preach, both commercially and culturally. So I spent the time to put on paper our camp fire story from 1994 (when I first began reseaching what would become Shirlaws) to today. If you want an example, or would like to know the Shirlaws story, you can read it here.
Get your team round the camp fire
For other businesses, the management team needs to get together around their own camp fire. Get the vision conversation going. Reconnect and discover where you’re up to and how to direct the conversation towards the future. With perspective, people will say, "Yes, let's talk about this."
Without the whole business history, and without the perspective it brings, people may have a vision conversation that could go anywhere. It won't necessarily be connected to your business journey, but be influenced by the recession.
What's important is to return to the foundation stone you laid. Go back to first principles by taking a historical perspective.
When you laid your foundation stone, what did you write on it?
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