Yes, recessionary times are tough. It’s not “just business” anymore. It’s war. To survive, you need to think like a wartime General. You need a battle plan. You need high-powered tools. And you need people. . . the right people. . . soldiers. But even with all of these, your effectiveness will be near-zero if you don’t have clear visibility of the battlefield.
As a senior manager, you are removed from what is happening at street level. That’s a problem. The battlefield data that you do receive has been filtered, distorted by multiple layers of management, each with its own bias and motivation.
Good times are very forgiving. In good times, a business can thrive in spite of bad decisions. But in recessionary times, one bad decision is likely to wipe out the entire company.
It is much like walking a narrow mountain path, broken at times and littered with rock. Then there’s the 700 foot drop to your right. To successfully navigate you need clear, simple information on what lies ahead. To obtain this clarity and accuracy, you need to cut through organizational layers and connect directly with the rank and file. They are your scouts. They are your soldiers. And one is for sure, no one is listening to them.
As a wartime General, you need to visit the troops. You need to hear what they have to say. You need to know what they know. But, how can you have a dialog with hundreds, if not thousands of people? Your most effective tool is one that master politicians have used for years, the town hall meeting. You are surely familiar with the style. It puts you the leader, roaming the audience answering questions. The problem is that this alone doesn’t get the job done.
As you delve into an issue and begin to understand what a given soldier is telling you, you need to confirm whether his is a broad based opinion or the view of a single individual. For this, you need quantifiable data and the best way to obtain it is with an audience response system.
You may not recognize the term, but you’ve surely seen this technology in action. It is an audience feedback system whereby audience members are each given a wireless handheld device. You now ask them a question. They vote. Then, within about twenty seconds, the system displays a graph showing exactly how your troops feel on this issue. Think about it for a moment. How powerful is that?
One of the most under utilized capabilities of this polling system is the demographic filter. To use it, ask one or more structural questions like “How long have you been with the company?” or “What is your organizational level?” Then when you ask a standard question like “Do you agree with Jennifer’s statement that customers are willing to pay a bit more for our products – vote yes or no” you can zero in on the fact that the old timers tend to agree and the newcomers tend to disagree. Dialogue might then reveal that the newcomers have a more accurate view of what is happening on the street.
This type of information is critical in a recessionary environment. Clear, accurate, quantifiable data is essential to survival. As for the technology, it is very affordable these days. To minimize the overall cost, you would be wise to assemble employees in a large meeting room within your own office space, rather than meeting off-site. If you need to hold ten identical meetings to bring everyone through the process, so be it. In any case the procedure should be the same.
– Use the polling system to determine how they feel on an issue
– Engage in dialogue to understand why they feel as they do
– Compile a short list of actions that will resolve the issue, or reach the goal
– Use the system to prioritize the list based on which actions will be most effective
Now, with a clear view of the battlefield, it will be up to you to assemble a team of special operations to implement the plan.
Tom Campione is the President/CEO of Communications Technology International Incorporated a NJ based technology firm.
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