Getting Great Results When Things Aren’t Really That Great

Transition – it’s the word of the times, isn’t it? Right now, as so many organizations go through significant change, the phrase “business as usual” seems like an oxymoron. “Usual? There’s nothing usual about the way I’m doing business in this economy,” you might point out.

Your organization might be going through a merger, expanding or decreasing its employee base, or just operating in a difficult economy. Whatever the transition, the scenario affects your organization’s business processes, sales, and employees. What’s interesting to me is that when times are tough, when there’s an issue with the economy, some businesses do really well and some do not – and these are businesses in the same industry! For many, the economy is like pizza: When it’s good, it’s really good, and even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.


What I see making a big difference are attitude and belief. If you’re walking around thinking things are tough, that’s the mind-set you have. What you focus your attention on is what your life looks like. It’s the vibe people get from you. It’s going to be the way you present things. Looking at life through loser-colored glasses can undercut your chances to succeed.

So can you just believe your way to a rosier picture? It’s not really about thinking positive thoughts and then just watching and waiting as good things come your way. That’s a simple way to state the premise of Rhonda Byrne’s successful book The Secret, but I have to say I’m not buying it. In fact, I think The Secret is definably not the secret. It makes perfect sense that any book telling you that belief without action will create success is definitely going to be a best-seller. While I think it’s important to have a belief system, there’s more to success than that.

Most companies – and most people – who succeed when times are tough make sure they get more focused on the needs of the customer in the moment. To succeed, we can’t be stuck in the long-term needs we’ve identified over the years. That’s probably not where the customer’s head is right now. You’ve got to sharpen your focus on what’s really important to customers here and now. If your customer’s treading water (which is nothing more than controlled drowning), throw him a life preserver. You can teach him to swim later. Once you’re past the crisis, there’s always time to get customers back on track with what you know will benefit them long-term.

Act in the moment

Attitude and belief can help you through a tough time, but not by flat-out ignoring difficult circumstances or willing them to magically disappear. You have to first recognize that tough times are temporary and then work quickly to address the needs that arise during difficult conditions. So don’t let the media tell you what your life looks like; remember that good news does not sell newspapers. Have you ever noticed that really depressing news stories are often followed by Prozac commercials?

You can’t just will a sluggish economy to pick up instantly, but you can believe that it will bounce back over time – it always does. With that attitude, it makes sense to take action to meet people’s most pressing needs until things bounce back and you can return to “business as usual.”

Suppose you work for a company that’s going through changes and you’re afraid your division is about to be cut or your job is in jeopardy. That’s when you have to figure out what your boss really, truly needs … besides a vacation. You might have to forget for a moment how brilliant you are and how all your grand ideas can push the company in fabulous new directions. Instead, you need to ask: What’s a big deal right now? You stand to benefit greatly by turning your focus to the company’s immediate needs. If you’re doing work that’s really important to your employer here and now, then when the chopping block comes down your boss will be looking in the other direction. It’s like if you and co-worker are being chased by a bear – you don’t have to outrun the bear, just your co-worker.

Critical and even negative thinking can have great strategic benefit, allowing you to spot trouble on the horizon. But when you insist on looking at life through loser lenses, it prevents you from seeing the effort you need to make.
People and companies that are really successful during times of transition often have to work a little harder, investing more thought, more time, and even more money to do as well as they did before. But even though they expend more resources to perform as well as last year, they’re not losing ground in a company-wide shake-up or industry-wide slump. Odds are, they’re still moving forward. When business picks up again, they will have cemented their usefulness to employers and customers and can resume a better version of “business as usual.”

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