Chicken Little and the economy

(Image courtesy of Macroninja Released under a Creative Commons Attribution license)

The world is ending!

Unemployment is up! The economy is down! Companies are failing left, right and centre! Pink slips are being handed out willy-nilly! Consumer confidence is low! The Christmas rush is leaving many retail outlets with a let down feeling! Sales are down! Income is down!

Oh doom and gloom - the sky is falling on my head!

Chicken Little

The 'Chicken Little' school of economics has been rampant over the last month or so. The US financial markets, the bail-out of the big three car makers, the general 'credit-crunch' (as we call it here in the UK), overall dropping of consumer confidence and doom-laden headlines have started to make everyone believe that the world as we know it is coming to an end.

Well I'm here to tell you that it isn't.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it will be difficult. I'm sure that the companies who are laying people off are doing it for the right reasons (business is a business after all and not a charity), but I think that a lot of where we are today is a matter of our reaction to events rather than actuality.

The Burger Seller
Let me tell you quite a well known story, that goes something like this:

A hamburger seller had a prime selling spot on the beach. From morning until might he used to ply his trade. People came from miles around to buy hamburgers from him. Every week he used to decorate his stall, get the best ingredients in and serve whoever came for the food. One day a friend of his came from the nearest city and saw what was happening.
"Hey" said the friend "You really shouldn't be taking all this trouble and spending all this money. Don't you know there's a recession going on?"
The burger seller thought about this for a while. The next week he didn't put up fresh decorations on his stall. He didn't buy the finest ingredients, electing instead to buy cheaper ones to conserve money. He cut down his opening hours to save on running costs. Lo and behold his income dropped. Customers stopped shopping at his stall. The guy from the city came back a couple of weeks later and asked him how things were going.
"Oh, don't ask! Sales are down, customers aren't buying. I'm starting to lose money here. You were right" the burger man said "There is a recession!"
The story is a silly one but it does illustrate one point which is that attitude has a lot to do with how people weather this storm. Remember the last big worldwide recession was the starting point for a lot of today's biggest companies. Apple and Microsoft were both founded at that time and Google was a benefactor of "the dotcom bubble".


This is actually a time of great opportunity. The ability of someone to leverage this situation and launch a great idea for a product or service is phenomenal. Sure there may be a couple of rough years as the business is launched, but these will serve as an excellent foundation for when 'the good times' return.

But the other side to this situation is that businesses are currently in a prime situation to start looking at how they do things and improve that. In times of plenty, inefficiencies are allowed to creep in and are not removed. (For example when money is tight, one of the first things that people do is stop company travel, or at the very least restrict it to economy/coach class only. Why is this? Are they saying that at other times of the year they are allowing people to spend the company coin profligately? Surely ALL company travel should be important and therefore a diktat like this should be unnecessary?) Focusing on these inefficiencies is one way of reducing overhead or increasing sales.

Business Processes

This happens through Business Process management. Consider this: If you think that your company is working to the best of its process ability, that all processes are fully documented and that every process is fully optimised, owned and measured, I would warrant that you are in a very small minority.

I have yet to encounter a single company that could not be improved through the judicial application of some staple process analysis and review techniques. Ask yourself the following questions and see how many you can answer 'yes' to:
  • Does every process in your organisation have an owner with authority to mandate change to that process?
  • Is every process appropriately documented and managed by that owner (or people working with him)?
  • Do you measure the effectiveness of your processes and feed that measure back into the process to affect change?
These three questions are fundamental to the appropriate management capability of a companies processes, and not one of those questions actually addresses any individual process to understand if it is working appropriately.

For some real-life examples of what companies do that can reap dividends of fixed processes refer to these two posts about "The way it's always been done" (post 1) (post 2)

There is no doubt in my mind that things are going to be tough over the coming months or even years. I submit, however, that focusing on the right things - in this case streamlining and reviewing your business processes - is the best way to ride out the storm and set your business up for success as it comes out of the other side.

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project' is still available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you.

Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

For more about me check out my "About Me' page

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford

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