Maybe it's always been this way, or maybe it's an offshoot of the up-to-the-second media-barraged world we live in, but it seems like there is a lot of fear and uncertainty in the business world.
Marketers are afraid their traditional methods no longer work and that they're falling behind in the use of new channels. Corporate technologists are afraid of the potential loss of control and security that come with innovations like BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and cloud computing. Business owners and CEOs are afraid to hire and make new business investments because of the looming “fiscal cliff” that's being talked about everyday, not to mention the new healthcare regulations and uncertain tax situation. And everyone seems to be waiting for Europe to finally implode and worrying about the effects such an event will have on the U.S. economy. Two recent studies, the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index and the NFIB Small Business Survey, underline this sentiment showing a drop in future optimism among small business owners and increased uncertainty about the future.
If you're feeling a bit of unease because of these or other concerns unique to your own business, there are things you can do to control that fear rather than hiding in bed under the covers (and since you're running the business, we know you're not going to do that).
Controlling business fear and uncertainty
- Maintain a living strategy – Talking about planning and strategy to many small and midsized business CEOs will often lead to eye-rolls and a quick end to the conversation. That's because as doers, they're biased towards speed-of-action, and plans and strategies are sometimes seen as just talk (or as one of my old CEOs used to say “fixing to get ready”). While some may argue against having a business plan at all, I believe it's important to have a strategy - but only if it's a living one. A living strategy is not a document that sits on the shelf to be dusted off once a year. Instead it's a road-map for business growth, fueled by a deep understanding of customers and the market, and lived by everyone in the company every day. It informs everything the business does from marketing and product development to operations and customer service. It provides a distinct path everyone in the company can follow and supports a clear message the market and customers can understand and appreciate.
- Measure and adjust – In order to make sure the strategy stays alive and relevant, it's important to measure and monitor the key drivers of business success. This ensures everyone is held accountable to results (not just sales) and that when things don't go exactly according to plan, as some inevitably won't, you'll know what to change and how. The key is to build those measures into the plan, to choose the ones that truly drive your business, and to publish and reward based on those results. Measuring the wrong things just creates busy work, and basing compensation on other than key business drivers promotes the wrong behavior.
- Build a strong team – Building a strong team is more than just hiring the right talent. It's molding that talent together into a focused instrument working together to move the business forward. It requires a clear purpose and direction from the CEO and his or her management team, supported by a shared understanding of each member's responsibility and transparency of results. It also means that people are empowered to act and trusted to do so, because they understand the strategy and the right measurements are in place to ensure they're producing the right results.
- Have a solid support network – Whether it's other business owners, academicians, investors or consultants, the right support network can help control business fear and uncertainty. A strong network can act as a sounding board for new ideas, a source of advice for overcoming obstacles or access to resources you and your company don't already have.
Following these steps may not eliminate the fear and uncertainty you may be feeling, but they can help you control and overcome them.
How are you feeling about your business and the economy? What do you do to overcome your business fear?