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Maintaining a Positive Culture in a Tough Market
By Mark Fitzpatrick, Partner, Sterling-Hoffman Management Consultants
Deals are being pushed back…
There is no way I am going to hit my target this quarter. My team just isn’t performing…
IT budget purse strings are tight…
Customers are being finicky…
My boss is stressed over hitting our numbers and is starting to get involved at the wrong time in key deals…
These bleak responses have been standard fare since the bubble burst for anyone that makes a habit of asking “How is the market treating you?”. Every so often however I encounter people that say “Business is great, my competitors are choking, the team is closing deals on schedule, we are getting C level sponsorship within strategic accounts and customers are excited about how we can help them.” It is a breath of fresh air in comparison to the mountain of naysayers we have all been subjected to.
See if this sounds familiar:
“This is not the best of times for (X type) of software providers. The meltdown of the entire (your space here) sector has devastated most companies, from the biggest gorillas to the tiniest niche players. With the market so depressed right now, few new software startups seem to be emerging to take the place of the ones that have failed or sold out. With the sluggish economy and the (telecom, manufacturing, financial services, energy et al.) implosion, experts are heaping much of the blame on (F500 companies in your target market here) for not (sticking to their business models/delivering on their profitability targets/overspending on IT projects/not spending enough on IT projects etc.) ”
I receive a version of the above in some newsletter or another almost every day. Even for the optimists it has been a tough road. So, what makes some continue to charge ahead while others languish under the pressure of negativity and cynical thinking? Keeping morale up under tough conditions is a difficult proposition. Anyone that has tried to build a make-it-happen culture in the face of conservative buyers and a volatile market knows it is easier said than done.
The Why? vs. Why not? mindset
One executive framed the difference this way, “When faced with a challenge there are Why? companies and Why not? companies.” Why? is blame-centric, Why not? is opportunity-centric. If you have ever heard someone utter “Why me?” or “Why am I the one that gets stuck with this?” you’ll know what I mean. This is especially dangerous as cynicism has a viral effect that can bring even the most focused companies to their knees. Instead of asking “Why do I have to deal with this hurdle?” ask “Why not tackle this challenge?”. Here are five questions to determine if you are delivering and maintaining a Why not? culture.
Do you have a plan for beating the gorillas?
If you want your company to be a leader, have a clear plan regarding how to compete with the resident 800 pounders. If you have not worked out how your company plans to beat IBM, Oracle, SAP and so on prior to attacking a market, the knee-jerk reaction when you see them sidle up to your prospective buyers is to take your foot off the gas and look for less competitive opportunities. The fact remains though that every single deal is going to be ultra-competitive given the realities of current hi-tech spending.
The important task for CEOs is to make sure everyone on the team knows how to navigate the toughest sections of the competitive landscape well in advance of getting there. If you create proactive strategies to deal with FUD and the various other tactics that are going to be hurled against you, the chances decrease that your team’s reaction will be “Why did this have to happen?”.
Have we hired any ‘shelter-seekers’?
Many job seekers are taking the ‘any port in a storm’ approach to career management. If you hire these people, you risk creating a Why me? culture by default because such candidates are not focused on winning. Instead, they are focused on not losing and the difference is subtle but important. Gear your hiring processes to find the people that are hungry to make something happen every day. Look for candidates that salivate over being paid heavily based on results and thrive when are held accountable to tightly defined metrics. The second a candidate starts to dicker too much over a few thousand in guaranteed cash it is a likely sign you are dealing with a professional ‘base collector’.
As a litmus test when asking people about reasons for leaving past employers, listen for patterns in pointing to external factors versus carrying personal responsibility. If someone consistently blames market factors, an ex-boss, product issues and so on, chances are they will be one of the first to start the Why? ball rolling when things get tough.