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Tom Peters advises us to fasten our seatbelts!

Roller Coaster"You think the past five years were nuts? You ain't seen nothin' yet! It's only going to get weirder, tougher and more turbulent. Which means that leadership will be more important than ever -- and more confusing (see rule #3)."

Tom Peters wrote this in Fast Company magazine, not in 2009 but in February 2001!

Remember how scary and uncertain those times were? The Y2K scare, the dot-com bubble and bust and recession, 9/11?

The point is that we are living through a business cycle and there will be a recovery. There will be winners and losers and some major shifts in how business is done, but there will be a recovery. The question is, how do you weather the storm? Will you be a winner or a loser?

I recommend five ways to weather the storm and harness the winds of change:

  1. Confront the brutal facts of our reality (as Jim Collins likes to say). This means preparing those doomsday scenarios and really understanding the implications, along with the "what if we grow during this recession" scenario.
  2. Assess your strategy and structure. Is your organization in a position to thrive and take advantage of opportunities, or cash- (or credit-) starved and working on survival? Do you have the talent and resilience in your team to take advantage of opportunities? Have you identified the high-leverage opportunities and impact on your strategy from the current storm?
  3. Ask everyone to "turn up the heat." At our board retreat in January, AICPA Chairman Ernie Almonte told us he uses the phrase, "and then some." Is your team ready to give that extra effort that can lead to those 10X opportunities by working extra hard "and then some?"
  4. Does your team have the passion to get the job done? Or are they looking for the storm cellar to wait out the storm? It will take passion and courage to strap on a hang glider and harness these winds of change, but that is exactly what it will take. You might be scared as hell, but you have to look deep inside to find that deep well of emotion that will propel that extra effort.
  5. Can your team figure it out and stay together as a team? I love this one from Tom's article (No. 4): "Stellar teams are invariably made up of quirky individuals who typically rub each other raw, but they figure it out." Taking care of each other and keeping the organization moving forward will be critical in this environment.

Fast forward to today and Tom has some more advice in his post, Dealing with Recessionary Times. Tom offers practical, no-bull tips for winning in tough times. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • "You buck yourself up with the thought that "this too shall pass" — but then remind yourself that it might not pass anytime soon, so you re-dedicate yourself to making the absolute best of what you have now."
  • "You network like a demon."
  • "You give new meaning to the word 'thoughtful.'"
  • "You redouble, re-triple your efforts to 'walk in your customer's shoes.' (Especially if the shoes smell.)"

The secret to making it through is captured brilliantly by Jim Collins in what he describes as the "Stockdale paradox," named after Admiral James Stockdale, the highest ranking prisoner captured in Vietnam and held in the infamous Hanoi Hilton for eight years. Here is how Jim Collins describes it,

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be. Holding those two seemingly contradictory notions in his head simultaneously was the key to Stockdale surviving, even thriving, in his experience."

We covered the "brutal facts" of our reality part, so what do you do about the "faith that you will prevail in the end" part? That is where the vision and passion come in.

I actually found a piece written by the MACPA's staff team titled, Standing Out in the Storm that they wrote after attending a live presentation by Tom Peters in 2001 (before the last storm). Download the article here. We actually were in the midst of implementing a new strategy and changing a lot of things during the last recession. We made it through and actually grew as an organization and now offer more services and ways for members to connect than ever.

I think our closing summed it up well (they used Tom's quote): "Live loud and be ready to take advantage of what is the biggest change in 250 years. And don’t just watch this storm of change ... stand out in it, be distinct, aim high and hit it!"