Five rules for the new business environment

Leadership coach John M. McKee provides five new rules for success in an environment that's still too difficult to forecast with confidence.

 Today, perhaps more than at any time since World War II, leaders and employees don't seem to agree on many things.

Perspective, as they say, is everything. Subtle changes in the markets that encourage management may be of little importance to those at lower levels. Increasing headcounts regarded as a positive by one group may be a concern to another. Productivity improvements hailed by executives could be looked at by those performing the work as just more work.

I believe we have entered into an era of a "new normal." In August 2008 in Tech Republic I wrote this column in which I cited four "megatrends" I expected to make life more difficult. As a result of them (and before the stock markets collapsed) I said it would become much harder to maintain a good standard of living. I noted that many jobs were destined to move elsewhere, perhaps forever.

Now, with things looking up (at least modestly) for many organizations, it's time for leaders to act accordingly. Trade in old behaviors and approaches that aren't going to be effective in this new "normal." In their place consider:

Rule #1: Results, first and foremost

Do whatever it takes to get your employees and teams entirely focused on getting the job done. That may mean throwing out old pay grades, promotional schedules, and hiring and training programs. Consider moving to a ROWE (results only work environment) model like Best Buy did nearly two years ago. They're not concerned with how long or when someone's at the office -- as long as they do the task. And Best Buy is thriving.

Rule # 2: Competition will only increase

That may be either obvious or "indirect" competition. With less money, many organizations are being forced to choose between nonsimilar purchases;for example, "Will it be office supplies or shipping costs?" or "Do we spend on executive bonuses or furniture?" Keep in mind that no economists are sure this fragile economy is going to stick, let alone grow.

Rule #3: Keep an eye on Elance. And the rest

I am constantly surprised by how few leaders in most industries are aware of the impact of sites like, Elance, or EGuru. These networks match jobs, projects, and tasks up with freelancers or people who are "daylighting" while still employed. The "employer" gets her or his work completed quickly and at very competitive prices. The established company is left wondering why revenues are still not picking up.

Rule #4: Those "sure things" may not be

Two years ago, who would have bet that Ford would sell the most cars in the U.S. in February 2009? Or that Toyota, top-ranked for quality for years, would be under pressure because of product deficiencies it couldn't identify, let alone fix?  Make good plans, execute well, and always anticipate the downside.

Rule #5: Everyone is in the marketing game

For many executives, the whole concept of marketing is a bit distasteful. I've had clients tell me that marketing is simply "BS, smoke and mirrors, or boondoggles." Whether or not you agree, recognize that this new environment calls for new thinking. Andrea Jung, CEO of Avon, believes only 13% of people who are trading down will go back to their old spending levels. This applies equally to business purchases too. Act accordingly.


Leadership Coach