Don’t Be Mistaken: If at any point during the first paragraphs of this column you sense that you’re being instructed to think happy thoughts in order to turn this historically deep economic valley into a mountain of joy, please keep reading . . . trusting that I wouldn’t insult your intelligence or business savvy like that.
I do realize that being in the lemon business does not necessarily mean that you’re prepared, capable or even remotely interested in getting into the lemonade business! If anything, I would like you to see that there are two distinct dangers awaiting your company out there. The first is the actual recession itself — its measurable size, shape, velocity and how it negatively impacts your marketplace. The second equally dangerous element out there is how you react to this recession and its impact — hoping you will recognize that damage to your organization can go beyond the borders of a sales report or the latest profit and loss statement. How this F5 financial storm will inflict pain upon you seems to change every few hours or so making it difficult to fully prepare for its rage; however, there is less guesswork involved in the self-inflicted part of the sky. The forewarning of consistent human behavior allows this column to help you forearm.
LESS PRESSURE IN A DOWN ECONOMY
There’s a certain hint of freedom that a prolonged economic collapse can offer an owner of a smaller business. Let me explain. There’s an old adage which states the most dangerous person is the one with nothing to lose. That may sound melodramatic but it can also be very true. Here’s the relation: With much of the planet talking about big business bankruptcies and billion-dollar bailouts, there’s this small part of most owner’s brains that feels a little less pressure to set the world on fire with growth and success. There’s a realization that if all these supposedly brilliant CEOs can fail so spectacularly, perhaps it wouldn’t be a major hometown headline if you should begin to struggle. That hiss you hear is a relief valve being cracked open and releasing that entrepreneurial pressure mentioned earlier. To be clear . . . I’m not saying you shouldn’t be wishing for a quick return to the days when you were shackled with regular pay raises, wore the leg irons of a healthy checkbook balance or habitually pulled at the tight collar of overbooked installation teams.Nothing beats a steady paycheck!
‘THE METHARME EFFECT’/EXPECTATION THEORY
In solid economic times, we are expected to succeed on a scale greater than average. “They” expect it of us and we expect it of ourselves. In those times, we even parted company with those who did’t live up to expectations. Now here is where our story gets a bit intense and needs careful explanation. A large percent of our little group will perform quite well in those times of “positive expectation.” There exists some leading-edge research that has uncovered something radical and critical to our understanding of how leaders truly affect those they lead; it’s something called “The Metharme Effect.” It has, perhaps, its greatest potential for good during the toughest of economic environments.
The Metharme Effect is named for the daughter of Pygmalion and Galatea. (Pygmalion was a mythical sculptor who carved an ivory statue of a woman so beautiful that his treating it as if it were alive caused it to become so). The Metharme Effect is a self-altering prophecy; it describes the case where expectations by a “source person” (let’s say a business manager who begins each day with an optimistic cheer and a specific description of how the firm is going to grow by 10 percent in a down economy) positively changes an outcome. Now communicated, this expectation creates a not-fully-understood social situation within a target impression group (the contributing employees of this firm) that would not have occurred had the prophecy not been communicated. In other words, the shared expectation alone, with no other changes in employee actions or company practices, is enough to coerce positive changes.
As this edition of our publication goes to print, one could say without exaggeration that our nation is facing the exact opposite of positive expectation. We expect a very rocky road. But when talking to others (our peers in the industry, business colleagues, family and friends — even employees), have you noticed how we tend to describe something even more catastrophic. Who are we preparing and what are we preparing these people for?
EXPECT IT AND THEY WILL COME
As a population of businesses, a near disastrous year in surfacing could still produce a few single points of growth — far exceeding what the financial pundits “expect” for the country’s entire domestic activity in 2009. The truth is, one of the most favorable characteristics of an economy is not necessarily weakened foreign competition, lots of available easy credit or lowered raw material costs. One of the very best marketplace conditions to listen for is during the business weather report when there’s near universal agreement that good times are here or just around the corner. In other words, one of the most reliable, powerful and impactful precursors to the happy return of economic swagger is, quite simply, the credible anticipation and expectation of economic swagger itself. When the business Doppler Radar calls for sunshine with periods of intermittent swagger — followed by a heavy overnight soaking swagger — it’s time to put on your good dancing shoes.
EXPECTATIONS COMPOUND LIKE BANK INTEREST
In the book Attitude 101, John Maxwell argues there are several things that are not contagious within an organization or team: talent, experience and a willingness to practice to become expert. But you can be sure that attitude or expectation is highly contagious — we have each seen it many times over. When a contemporary leader remains focused on positive expectations, even during discouraging circumstances, others admire that quality and want to emulate that behavior. People have a strong tendency to adopt the characteristics of those they spend a great amount of time with. We spend more waking hours with our bosses, supervisors and co-workers than just about anyone else in our lives. How could we not adopt their attitudes, beliefs or ways in which they approach everyday things?
Dr. Roger Bannister, a British distance runner in the 1950s, is an inspiring example of how well-rooted attitudes can change overnight. In the first half of the 20th century, sports experts and even physicians expert in human anatomy thought a mile run in less than four minutes was beyond man’s capacity. For a long time, they seemed to be right, but on May 6, 1954, Dr. Bannister ran a mile in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. Almost immediately after that historic achievement, hundreds of others broke through that mythical four-minute wall. Other professional runners took on the Bannister Belief, and his outlook and performance were compounded until everyone could run the less-than-four-minute mile.
Falling squarely under the secondary danger’s heading of “How You React To This Recession” is this challenging gut-check of a question: What are the behaviors, beliefs and attitudes you demonstrate to your staff that multiply the power and impact of the actual recession? Certainly, denying the existence of tough times, buying a sandbox and literally burying your head in it, will not convince the team you’re going to outfox this thing, but please understand that embracing every aspect of its reach and devastation without let-up is not a requirement either. Don’t become “recession central.” Don’t become so intertwined with it that Googling the word “recession” brings up your name, photo and a link to an AP flash report citing your exhaustive one-to-one reporting as the main reason for the downsizing of local news teams.