Wednesday, 30 November 2022 05:44

Be thankful you’re still in business and prepare for worse

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As the holiday celebrations approach after another year of mixed blessings, we're all more likely to be relieved about what we avoided rather than thankful for what modest blessings we've received.

But there's at least one group I know of who wouldn't trade places or positions with anyone, notwithstanding all the grief they've been through for the last several years. Entrepreneurs.

They're people who know that they've hung in, that they've hung tough, and that, while the battle's far from over, they're proud and grateful that their businesses are still standing. And they're especially thankful for the people and plans that helped get them through the hardest of times.

Thanksgiving is a fitting holiday to acknowledge and appreciate the courage, grit and perseverance of the millions of founders still plugging away every day, nose-to-the-grindstone and working to build the future, brick by brick and bit by bit.

The top job can feel solitary and under-appreciated at times, but while it can be lonely at the top, at least it's not crowded.

There's still a lot to be said for knowing that you have some direct say in your own destiny, especially when the going gets really rough and the world at large seems to be conspiring against you. Honestly, as they'll be quick to tell you, there's no other place these folks would want to be.

Besides, it's not like the grass is much greener elsewhere. The previous allure and reassuring comfort of a 9-to-5 job at a big business doesn't look all that appealing, especially when the entire tech sector is shedding employees at an alarming rate.

Those big businesses (other than Twitter) may be incrementally more stable at the macro level, but the individual prospects of job security right now at these places actually feels far less certain. Micro matters most when it's your personal paycheck.

Whatever the company, the people who think that their jobs aren't somewhat at risk are beyond naïve. We'll all be somewhere on the employment bubble spectrum for at least the next year.

There's certainly no good time to let people go, but there are undoubtedly more sensitive, appropriate and considerate ways to do it than the midnight unsigned emails and other methods adopted by some of the a-holes running the big tech companies.

Nothing excuses or explains the crass, callous and clumsy ways that the Captain Queegs of the tech industry have handled their downsizing efforts. These guys are masters at taking all of the credit but none of the blame or responsibility (except in the grandest and emptiest sense) when things go sideways.

Whether you're Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk or one of the Jeffs doesn't really matter – the only thing that's certain is that the pain of parting will be felt everywhere but where it actually belongs.

Serious entrepreneurs never got into the startup game in the first place because they were looking for safety, security or stability. If those kinds of objectives are high on your list, you made a seriously wrong turn somewhere along the way and you were probably destined to come up short from the beginning.

The best entrepreneurs run toward the mess and love the challenges, uncertainties and risks that come with blowing up the old and building the new. 

In many ways, unlike the fat cat corporate heads and old school managers, it was the reactive, adaptive and flexible entrepreneurs who helped us all through the chaos of Covid-19 and who also thrived in the process.

Hopefully, the pandemic won't re-emerge (and it's somewhat reassuring to have sane leaders in charge now), but it's still useful to take a moment to see what steps and strategies worked best for the survivors, in case there's a next time.

(1)   Keep Your Own Head Up

Leaders can cast light or shadows. Everyone's watching you for signs and signals and it's critically important that you keep moving forward, tell your people the unvarnished truth and explain what's going to be required of them.

The fact that they believe that you'll be right beside them in the trenches makes all the difference. Hope sells – and it's contagious.

(2)   Communicate Constantly

While most people at Twitter and elsewhere would just as soon see Elon shut his mouth, any smart CEO has spent a huge amount of time during the pandemic messaging the team, talking to customers, clients and investors and detailing the path forward as well as the firm's future.

Especially in the new remote and hybrid world, assuming that the "word" gets out efficiently and effectively is foolish. And remember that nobody likes surprises – get the right story out there and stay ahead of the noise.

(3)   Re-Recruit Your Key Players

Everyone is worried. Don't think for a minute that even the folks who have been with you for many years aren't just as concerned as the newbies about the company and the commitment of the key players to stick around and stick it out.

You need to have direct, one-on-one conversations with all your key players (some of whom aren't senior managers) to be certain that everyone you need is on board and ready to re-up for the long haul.

Options that are way under water and will be for a while aren't gonna convince anyone to stay. The best people commit to other people – that's the bond and the glue you're looking for.

(4)   Take Care of the "Me" Issues ASAP

Your people may love their work and even the company, but they have serious financial concerns and families to worry about, which always come first.

While it's hard to make concrete commitments, the sooner you can address these selfish and serious concerns, the sooner your people will get back to paying attention to the business. And don't waste time taking any of this personally; you'd feel exactly the same way if you were in their shoes.

(5)   Make the Hardest Decisions First

It's easy to convince yourself that small, initial, reactive steps are smart and that preserving projects or retaining underperforming lines of business makes sense. But the salami approach – multiple small cuts over time in the workforce and elsewhere – almost never works and usually raises everyone's uncertainty and stress levels.

While Elon is a great example of overdoing the cuts and undermining surviving employees, it's far more prudent in most cases to make the deepest cuts necessary to assure the business's long-term viability and then build back as circumstances permit.  

And one final note: Don't try to be Superman and do it all yourself.  That's not smart, it's not possible and it's destructive of the critical team attitude and approach that is essential to holding things together.