Surviving the new normal

2011

The next 20 years will look nothing like the last 20 years. So says Gary Harpst, best selling author and CEO of Six Disciplines, a strategy execution coaching company.

Being a fan of Harpst's work, I recently contacted him and asked him some pointed questions. What follows are my questions and his responses.

The economy is the worst we've seen in decades. What three key pieces of advice do you have for owners of small and mid-size businesses?

GH: First, get your cost structure in line with your revenues. Today's environment has a lot of risk. No excuses here. Either run profitably or get out of business and get a job.

Second, rethink your strategy to fit today's economic environment. Most business strategies are mushy and don't clarify where a business should / should not be investing. As Michael Porter says, the essence of strategy is deciding what not to do.

Third, build a strong core team of your best performers and involve them in every part of what I've just mentioned. There is no substitute for a small, motivated team. You will get this only by being totally open and engaging them in rebuilding your company from top to bottom. Not only can this be done, it will help you thrive in an environment where weaker organizations fall by the wayside.

What are your thoughts on someone starting a business in today's economy?

GH: There are always unique opportunities in very difficult times for those can innovate and see new ways to solve old problems or see new problems to solve. However, don't do it unless you have a razor sharp strategy and adequate capital to make it work.

What's the biggest mistake business owners are making right now?

GH: Unwillingness to change the way they do business. The times are different. The next 20 years will be nothing like the last 20. Opportunity will be there but it will take new business models to thrive. I encourage people to do the things I talked about in your first question.

What are your thoughts on Social Media and how it affects the workplace?

GH: We are just at the beginning of leveraging the power of online communities. Overall, I think too much social media effort is spent in generalities. Social media often means spending time tweeting or posting news and announcements on Linked-in or Facebook, all without measureable results. Instead I recommend getting very focused on some direct, measureable business problem you can solve.

I am impressed with a couple of models that have big impacts on sales that many would not consider to be social media. One example is the rating system at Amazon. This is a very democratic system that is hard to fake with large number of reviews. I find I regularly make buying decisions based on these broad-based rating systems. They help me research issues I would never have thought of and they help me pick vendors and products to meet my needs.

A second example is dramatically lowering the cost of doing business and improving service at the same time through product-user communities supporting themselves through forums and blogs.

I pick these examples not because they are new and exciting but because they are proven ways to increase sales and lower the cost of doing business. And they are specific, not just blogging and tweeting without measurable results.

A quick question about internal operations. What are the pros and cons of 360 degree feedback reports?

GH: One big advantage of 360s is they help people accept perspectives about themselves. Its easy to dismiss the input of one person, not so easy to dismiss the input of several people. I believe 360s are useful under the following conditions.

First you must build an environment in which everyone's motive is to both provide input and receive input that will help both individual and team performance. This kind of culture does not happen by accident. It must be built.

It also requires accountability to evaluate the input and act on it. No one will continue to provide candid input if it does not lead to change.

Finally, based on what you see happening, which industries will experience the most growth over the next few years?

GH: First are businesses that help other businesses lower their cost of doing business or get a higher return out of their assets.

Secondly, demographics in the US favor growth in health care services and innovation in all related areas, such as pharmaceuticals, bio-engineering, and the like.

A third area is energy.

And I'm going out on a limb here, but I think the pendulum could swing and bring more manufacturing jobs back to the US.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.