You’ve likely heard the adage—or perhaps Billy Ocean’s ‘80s hit—“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” With 30 years of leadership across major global brands such as Enero, Nike, Kathmandu and Rip Curl, I can confidently say that tough times breed tough people, and in my experience, this translates to businesses as well.
While a natural reaction to a market crisis and macroeconomic volatility might be for leaders to recoil and hunker down, turbulent times can create opportunities for organizations to enhance their services, accelerate beyond their competition and emerge as industry leaders once the dust settles.
Easier said than done, right? Here are four strategies that have consistently served me well over my career during times of global uncertainty and economic malaise.
1. Focus On Things You Can Control
I can’t stress this enough: We have zero control over things such as interest rates, inflation and cost of living, so why waste energy and resources worrying about them? As a leader, what you can control is how your organization responds to economic ambiguity, specifically how well you leverage it as an anchor point for your business.
I joined Enero at the height of the pandemic in 2020. Immediately, I began to implement a plan laser-focused on elevating our agency’s unique points of competitive differentiation, while simultaneously capitalizing on any aspirational capability gaps we could fill. If you can maintain a maniacal focus on what makes your organization unlike any other, while keeping the agility and nimbleness needed to pivot during a crisis, you will not only keep your organization’s house in order but also possess the ability to thrive in the process.
Make no mistake, you may still need to make tough decisions, but you’ll be able to do so faster to meet the evolving needs of your clients when the market shifts. The ability to play the long game while making insightful adjustments in the short is the fine line that distinguishes great companies from those easily buoyed by industry tailwinds. Great companies firmly understand who they are and not only withstand the chaos but also use it to separate themselves from the pack.
2. Edit To Amplify
Mark Parker, the former CEO and now executive chairman at Nike, had a famous and well-worn expression during my tenure at the company: “edit to amplify.” It was a realization that we must continually edit our opportunities to those that truly create separation, as no matter your scale, you’ll always have more opportunities than resources. I believe this is as true at a $50 billion company as it is at any other. No matter how many resources you have, it’s never enough.
So, if you can edit down to the fundamental elements that power your business and identify those unique differentiators, you can easily amplify what makes your organization special in contrast to your competitors. After all, if you can’t or don’t bring anything other than table stakes, you’re likely just competing on price, which is usually a race to the bottom. Transactional relationships are easily discarded, especially in fraught markets. There’s always someone willing to go lower than your bottom line.
The principles that fuel Nike are the same that run Enero’s portfolio today: creativity and innovation driven by a diverse, talented workforce that has the ability to focus on and deliver distinctive core services while amplifying them at scale.
3. Choose Long-Term Sustainability Over Short-Term Relief
In response to economic instability, agility is the name of the game. That’s why we consistently see so many global behemoths struggle in times like these. They may have the resources and runway to weather tough periods, but their massive infrastructure means short-term solutions are often a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel—to the detriment of their budgets and employees.
I like to foster “freedom within a framework”: the ability to respond quickly to market needs, flex up or down, and shift your workforce as needed, but never at the expense of your medium-to-long-term strategy. It’s paramount that you continuously build equity in your company’s macro-level goals and long-term DNA.
Remember, agility isn’t simply cutting costs in times of uncertainty—anyone can do that. Rather, it’s calculating the degrees of adjustment required to not only respond to customer needs but also proactively anticipate those into the future and deliver solutions you haven’t even considered to better serve your business. The bottom line is that if you have a clear vision and can stay on the strategic path, economic ups and downs should be more rolling hills than dramatic peaks and valleys.
4. Understand That Doing Nothing Is Not A Strategy
Indecision can be a death knell for any organization during prolonged market unpredictability. It may be tempting to bury your head in the sand and wait for the storm to blow over, but that approach comes at the price of lost opportunities hidden in the headwinds. While others languish in a state of conservatism or paralysis, be bold in your position and decisions and be willing to face conflicting external opinions head-on to realize your vision, position and principles.
Trust your gut. While data-driven forecasts and projections are incredibly important tools to help guide leaders, I’m a strong proponent of common-sense decisions. You can’t fall victim to overthinking during periods of heightened complication and complexity. If you listen to your instincts, and your customers and industry experts, you will more often than not land at the right result.
Periods of economic uncertainty are uncomfortable for any leader, especially if you have boards, investors or shareholders holding your feet to the fire. Give yourself some grace to make minor missteps knowing that not every decision leads to El Dorado. Have the confidence to admit mistakes, the wisdom to avoid them again and the perseverance to rise above the noise. Remember, everything that’s made you successful in good times becomes even more salient in bad times. Be true to your unique values, and if you have confidence in what they are, you’ll find more opportunities to amplify amid the turmoil.
Up next: Enero Group continues global growth in FY23 posting 25% revenue and 19% EBITDA increase