These are uncertain times. We hear every day about a new round of layoffs, or closures, or bankruptcies. Companies in trouble seem to add new customer fees and surcharges (e.g. the charges for extra bags on airline flights) every week. And the customer experience gets a bit worse each month.
I am a bit of a contrarian. When stock prices are high, that's a sell signal for me. When they're low, it's time to buy. When it comes to business strategy, a contrarian approach can pay off, too. Times like this present opportunities to buy other businesses at relatively low prices, to build capability while others are laying off great people, and to strengthen customer loyalty. Most organizations retrench in times like these. If your organization is capable of boldly investing while others retreat, you might very well take the most profitable business for yourself.
Here's a list of 18 questions you might ask about your organization now. Perhaps one or two will strike your fancy and lead to profitable strategic moves.
WARNING: If you are in a company driven only by this quarter's earnings, don't bother reading on. These questions won't be interesting to you. On the other hand, if you are accustomed to thinking and acting for the long term benefit of your company's owners, read on!
18 Fearless Strategic Questions
- What assets or businesses might you consider buying now (at firesale prices) that will better position you for growth when the economy improves?
- What internal capabilities could you build now (while your people are a bit less over-worked) that will supercharge profits when the economy turns?
- Which of your inputs are at low price now? Can you nail those low prices down for the long haul?
- What should you stop doing?
- What should you start doing?
- Other organizations are laying off good people, and more will hit the streets in coming months. Some of those might be great folks for your organization. Who do you need to hire now, in order to fuel success in the next growth period?
- What do you (personally) need to learn now in order to be more effective in an upturn. What does your team need to learn?
- As workload drops a bit, who needs a sabbatical - to recharge and renergize and to pick up new knowledge and skills?
- What processes need to be improved upon, or implemented, to make it easier for your organization to move quickly when things get better?
- Where are gaps appearing in the market - unmet needs and desires that your customers might not yet be aware of - needs and desires that others are not interested in filling?
- Which of your customers are struggling? Of those, which are likely to survive the downturn and then thrive on the upturn? Which of those will you support through the hard times? Of those that may not survive, or won't thrive, which should you drop from your customer list?
- In case the downturn is prolonged, what should you be doing today to mitigate the damage to your business?
- If the US dollar were to drop another 20 percent in value, what will you wish you had done today to prepare?
- If the price of oil were to increase another 20 percent, what will you wish you had done today to prepare?
- Who needs your help in the community? Who is worse off than you? What can you do to help?
- What are you doing to manage your cash flow? What are the risks to your cash flow?
- What new products or services or markets could you be developing now, so that they are poised for rapid growth when the economy turns?
- What opportunities are there for you to provide a much better customer experience than your competitors? As they cut back or add fees and surcharges, what can you do to profitably buck the trend?
And, most important: What do you need to do next?