Ask Score: Managing in Really Tough Times

Ask Score
Managing in Really Tough Times
A Prescription That Blends Theory and Practice for Continuous Improvement and Productivity
by Richard N Walton, President, ERMACORP

Managing in really tough times requires a mix of theory and practice that can make all the difference between merely surviving, and prospering, no matter what happens. We can divide the mix into five compartments for easy reference. They are customers, internal processes, innovation, finance, and people-culture. Let's take each on in turn.
Customers are the lifeblood of any business. In theory we should learn what the customers want, and provide it to them. But in practice, customers do not always know what they want and often are not aware of what your firm can do for them. In really tough times, managers have to be more vigilant than ever to seek out customer issues the solution to which can save your clients money or increase their revenue.
Internal processes provide the customer solutions referred to above. In theory processes should run smoothly with entirely predictable outcomes. In practice this rarely happens. Processes are subject to interruption and unpredictable outcomes. In really tough times managers have to dovetail marketing and production processes so that what is marketed and sold is what can be produced efficiently and effectively, that is at a profit.
Innovation in theory involves the creation of new products and services based upon research and development processes. In practice innovation occurs everywhere at all times within the firm, assuming it is encouraged. In really tough times, everyone has to be an innovator. It is not just products, but processes as well. Everyone has to be alert to ways in which productivity can be improved.
Finance is both the enabler of business operations and the score keeper. In theory finance provides what capital is needed for profitable operations. In practice, particularly in really tough times, finance is scrambling to provide funds for mere survival. What should happen in really tough times is that finance should operate at both ends of the operating cycle, through budgets ahead of time, and results afterward, and action should be taken to correct any anomalies that occur in between times. Budgets must be viewed as the most important planning and control documents in the firm, and carefully adhered to in really tough times, both as to revenue and cost.
Finally, people-culture. Employees and the culture in which they work, theoretically, should provide for meaningful work and job security. In really tough times, job security is constantly threatened, and the culture becomes one of constant worry about one's survival in terms of employment. What should happen is that employees engage maximum effort toward improving productivity through constant attention to the ways and means by which they can increase the value they bring to the firm. This can be done through the culture of continuous improvement and group incentives.
In summary, what needs to happen in really tough times is a blending of theory and practice that takes account of the need for total commitment to survival and ultimate prosperity and enlists the full court press of every employee and manager toward its attainment.

Richard Walton, Counselor for SCORE, and President, Enterprise Resource Management Associates, Inc., of Hagerstown, Maryland. Cell phone: 301-462-9850, email: