I sniffed the awakening aroma of fresh toast and avoided the light switch, opting instead for the first ray of sunrise. My eyes shifted to a glimmer across the room. A laser beam of sunlight pierced the edges of my kitchen window with a steady brilliance. The first glimmer of morning light had a radiant freshness that engaged and reassured me at the same time.
I'm certain you're looking for glimmers, too, and not just sunshine. How about a little market glimmer as well? As the slow economy slogs along, a few bits of light are starting to peek through.
Sporadic indicators are telling us things may have bottomed out. Even so, you don't want to get too eager. It's going to be a long while before we see heady spending again in the boating market, based on what I've been reading and comments inside the industry.
With that in mind, managers are starting to ask, "Now what?" The market hasn't turned around yet. What should you be doing in the meantime to extend your staying power and fortify your business success? You should be building or upgrading your management "MAP" - in other words, toning and clarifying how you manage, monitor and maximize your money, assets and people.
Great managers are constantly taking the pulse of things keeping their businesses strong. An easy reminder of this vigilance can be found by closely watching your MAP. Consistently well-managed money, assets and people will generate a well- balanced balance sheet.
Several weeks ago, I was chatting with a college professor who teaches entrepreneurial business skills. A comment she made echoed this thought and stuck with me: "I love recessions because businesses who survive are those who know what they're doing versus those who've been relying on luck." She likes to see businesses apply management skills and good planning to weather tough times and emerge more successful. Building or upgrading your management MAP will help you do this; put good business practices into play and regularly check and update those practices as the market changes.
M is for money
How's your business bank account looking these days? Here's where the smart marine manufacturer and boat dealer stands tall and says, "We're looking pretty good." That's because they were looking pretty good before the recession, too. If you're not able to say this about the money portion of your management MAP, you may be nervously reaching for a drink.
Always staying in good fiscal shape - keeping expenses low while judiciously watching inventory, payroll and general spending - is good business and essential for survival in punk markets. We all know this doesn't happen by accident. It takes deliberate, ongoing financial discipline and planning during both robust and rocky times. How often do you take a long-term, hard look at the money portion of your MAP beyond the cursory, "Yup, we can make payroll this month"?
While the current market is relatively low-key, grab extra time and check improvements you can make in how you manage short-term and long-term money, accounting practices and processes, and everything else feeding dollars on the ledger in receivables, payables, checking and savings accounts, and investments. If you can't respond to the bank account question by saying, "We're in pretty good shape," start plotting the course for how you'll get there. For all managers who haven't done it lately, rebalance and chart an updated plan for the money in your MAP now.
A is for assets
Beyond money, what about other assets - how do you stack up? Consider such assets as product inventory or parts and supplies used in manufacturing. Add equipment, general office supplies and properties required to run the business. Do you have more than you need? Are there assets you could sell and generate a leaner production or retail environment without compromising your moneymaking ability? Conversely, are there assets you need to acquire? It's a super time to shop for bargains, particularly from those who haven't been managing their assets as well as you have.
Reviewing assets in your MAP should include warehouses and storage space - similar to the closets, basement and garage you have at home. When was the last time you really got organized, cleaned out and sold the business stuff you're not using? I recently sold some seldom-used furniture on Craigslist. It was in great shape. I made a few bucks, and it made me rethink how I was using valued space. When checking your MAP, regularly consider the financial impact of assets you need and don't need and adjust accordingly.
P is for people
We've talked many times about the importance of hiring right, placing the right skills in the right job, and maintaining key people with appropriate compensation and recognition. The P in your management MAP takes into account the importance of people in maximizing your formula for success.
While the action is slow, power up skill sets with training programs to renew energy and enthusiasm. (I recently completed two training courses with this in mind.) Look around. You've probably reduced head count as much as you can. Explore untapped skills and talents and use them. Gaze beyond sluggish times and visualize people you need to achieve goals now and when things get better. Plot and plan the people portion of your MAP for weathering the soft market and, later, emerging into a brighter economy.
Now you've refreshed your management MAP, and you're better positioned to ride out the recession. To add to our MAP discussion, I got a firsthand view of how things are looking inside the industry from Bill Yeargin, president and CEO of Correct Craft. Yeargin provided terrific insight on how he's leading his company through the recession.
He estimates the boating industry won't turn around until spring 2010. That's how long he feels it will take consumer wealth and spending behavior to recover. In the meantime, Yeargin is focusing on everything he can control, like keeping costs lean, staying in touch with lessons learned during the market's downward slide, and boosting skills with training. He's also creating better processes and preparing to turn his attention to product development and related marketing as soon as conditions improve. Yeargin feels the recovery will be slow, making it a great time to become really good at what his company does and take the opportunity to grow.
It was clear the many things Yeargin is doing are part of preparing for better times and the next glimmer of light in the marketplace. As a manager and business leader, how are you preparing? Instead of "Now what?" it should be "How about now?" That's right. Start setting the stage for better times by building or upgrading your management MAP and the way you approach money, assets and people. Once your MAP is updated, look ahead - at some point you'll start to see a glimmer of light, and you'll be well prepared to make the most of it.
Mary Elston has spent more than 20 years in management in the transportation, consulting and technology industries. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of the book, "Master Your Middle Management Universe, How to Succeed with Moga Moga Management Using 3 Easy Steps." Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the August 2009 issue.