Depression as Opportunity?

At a client meeting this week, I was taken aback when he deliberately chose to describe the current economic outlook in the UK with the word “depression.” I have become used to talking to colleagues and clients alike about the coming recession, but a depression is entirely a different matter. I’ve never lived through one of those! This client is the CEO of a financial services group and extremely well connected in UK banking circles. If he’s thinking and talking this way, so, too, I bet, are the heads of many other sizeable financial institutions.

Our conversation moved on to what the best strategies were for both our businesses to successfully navigate through the testing times that lie ahead. What could he do, and did we have anything different to offer that might help him to do it better or more quickly? You won’t be surprised that most of the “common sense” stuff we began to discuss, in nautical parlance at least, focused on “lightening the ship, battening down the hatches, and hoping to be amongst those who survived the storm.” But we’re the Tom Peters Company, dammit!

Back in 1990, Tom released a brilliantly counterintuitive video called “Recession as Opportunity—smart moves for tough times!” Its core message for those dark days was that “smart people should redouble their attention to improving product quality and service excellence.” This was a good place to start and changed the tone of our conversation. We then talked about the importance of engaging peoples’ hearts and minds, and especially so in tough times. Everyone on the payroll has to do work that is worth their wages. How to make “the work matter” to people. Creating a context where people can do the best work of their lives. Spreading messages of doom and gloom all round the patch certainly won’t do that.

I left the session feeling quite pleased with my contribution to the debate. I might have helped my client to get past his personal malaise and into some “uncommon sense” areas where he could deploy his considerable leadership talent to potential competitive advantage. But I came back to earth with a bump today when I read the current Annual Review and Summary from HBOS plc (a competitor of my client), and found this comment prominent in CEO Andy Hornby’s remarks: “As we face the unprecedented financial turmoil in global markets, our focus on colleague [talent] development has never been more important. Our ability to execute our strategy within these tough markets relies on engaging with, and motivating, our colleagues to deliver consistently outstanding performance.”

Perhaps the common sense stuff came at the end of the discussion, and not at the start? Does anyone have any stories of people who are already making smart moves for tough times?

Richard King posted this on March 28, 2008, in Talent.
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