Turning the Corner to Where?

Lately I have been hearing a more positive message from executives in their communications to their employees, the business press, and business analysts. Whether the message is the familiar "we've turned the corner" or the milder "the worst is behind us," the intent is to signal that a better tomorrow looms. But does it? And what does it look like?

The question I have been asking my clients now is whether the strategies they put in place to deal with the economic downturn have made their organizations more capable of producing excellence as they move forward? Most respond that the emphasis on lean structure and cost control were necessary adjustments that made their companies "more fit" for the future. Certainly the cost reductions have had a positive impact on margins, but I wonder how long this can be sustained? I suggest that there are a number of areas ripe for scrutiny to determine if they will, in fact, lead the business to a better place once that corner has been turned.

First, the increased scrutiny on spending may have some unintended, and unmeasured, consequences. I wonder about the speed of execution when new checkpoints are added into a process. New layers of managerial waste and delays may eat up the apparent savings in cost reduction in time to market. Also, it may be sending a message to the management that executive leadership has little confidence in their business savvy, undermining their potential contributions. It may be time to loosen up the controls a bit.

Second, I have seen some pretty good talent leave organizations because the new, leaner management structure doesn't seem to have the upward mobility they want. A more fluid project approach to work might be the ticket here. Top talent demands work that matters!

Third, oddly enough, executives may have to prove their competence to the workforce—who paid some prices in the downturn. Many executives have been using the "economy" as the reason for poor performance, but my coffee chats with their employees lead me to believe that the rank and file aren't totally buying that. It is important that the road forward is seen as doable by the employees in an organization, and that these workers believe that the current executive team can lead them to success.

And last, I might suggest that it is a good time to focus a little less energy on Wall Street analysts, and a little more on employees and customers. I continue to marvel at how much executive time is focused on pleasing the analysts. Yes, they need attention paid to them, but long-term success is more dependent upon employee and customer satisfaction. And that means switching the focus to them.