How to Manage for the Slowdown

Bill Hackos
Comtech Services, Inc.
http://www.comtech-serv.com

Ram Charan and Geoffrey Colvin’s article Managing for the Slowdown: 13 moves to make before your competitors do plus 3 rules not to forget, in the February 5, 2001 issue of Fortune, was written to help fine tune corporate policy, but documentation department managers will also find a lot of useful information in this article.

The “3 rules not to forget” apply to information-development managers.

Rule #1 Rethink your strategies

During a slowdown, when there are pressures against your department headcount and budget, you can’t make it doing business as usual. You’ll need to develop new strategies for the new environment. You’ll need to look closely at your priorities and make necessary changes.

Rule #2 Focus on the quality of your people

Your people are your most valuable asset. Don’t lower your hiring standards. Maintain your employee training. Saving money on employee career development and learning is foolish. You want a top notch, technically proficient staff during the slowdown and afterward.

Rule #3 Continue improving productivity

The slowdown is not the time to feel sorry for yourself and let productivity slide. Improvements in efficiency gained during the slowdown will be a great help to your department as the economy improves.

Some of the 13 “moves” (#2, #4, #6, #11, and #12) are purely corporate. But some apply to us very well.

Move #1 Use the downturn as a new opportunity to evaluate people

During a slowdown, new problems with people can surface that were not apparent before the slowdown. Can your people handle the change in direction and the new priorities that come with the slowdown? Possibly, some of your people who could get by in the old economy can’t hold their own in the slowdown. They should be moved to jobs they can handle or moved out of the company.

Move #3 Get out of the bunker

Now is not the time to hunker down and close the hatches. Become more creative with the resources you have. Do what it takes to increase your productivity. Become more customer- and user-oriented.

Move #5 Be a hero to your customers

Now is the time to develop relationships with your customers. Use your customer knowledge to improve your efficiency and productivity. Focus your efforts on your customers rather than on your developers.

Move #7 Lower your break-even point

Your company may want to reduce staff. Use this as an opportunity to eliminate your least productive staff. You will emerge from the slowdown with greater productivity than before.

Move #8 Focus on nurturing new ideas

Create teams that have an emotional commitment to new ideas. Be eager to use contacts from outside your company. Don’t just use the short-term bottom line to evaluate ideas, but consider your long-term goals.

Move #9 Keep investing in infotech

Don’t use the slowdown as an excuse to stop investing in new technology. You’ll be trailing your competitors when the slowdown ends. Keep good relationships with your vendors.

Move #10 Overhaul your budget process

Develop a lean and defensible budget. Don’t let your management budget for you. Then vigorously defend your budget. Both you and your management will be glad you did when the slowdown ends.

Move #13 Keep communicating

While conditions are changing fast during the slowdown, your management, customers, developers, and employees need to know your views of the situation, and you need to know theirs.

The slowdown will be over before you know it. Your responsibility is to bring your department out of the slowdown in the best condition possible.

The full article Managing for the Slowdown: 13 Moves to Make Before Your Competitors Do–Plus 3 Rules not to Forget, is available in the February 5, 2001 issue of Fortune.

You can also visit Fortune’s Web site

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