Leading in a Downturn

While in New York this week, I had the privilege of sitting down with some other small business owners to discuss the challenges of running a business in this economic downturn. Everyone knows the challenges of balancing income vs. expenses, long term projections, etc. A new challenge for many leaders is not only how to stay motivated themselves, but how to keep staff motivated during such difficult economic times.

Amid layoffs, pay cuts, cost discipline changes and tumultuous financial markets, maintaining a positive attitude can be challenging. Business leaders are tasked with the additional burden of assuring staff, partners and clients that things will be fine. But in an environment like today’s, that’s one sentiment that’s difficult to promise.

While you can’t always make guarantees to people when they ask for one, you can strive to be as open and honest as possible about challenges, solutions and potential changes. However, the truth is, employees aren’t always capable of understanding the decision path no matter how much information you provide. So how do you keep employees (who are often times facing heavier work loads than ever due to colleagues being laid off) motivated and positive? It’s certainly not an easy task.

Business owners are faced with making tough decisions – and managing the consequences of such decisions. Laying employees off is never an enjoyable task and is often viewed – no matter how delicately considered and addressed – as a personal attack. Employees get angry and, in today’s instant Internet age, their anger is often publicly displayed in places like Facebook statuses and Twitter updates.

So what is a business owner to do? A few recommendations include:

– Talk. Sounds obvious but it’s amazing how many C-level executives I’ve met that leave such delicate and important conversations to email.

Be honest. Honesty doesn’t mean you have to share every nitty gritty detail but it does mean that you are up front about decision making – how and why you’ve taken a certain direction or may have to.

– Be aggressive. As a business leader, you are charged with taking care of the people who work for you. If customers are paying late, clients are taking advantage of staff or angry ex-employees are spreading false rumors, know when to take action and how to do so professionally.

– Be persistent. In times like these, many people tend to want to curl up in a corner and shut their eyes until all the craziness goes away. As a leader you need to make sure you are addressing concerns with employees, even if they don’t want to talk about them – help ease their minds even if they aren’t capable of expressing their fears.

– Be courageous. It takes guts to lead a business during a downturn. Ignore your detractors, don’t fret over unprofessional competitors or angry ex-employees. Keep your head up, maintain your integrity and march forward with your principles in tact. Not everyone can comprehend or ever understand the enormous responsibilities – and tough decisions – you face as a business owner.

– Keep moving. Show customers, partners, colleagues, staff and the industry that you are tenacious by continuing to grow, to innovate and to take intelligent risks. By doing so you will no doubt inspire and encourage those around you – and your business will not only survive, but thrive.

What have you done to maintain motivation or how has your employer exemplified leadership during these tough times? I asked this question earlier this morning on Twitter and received a couple of replies, below. I’ll share more as they come in but we’d love to hear from you, too.

From Mashable To Uptown Uncorked, Leslie Poston is Definitely Lost in Technology

As we introduced last month, we continue our “Journalists Are People Too” series with a Q&A from Leslie Poston. This girl is one busy writer!

PPR: What is Uptown Uncorked?

LP: Uptown Uncorked is a business development and social marketing consultancy I started here in Boston. We focus on helping people and businesses learn to navigate the waters of social media tools to build their business, promote their brand, engage the customer, and build lasting social leverage that we then help turn into real world, off line successes and sales. We work with several SMBs but our specialty is in the industries of restaurants, bars, wineries, distilleries, distributors, sports clubs and trainers, musicians, artists, photographers, actors and others like them. As part of Uptown Uncorked, I also do presentations, classes and speaking engagements (I recently led a discussion called ‘ROI is Not Money’ at Jeff Pulver’s Social Media Jungle 08, for example).

Leslie Poston at Social Media Jungle

I run Uptown Uncorked with help from my partner, Triston. We find that with a Gen X and a Gen Y running the show, each with different specialties, more of our clients’ potential issues and markets are covered.

PPR:  You also write for Mashable, yes? What is your focus there?

Mashable is one of the blogs that I write for regularly as a Guest Author. I also helped them with some more regular social media news coverage while they were between permanent staff last month. I write collections of posts such as my Real World Change 2.0 series for them, submitting my ideas only if they seem to fit with Mashable’s audience.

I have also guest posted on Technosailor, Media Bulls Eye, and Louis Gray’s blog.  I have had a permanent position for about two years or so as a senior writer for the Blorge family of blogs and have a new gig as an author for Lost in Technology as well as maintaining my own blogs for my company and on politics, Apple computers, and other pet topics. Before Blorge I wrote for other technology blogs, including Profy.  I got my start in journalism as a reporter, then Managing Editor, for an offline financial weekly newsletter and yearly sourcebook.

PPR: Your Twitter handle is @geechee_girl – where did that name come from?

My Twitter handle was an accident! In fact, my own Twitter handle (which is now my handle on most other social networks for brand consistency) is the inspiration for a talk I give on the importance of choosing your brand wisely, even if you don’t think you’ll take to social media or use it for long. When I first found Twitter I thought it was a bit silly. Since I am from South Carolina originally and had just explained the concept of “geechee girls” to someone on GTalk, I decided to have a little fun with my name and chose geechee_girl as a joke – poking fun at myself in a tongue in cheek manner.  Well, my Twitter experience took off rapidly and I soon found myself “geechee_girl” forever. I don’t mind, I have a healthy sense of humor, especially about myself, but I definitely would have gone with my real name if I’d known how much time I’d spend on Twitter!

PPR:  You’ve been on Twitter for how long? How have you seen it evolve? How do you use it?

I was in the second wave of early adopters of Twitter. I didn’t jump on the band wagon right away when it appeared at SXSW in March 2006, but a few months later I finally tried it, and I’ve been hooked ever since.  I use Twitter to connect with people, and to connect people.  It is both my playground and a resource, and I find both sides appealing. I have found lasting friends on Twitter, people to collaborate with on business, inspiration, a way to help social causes do good in the real world, a social calendar of events, an event planning service that can’t be beat, a research tool, a place to promote not only my writing but the writing of others, a place to discover wine, art and music, a place to discover people who share my interests and people who can teach me about theirs, to connect with people and companies, and so much more. Twitter isn’t for everyone, but it has become a vital part of my day.

PPR: What is your favorite time of day and why?

Night time. If you follow me on Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn or other networks then you already may have noticed that I talk the most and work the best late at night and into the morning. Being a night owl runs in my family – it is not uncommon for my sisters, my mother and I to have phone calls or instant message sessions at 2 AM to catch up with each other.

PPR: What’s the most memorable moment of your life?

I have led an adventurous life. I’ve done so much, and experienced so much, both good and bad, that I don’t think I can pick one moment. Every second has shaped who I am and is shaping who I will become in the future. I believe everyone should live their life with no regrets, as if every minute counted.

PPR:  Do you have pets?

Yes! I have an “antique” dog, a 13 year old Rottweiler named Harley. He is 150 pounds of pure couch potato

PPR:  What do you do when you aren’t working?

I love to do a wide variety of things, though some of them I haven’t had time for in a while.  I love to downhill ski, water ski, play hockey (goalie), watch sports (hockey, UFC, MMA, football, baseball, etc), hike (in the past I went on a two week trek into the Trinity Alps, that was fun), read, write fiction, sing and play piano (both of which I am mediocre at), play at being an amateur gourmet chef, bake, taste wines and whiskeys, dance and so much more.

PPR:  If you could have any other career and money wasn’t an issue, what would it be?

I love what I do, but I’ve always wanted to be a singer-songwriter. I’ll content myself with appalling the neighbors with my stunning shower rendition of tunes from Les Miserablés and keep my day job, however.