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Five Action Steps to Help You Lead in Times of Economic Crisis

Dan Sinnott, for HealthLeaders Media, March 18, 2009

4. Every crisis is an opportunity. Think growth! What products and services can be created or expanded to help grow your way out of the current crisis. I once heard someone say "you can not shrink yourself to greatness." There is only so much expense you can take out of an organization. The future of your organization's survival depends upon growth.

In the book Results Based Leadership, the authors identify three ways to grow: expand your geography, offer new products/services, or offer additional services to existing customers. To expand geography, understand where you draw your customers from and why. Using market research, decide where to expand to draw new customers for existing products and services.

This is an excellent time to innovate because customers always want timely and cost-effective new products and services. For example, develop and offer a new type of surgery that was approved by the federal government to be offered in only a handful of hospitals throughout the nation. Being the first will definitely help gain new market share as long as the hospital successfully produces high-quality outcomes.

Finally, offering additional services to existing customers can be easy to do since you already know your target audience. Too often growth is not considered during an economic crisis. Courage to take a risk and innovate can be just what your company needs to survive and thrive.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate! Be open, brutally honest and answer any and all questions from your key constituents, especially your employees. Many leaders hold back on providing information during a crisis either to protect the organization's reputation or so as not to look bad if they cannot answer a question. Employees are not stupid. They know things are bad. What employees appreciate is honest, accurate and timely information. They also want to know how this crisis is going to affect them personally.

When sharing information with employees, remember to anticipate questions about how your decisions will affect them in terms of job security, benefits and work schedule. If a question is asked that you can not answer, don't be afraid to say you do not know. Promise to get the answer and then follow up in getting the answer. Finally, share that answer with everyone, starting with the individual who asked the original question. This simple approach will help the leader develop additional credibility with the employees.

One more important message for leaders to provide during a crisis is a vision for the future. In a recent Harvard Business Review article titled "To Lead, Create a Shared Vision," authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner point out that 72% of colleagues and 88% of senior executives want a leader who is looking forward. Key constituents want to know where the organization is going and how they fit into that plan. The authors say that the best way to connect with employees in the future is to spend time with them in the present. Get out, make rounds, ask questions about the future and most importantly, listen!

Profound lessons can be learned from leading during crises. Awareness of these five steps can help you not only survive today's economic meltdown but be well-positioned for growth when the economy recovers.


Dan Sinnott is president of Sinnott Executive Consulting. He may be reached at Dan@Sinnottexecutiveconsulting.com.
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