If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs - your business can expand during a time of recession. Jill Munden tells Jo Ind how.
During tough economic times, it is not unusual for clients to arrive in a cloud of anxiety at Jill Munden’s door.
Jill is a performance coach based in Solihull who owns a company – People Vision – that works with executives, teams and individuals to help improve their productivity.
She said it is natural for people to become anxious during a time of economic uncertainty but contracting within only gets communicated to clients and becomes self-perpetuating.
“Shrinking back will exacerbate the problem,” she says. “You will just get more and more of the same. If you are handing out those negative vibes to everyone around you, it will just snowball.”
Jill, who used to work in international marketing in the car industry, said a time of economic downturn is the point at which to do more marketing, not less.
At Aston Business School, in Birmingham, there has been a 10-year study which has proved that really is the case. Professor Michael West, executive dean of Aston Business School, conducted research into companies looking at what management practices make a difference to company performance.
The research involved face-to-face interviews with the heads of 160 small and medium-sized enterprise and manufacturing businesses every two years between 1995 and 2005.
“Rather than hiding away and being anxious and using tried and tested ways of doing things, we found that the companies that were brave enough to be innovative were much more likely to be productive,” says Prof West.
“We recorded all the interviews with senior managers for about two hours and we found if we took a random one-minute slice of those interviews, and counted the number of positive statements they made, then that predicted the climate or culture of the company a year later.
“There was a clear association between how positive the CEO was and how the employees felt and how the company performed and that was taking account of prior productivity.
“It was not a matter of the company doing well before which made the CEO more positive as a person which made the company perform better over time.”
Prof West says it was not enough to be positive without also being realistic.
“What leaders also have to be is honest and transparent. We need our leaders to be realistic optimists.
“They have to tell us very clearly what the situation is, then reassure us we have the talents and the skills and the strengths to get through this and finally a very clear plan for exactly how we’re going to do this, a coping plan.”
Jill says it is important to detach yourself from the negative atmosphere and put yourself into a positive place.
“You need to move away from negative thinking. Yes, house prices have dropped, but not by very much in comparison to the amount they have risen in the past five years.
“Unemployment is increasing, but it is nothing like as bad as it was five or ten years ago.
“We need to think in terms of challenges and opportunities.”
Prof West agrees.
“There is all this talk of Armageddon and meltdown but life is going on pretty much as normal,” he says. “Yes, there is an increased likelihood of a recession and some loss of jobs but at the moment we’re not seeing anything particularly dramatic.
“Let’s not get into catastrophising when there’s no evidence it’s going to be a catastrophe.
“Most people will continue to be employed, most people will continue to be in a house.
“Secondly, focus on the resources that you have, as a person, your support network, your family, your skills, contacts, experience.
“Thirdly, make sure you’ve got a plan, a contingency. Confidence will start to return but it will take time.
“Meanwhile, I believe the steadfastness and truthfulness and industriousness of ordinary people going about their daily lives doing their daily work is what will carry us through.
“Know that, on the whole, human beings come out from difficult times, stronger, better and wiser. Hold onto that.”
The property dispute team at the Wilkes Partnership has seen business expand, despite the downturn in the sector, as a result of goal-orientated positive thinking.
Mark Abrol, a partner with the Birmingham-based law firm, took his team on an away-day with People Vision at the start of the year.
Among other things, they worked on defining their vision, developing a business plan, valuing and capitalising on individuals within the team, improving service levels, goal setting and action planning.
“It was incredible,” says Mark. “It really took off. There were so many ideas, we decided to have a follow-up day in June so we could analyse them and focus on the action plan.”
The result of that was that in July the team increased business by 34 per cent, August by 25 per cent and September by more than seven per cent.
“July and August are notoriously quiet months,” says Mark. “I’ve never known anything like that performance in the 17 years I’ve been doing the job here.”
Mark has taken on one-and-a-half new members of staff in order to cope with the increased workload.
“As a result of this process the quality of our work has improved as has the number of new clients,” says Mark.
“During an economic downturn it’s even more important to know what your goals are and how you are going to achieve those goals.
“There’s a lot of doom and gloom but you’ve got to be positive. You’ve got to break your marketing plan down into small steps and say ‘how are we going to achieve the next step?’ The results have been excellent.”