By Bill Conerly, Businomics, Conerly Consulting
When the recession is over, business challenges will be different, not gone. Companies wrestling with the downturn need to consider what new problems they’ll face in the recovery.
You may have cut back on your staffing level to survive the recession. When sales recover, you’ll start hiring—but whom? Many of the folks you laid off will not be available. Some of the people you hire may not have worked in your industry before. You will have a training challenge greater than you had before the recession.
The employees who stayed with you through the recession will be different. They may have felt guilty when they survived layoffs. Then they worked hard without bonuses, pay raises or much chance of promotion (because the company was not expanding, and few higher-ups were quitting or retiring). After working hard through the recession, their attitudes will be different than had been a few years earlier.
Consumers are cutting back on their spending, but the day will come when they buy cars and furniture again. How will the recession change their attitudes? Will they buy the same products, the same styles, at the same price points as they did in 2005? Probably not. What mix of products will fill the consumer’s need to celebrate the return to normalcy, without falling into the same old bad habits?
When it’s time to ramp up production, will your vendors be ready? If you had to cut back your orders during the recession, your vendors will be hurting. They may have laid off key personnel, and they may not have the financing in place to buy raw materials to provide you with products. Their problems will become your problems if you rely on them for critical supplies.
Speaking of finance, what about your own situation? The financial crisis has changed the world of credit in ways that won’t quickly be reversed. Securitization will continue, but at a much slower pace, with far simpler deals. This is a problem even for companies that never floated complex deals on Wall Street. Virtually all forms of business credit have been securitized: bank loans, lease receivables, commercial mortgages, credit card debt. Many business borrowers didn’t even know that the money for their loans came through these channels. The closure of secondary markets, though, makes business credit harder to obtain.
Business recoveries are stressful to balance sheets. Chief financial officers who have felt stressed by declining sales volumes will feel a different kind of stress next year. Increasing orders will require spending on inventories and personnel, much of which has to take place before payments are received from customers. This need for working capital will increase before credit markets fully adjust to the financial crisis.
How does a business leader prepare for these new challenges? The first step is to keep the company going, which means dealing with today’s challenges. At the same time, take a few hours and sketch out the challenges you expect when the recovery comes. Bring in a few colleagues and brainstorm. Then look at the issues that need current action. Some problems can wait until they arise, but others can be nipped in the bud with a little forethought. The companies that thrive in the recovery will be those that not only survived the recession, but also planned for better times.
Bill Conerly is principal of Conerly Consulting LLC, chief economist of abcInvesting.com, and was previously Senior Vice President at First Interstate Bank. Bill Conerly writes up-to-date comments on the economy on his blog called “Businomics” and produces a monthly audio magazine available on CD. Conerly is author of “Businomics™: From the Headlines to Your Bottom Line: How to Profit in Any Economic Cycle”, which connects the dots between the economic news and business decisions.