Business in Vancouver – Profitability – April, 2009
As the economy dips into recession, many business leaders struggle to find new ways to keep their companies afloat, but experts say honesty may be the best strategy.
According to leadership expert Rosie Steeves, the challenges ahead will demand leaders who are confident and organized, as well as ones who can develop and maintain a healthy line of communication with employees.
“There are tremendous burdens on leaders at this point in time, and some of them might not be prepared for this,” said Steeves. “So they need to know what they do know and what they don’t know, and they need to be able to reach out for help.”
Steeves, who is co-principal of Vancouver-based consulting firm the Refinery Leadership Partners Inc., believes a strong leadership structure is “absolutely essential” for the survival of any company.
“I think what we’re seeing right now will separate the good from the bad in terms of leadership; it will be great leadership that sustains … [and] if [companies] don’t have it, the best thing they can do is get it.”
She said business leaders often make mistakes when they refuse to invest in their employees or choose to make sweeping budget cuts.
“Some of what they’re cutting are the things that are going to sustain them through the tough times,” explained Steeves.
She said every company should critically evaluate all of the components of their business and determine what’s of value and what isn’t. From there, a leader can develop clear and concise strategies that will keep everyone informed and maintain the business in the long run.
Vance Campbell agrees.
The Vancouver-based entrepreneur and veteran of the hospitality industry said that it’s a leader’s business relationships that matter most during tough times.
“If there’s anything that’s going to sustain you during these tough times it’s the people that work with you,” said Campbell, who owns Canvas Lounge in Gas-town.
He said leaders need to be honest and upfront with their employees and suppliers about what’s happening with the business.
Recently, Campbell had to temporarily close his doors after a neighbouring restaurant burned down.
In order to maintain a positive relationship with his employees, Campbell found employment for many of them elsewhere until he could re-open Canvas; an act that he said is part of a larger business philosophy.
“Coming from the point of view that your front line is your bottom line in the hospitality industry, and it really is, these are the people that make or break your business, and they need to be taken care of,” he said.
“If you focus on possibility and you don’t focus on the doom and gloom aspect of things, the likelihood of it turning out is better.”
Fortunately, there are a number of tools available to business leaders in B.C. who are looking to create or improve their leadership structure.
One of them is the Leadership and Management Development Council of British Columbia, a non-profit society designed to help B.C. business strategize and grow. Council president Kari Yuers believes the most practical approach to good leadership is communication.
“I think that it’s very important for leaders to be very clear on what the vision for the company is, what the plans are. People can take bad news; I think it’s the absence of information that creates paralysis,” said Yuers.
As president and CEO of Vancouver’s Kryton International Inc., a concrete waterproof and repair company, Yuers knows what its like to lead from the front line.
She said leaders need to be realistic about their strategies and make sure employees are always informed — it’s not enough to send the message once.
“I think it’s being real, doing all the things that got you to the point that you have been successful and making sure you
keep doing those things,” said Yuers.
She said even though the near future may bring financial hardship, it’s also a good time for leaders to improve productivity and invest in technology such as the Internet to enhance growth potential.
More than anything though, she said business leaders need to embrace change and adapt to an economic future that’s increasingly uncertain.
“So making sure that you’re changing making and planning for a different future is all part of a leader’s job,” said Yuers. “When it [the economy] turns around, I don’t think the world as we knew it will be the world that we go back to.”