Managing Post-WTC

One of the top salespeople at global software company was telling stories about his most glamorous, and memorable, sales calls. There was the jealous oil baron and his wife in Venezuela, the risk-loving cattle and wine mogul in Australia, the extremely reticent Hong Kong textile magnate, and so on. Each tale was of sales call more difficult than the last, until even we listeners were exhausted. To hear him tell it, to be success in his field you had to be virtuoso of sales, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of humanity and foreign cultures, the bravado of James Bond, and the tact of Dick Cavett.
Or so it seemed, until we were mingling afterwards. “Where do you suppose he gets the energy to keep going?” asked an admiring voice behind me, evidently referring to the speaker.
In considerably more sardonic tone, woman replied: “Oh, I know where he gets the energy – from two weeks before and two weeks after one of his trips he hardly does any productive work.”
I couldn’t resist the impulse to turn around; “Do you work with him?”
“You might say so,” she replied. “I’m his boss.”
This woman had put her finger on one of the insidious problems, not just in sales, but in all business. The fact is that the human mind can and will find an excuse to make anything seem more difficult in order to justify not doing it – if you let it. There is no better example, for my purposes, than that of the sales executive who found only difficulty in life composed of globetrotting and meeting interesting people.
This is important to remember. We’ve come through an initial period following the World Trade Centre disaster when according to all manner of alarmists, it seemed that there were more reasons to feel pessimistic about doing business than at any other time since 1939, 1929, and 1309 rolled together. That kind of despair was unmerited and irresponsible. Disruption is fact of life in business; it is even necessary. “In destruction there is creation,” says Schumpeter, father of entrepreneurial theory.
At the very least, we would seem to be in transformative era such as that following the 1970 oil shocks or the introduction of the silicon chip. This means there will be businesses that are ready for the change, and those that won’t be. If you’re in leadership position in your company – and who isn’t, when you come down to it – that outcome is going to be your responsibility. Your first job? Prevent ineffectuality from becoming an acceptable outcome.
The basic resilience of human nature is such that business activity obviously isn’t just going to stop because of the events of September 11. Just as people wanted sport back in their lives after week of mourning, they also still want consumer goods, designer coffees and fine wines, new movies and plays, new experiences in travel, and all the business systems and products that keep the economy humming. Companies whose workers keep looking forward will be those in position to survive and thrive.
With this in mind, it’s good to remember few basic truths to pass along to your managers and employees:
* Work is sanctuary In prosperous times people forget that one of the greatest joys in life is fulfilment in work. Look at how people in New York threw themselves into volunteerism, and then returned to their jobs with vow to bring their city back to life.
Many were in no mood to work, yet after only day or two they struggled back to their offices, often enduring commutes twice the norm and interruptions in mail and delivery services without complaint.
* Communications are twice as important Now, more than ever, you should maintain effective contact with suppliers, distributors, vendors, and outlets.
Their feedback should be analysed at much more frequent intervals – in some businesses, even daily – in order to gain an understanding of the post-WTC economy as it will affect your business. Such communications also help to stabilise your partners, clients and customers, by assuring them of your own intentions.
• Any belt-tightening must be done across the board As freezes on hiring, raises, and promotions resound through company – not to mention layoffs and cuts in salaries and bonuses – don’t forget to include top management, if only symbolically.
While employment contracts may limit what can be asked of executives, that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to demonstrate solidarity on voluntary basis.
• Remember, too, that in crisis there is always opportunity The more of us who seek out and develop those opportunities, the better off we all will be.

Mark McCormack is the founder of International Management Group.

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