THE VAMPIRES OF VISION
PROTECTING YOUR COMPANY FROM THE RECESSION'S TEETH
By Frank Marangos, Ed.D.
The vampire is a Gothic metaphor that illustrates humankind's fears, suspicions, and insecurities. With Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Harry Potter, and a wealth of other fanged fantasy fiction pouring out in multimedia, it is a good time to examine whether this malevolent mythic mystique reveals anything about our current economic situation and the manner that we choose to confront it.
A vision vampire is anything that sucks the life out of a business leader's dreams, hopes and aspirations. It is anything that disables operational efficiency and/or distracts from pursuing core values and primary objectives. Vision vampires disturb alignment, wounding team relationships and, most importantly, exhaust the spirit of an organization.
How should business owners protect themselves from the sharp teeth of the current recession? Is it possible to successfully navigate the fog of financial uncertainty and judiciously prepare for the dawn? Research shows that only 9% of companies come out of a recession stronger. Unfortunately, 17% lack the strategic vision to even survive. Bitten by the vampire of vision, they allow the anxieties and challenges of the recession to suck the life-blood of healthy self-regulation from their company's veins. Consequently, when the light of an economic upturn finally sends the recession's treacherous parasites retreating to their crypts, they are not prepared to take advantage of the opportunity.
A recent yearlong empirical study of nearly 5,000 public companies examined corporate performance during the past three global recessions (1980-2; 1990-1; 2000-2). The data was divided into three, three-year periods: (a) before, (b) during, and (c) after the recession. The study concluded that business leaders who uphold an appropriate strategic vision during a recession have the best chances of successfully surviving the downturn. Stratagems can be classified into four types:
I. An examination of these four stratagems provides prudent business leaders valuable strategies for warding off the recession's ever-thirsty vampires of vision.
Prevention-focused leaders are characterized by their concern for avoiding losses and minimizing downside risks. Their strategic vision for weathering a recession is making defensive moves. Unfortunately, research shows that less than 21% of these cost-cutting companies manage to outperform their competition after the slowdown.
Unlike their more cautious counterparts, promotion-focused business leaders invest more of their resources in offensive moves. These companies are interested in advancing strategies that may outperform their peers and rivals when the recession is over. Once again, the data reveals that only 26% of investment-centered leaders are able to be classified as post-recession champions.
Pragmatic-focused companies combine defensive and offensive strategic visions. Guided by a leadership vision that focuses on facts and consequences rather than the strains of immediate challenge and need, pragmatic companies understand that they must tame aggressive tendencies to either endorse early warning signs or flaunt overly optimistic cultures.
According to empirical research, progressive companies strive to avoid bad outcomes and experience post-recession success by deploying an optimal combination of prevention and promotion. Leaders that promote such a self-regulating strategic vision of balancing the reduction of costs with prudent investments in the future successfully thrive after a recession.
II. What are the characteristics of a progressive vision?
In place of wooden stakes, crosses, and garlic, the equivalent vampire-killing strategies selectively used by progressive leaders may be clustered into three tool kits:
- Operational Efficiency
- New Markets of Opportunity
- R&D and Marketing Investments
Compared to 56% of prevention-focused leaders, only 23% of progressive companies cut staff. Companies that are interested in improving operational efficiency as opposed to merely exploiting budgetary cost reductions are characterized by high morale, creativity, and stronger performance after a recession.
New Markets of Opportunity
Progressive companies relentlessly pursue new markets of opportunities during a recession. They are not content with existing profit bases but take advantage of depressed property and equipment values. By developing new customers and acquiring appropriate assets, progressives are poised to more quickly respond than their competitors once a recession has run its course.
R&D and Marketing Investments
Progressive leaders leverage resources that are freed up by their pursuit of operational efficiency to increase R&D and marketing expenditures. The benefit of such judicious investment is post-recession agility that eventually contributes to long-term growth.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a popular television melodrama about Buffy Summers, a high school student with special powers to rid the world of vampires and demons. Unfortunately, her unique fate has resulted in so much trouble that she was expelled from her former school. Forced to move to California, Buffy learns that the quaint town of Sunnydale is actually a Hellmouth - the dangerous epicenter of global vampire activity. With the support of three other teenage students, she employs a combination of talent, courage, humility, and faith to slay the world's nocturnal opponents. "A triple-braided cord is not easily broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
Vision, and the hope that it engenders, hammers a powerful stake into the heart of fear and uncertainty! As such, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a wonderful allegory for the contemporary business leader intent on defeating the dangers of the recession. Like Buffy, leaders would do well to enlist the talent and wise council of their personnel and utilize the strategies and tactics inherent in the progressive-focused company tool kit to repel the sharp teeth of their respective Sunnydales!
Frank Marangos, Ed.D.,
Senior Business Coach and Consultant
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