As a leader, you and your team will face tough times and adversity.  The issue isn’t whether you will face them; it is how you will lead the organization to success in spite of them!

After the recession, I embarked on a project to correlate business performance with strong leadership.  Over the last few years, I conducted interviews with leaders of successful organizations of all sizes and types, from large corporations to small businesses, sports teams to churches, and everything in between.

One of these interviews was with Dina Dwyer-Owens, Co-Chairman of The Dwyer Group, the parent company of seven brand franchises that provide services to homeowners.  Founded in 1981, it has expanded to over sixteen hundred franchises and nine thousand employees.  During the slowed economy of 2008-2010, the company found that they were not quite as recession-proof as they had always thought.  They had some brands with double-digit declines.  For the first time in their history, they had to ask the question, “Where do we need to be smarter about the way we operate?”

One solution Dwyer-Owens shared with me in our interview was a new tool that reduced costs, leveraged technology, and solved some consumer problems all at the same time.  They called it Service on Your Schedule.  If the customer wanted to have Mr. Appliance (one of their brands) come to the home to fix a refrigerator, and that customer did not have time to call for an appointment during the day, he or she could go online, look at the open appointments for the local franchisee of Mr. Appliance, and choose an appointment time.  That customer could book the job at the chosen time, then receive a picture of the service professional who would be doing the job.  This tool was more convenient for the customer, and eliminated the need for people at the appointment desk.

Not only did The Dwyer Group respond assertively to the impact of the recession, they changed the rules of the game, providing better customer service while decreasing costs in a sustainable way, increasing competitive advantage in the process.

The most common forces of business stagnation are not the result of disruption bur rather our reaction to it.  If Dwyer-Owens had focused on minimizing costs through the traditional tactics of labor reductions and marketing budget slashes with hopes to return to the pre-recession levels quickly, she more than likely would have faced disappointment.  In a 2010 study published in the Harvard Business Review article, “Roaring Out of the Recession,” the companies that cut budgets and staff took longer to kick start post-recession due to the additional time required to hire and train new people and lost ground to competitors during the process.

Successful leaders find permanent solutions to problems that enable the company to not only succeed but reignite enthusiasm and growth.  Those who focus more on managing the day-to-day process rather than on the end result are rarely able to substantially alter the future.

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