Future of Work

Winning Through Recession Needs a Different Approach

Payal Nanjiani

A week before New Year set in, I was sitting in my room at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Goa, India, and reading the news about the market anxiety around the upcoming recession news. The next day I had a breakfast meeting with the CEO and his department heads of a manufacturing company, all of whom had come to Goa for their year-end offsite. I was invited to discuss conducting my well-known ‘Win The  Game’ masterclass’ for senior leaders, which helps them lead with impact through a recession. 

 I sensed some anxiety among the leaders as I entered the board room. I was warmly greeted by the CEO and took my seat. Their discussion was about what they could do better to successfully navigate the recession that would hit India in the next few months.  

I observed that they spoke so much about setting the right goals and targets and utilizing the cash reserves to achieve these targets. I couldn’t hold myself back, and precisely within forty-three minutes into their discussion, I intervened, saying that they were making a huge mistake here and that setting goals and targets would not help much during the recession. I told them , in a slightly sharply tone though, that following this pattern is precisely where many companies and their leaders will go wrong. 

By now, I had all eyes and ears on me. I explained to them here, which will benefit you as you read the lines ahead.  

Prevailing leadership wisdom claims that the best way for leaders to succeed during challenging times is to set specific goals and targets, make a strategy, plan things out, vision the future, make changes and take  action with speed. 

Now the problem with this method is  that during the recession, everyone, including the CEO, tries to picture everything wrong that could happen because no one knows how the recession market will impact business in different parts of the world. What follows is procrastination, fear, indecisiveness, uncertainty, playing small and lack of clarity.  

Another thing that usually happens during a recession is that leaders begin to think of ways to survive in the market rather than winning, which generally leads to no or very little profit. 

If you want your leadership team to succeed during a recession, then more than setting specific goals and targets, what is essential is to develop a process that will enable your team to change themselves before changing the results. You’ve got to train  your leadership team to bring about some measurable  transformation in their thinking and behaviors. 

I’ve coached many leaders and helped them realize that their results had little to do with the goals and strategy  and nearly everything to do with their thinking and behavior.. 

We cannot always control the future and, thus, our outcome, but we can always control our progress through consistent action.

Transformation is what it takes

A few years back, I was called into a huge IT firm to conduct a workshop for their senior leadership team.I coined a program for them titled. ‘Take Charge and Lead.’ The company was undergoing a big shift from hardware to software. And I was called in to help bring about a transformation in these leaders so that the change can be smooth.

Organizations don’t transform — people do. Most of the leaders are taught to set goals and make a strategy around it and then take the actions. Those leaders who  make sustainable, long lasting changes in themselves will be the ones who will ultimately win through the recession.  Companies that take the time to identify and shift deep-seated mindsets are 4x more likely to win during this economy.

I strongly believe that leadership teams must know how to transform themselves in three areas:

  1. The ability to lead the self: No leader can effectively  lead change if they are unwilling to bring about measurable, sustainable long lasting positive change in themselves. Organizations don’t change until leaders change. During challenging business times, fear and uncertainty are widespread. Stakeholders need someone they can rally around and feel confident in. For this reason, leaders must work more on themselves than just on the job. Most of us barely devote time to developing ourselves, so we continue leading in the same old way, expecting new results.
  2. The ability to manage your thought process: Albert Einstein once famously remarked, “Today’s problems cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them.”As the economy changes, your business needs to make changes in anticipation or respond to the shifting climate. This requires your senior leadership team to bring about a change in their thinking. Old ways of thinking, like offering huge discounts or focussing on low profit-revenue streams and pursuing more sales leads, will take you into the recession. To win, you need to think and play differently in the market.
  3. The ability to upgrade your behaviors: Leaders’ biggest mistake during a recession is failing to adapt. The business world is evolving quickly, and to adapt to the complexity and speed, leaders must refrain from continuing with the same old leadership habits and behaviors. For instance, leaders must develop the habit of relying on their intuitiveness rather than just on data because data is uncertain, too, during a recession.

The alignment of the above three elements is the holy grail of leadership during the recession. So please check on the systems you are creating to achieve your outcome.

Are your leaders doing new things, taking new actions, and behaving differently in ways that positively impacts the organization? If not, you’re probably only going to survive and not win through the recession.


Written by Payal Nanjiani.
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Payal Nanjiani
Payal Nanjiani CEO and founder of the Payal Nanjiani Leadership company. She has been named as most influential Leadership speaker and executive coach by Times Group.


Payal Nanjiani is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with her through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.