The economic rollercoaster we find ourselves riding seems to produce an unending stream of nasty surprises. Just pick up the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post on any given day and be prepared for the old poker player's expression… “read 'em and weep.” The economic climate is routinely described as the worst since the depression.
Against this backdrop, I've found myself engaged in intense conversations with CEOs of professional service firms around a common theme… depression. They are less consumed by economic depression than by the human kind. Many of these principals have grown their firms from nothing into thriving participants in the business community. They've prided themselves on creating a supportive atmosphere and realize that a growing number of families have come to rely their businesses for their mortgage payments, health care and college tuition for those smiling kids in the photos on their desks. These leaders are facing the harsh reality that the current situation is not sustainable. By this point, they've trimmed away the fat and now must let people go. This is the part of being a business owner that isn't much fun.
Frankly, it's a side of this economic downturn that doesn't get a lot of sympathetic coverage. The typical storyline runs more toward greedy and incompetent executives lining their pockets at the expense of their employees and shareholders. While that view may sell papers and attract an audience, it doesn't reflect the reality that I experience when talking with actual business owners. In my experience, they are the ones who take the pain first and feel it most intensely. And yes, more than a few of them are battling to keep an upbeat outlook.
As a psychologist, I'm all too familiar with the devastation that true clinical depression brings in its wake. And even perfectly normal reactions to these difficult times can have a real dampening effect on your firm's prospects by clouding judgment and making it more difficult to implement needed actions or seize emerging opportunities. What to do?
If you find yourself struggling with anxiety or depression that is clearly impacting your performance, you should seek professional help. But short of that, here are several things to keep in mind:
- It's important to keep perspective. While the headlines may be universally bleak, reality is much more complicated and nuanced. In truth, many firms are doing surprisingly well and some have found ways to flourish by creating value for their clients.
- Don't throw in the towel. It is a time when patience and long term perspective will pay off for many firms.
- Pruning is good for plants and many companies as well. When times are good, inefficiencies are tolerated and mediocre performers protected. Many firms emerge strengthened and benefit from the spotlight of scrutiny.
- You are not alone. What you feel is shared by many others.
- Finally, it truly is a time of opportunity. You feel the pain… now get busy figuring out how to turn it into the gain.