Business Case Studies, Executive Interviews, Tamara J Erickson on Managing Troubled Times

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Executive Interviews: Interview with Tamara J Erickson on Managing Troubled Times
March 2009 - By Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary


Tamara J Erickson
Tamara J Erickson, President nGenera Innovation Network


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  • What is your advice to all such people going through such traumatic times? What are the few things that they should keep a tab on and keep working on so that life, if not as it was, at least does not deteriorate? What is the role of leadership in managingmidlife change effectively?
    Everyone – leaders and individual contributors – must demonstrate their ability to help the organization through the difficult times ahead. Here’s some core advice.
    Question everything, deny nothing. Pay attention to the first negative result or indicator. Don’t assume it was the aberration and everything will bounce back next month. Maybe it won’t.

Especially since your experience will tell you that sales will go up, flip the manual override switch and reconsider. Probably the biggest mistake is waiting too long to take action because you assumed things would turn positive again.

Favor greater agility over lowest cost. Make decisions that favor flexibility, even over cost. Even if it would be less expensive to buy – assuming demand were steady – rent instead. Take advantage of SaaS capabilites for IT, rather than investing in a big inhouse effort. Use contract labor. Give yourself as much flexibility as possible in case demand drops.

Watch your cash. Cash is a better gauge in a recession than profits. Are your customers slowing down their payment cycle? And put your managerial emphasis on managing your cash well.

Develop an alternative plan(s). Answer this question today: what would I do if sales dropped 10%, or more? Don’t just worry about it – develop a detailed plan. During one of my darkest years (after the dot.com bust, since I was working in a small start-up), our CFO and I had an alternative plan in hand that we reviewed each week, identifying what specific action we would take, if performance dropped to various prespecified levels. (I’m proud to say we were one of the few firms in our space to weather the storm.)

And, spend sometime thinking about what you’ll do when the economy picks up again – because it certainly will. Have your growth plans ready, too.

Accept thatwe are all in nerve-racking times. At this criticalmoment, the key is to actually do the things our minds know need to be done, rather than fall back on our instincts.When times are tough and every instinct tells you to retreat – to figuratively or literally stay in bed – remember that these are the times when your team needs to hear from you the most.When your strong preference would be to dampen dissent, remember that considering the contrary view can strengthen the eventual choice immeasurably.

  • Surely you would have heard of India's Satyam Computers' colossal collapse in December 2008. The story is still unfolding with nearly 55,000 employees on its payroll, crestfallen with this crisis coming amidst US Financial Crisis. Satyam Learning Centre (headed by Ed Cohen from Booz, Allen & Hamilton) has been busy last few weeks trying to calm them down and rally all of them around a critical mission to turn things around. What would be your advice to Ed Cohen and his team to make a meaningful impact on the employees' morale and commitment?
    Employees are smart and perceptive. If leaders begin with that basic point of view, a wide variety of tactical options will be helpful. The key is a foundation of open information and clear communication, without platitudes.

    Beyond that, I’d advise Cohen to provide as many programs designed to provide employees with specific information on how they can contribute and the associated skills to do so.

  • 1. Troubled Times Case Study
    2. ICMR Case Collection
    3. Case Study Volumes

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