Friday, February 6, 2009

Dismantling Critical Infrastructure

I recently heard the CEO of a marketing communications firm talk about the advantages to organizations of maintaining marketing budgets in the face of this economic crisis. While I agree with him philosophically, I think the issue is broader than just maintaining a marketing budget during these tough times.

What I am witnessing almost daily is the dismantling of critical operational infrastructure of many organizations. And, as these organizations know, the building of that infrastructure was not easy. It took time to design the processes that were needed and to build an infrastructure to support that process. Then, they had to hire all those people and ensure they were trained adequately to support the process. THAT was a lot of work!

Now, organization after organization seems willing to throw out that infrastructure for the sake of what? Profits? Or real survival? I think this is a key question every "for profit" CEO and their board of directors need to think about. If it is actually the survival of the organization, I support those decisions. But I am not so sure that is always the case. There is increasing pressure on every publicly-traded company to deliver profits every year. And, most senior-level executives will admit that sometimes future opportunities are sacrificed for present profit. Even when those future profits might have far greater potential than the current market situation might offer. That is a reality of our "give it to me NOW" society.

In addition, I fear that businesses may be reacting like some of the journalists I have been listening to and giving in to a panic that only makes our situation worse. These challenging times call for courageous leadership from CEOs (and their boards) everywhere.

During the last recession, I owned a small consulting practice, which I sold in 2005. Near the end of 2002, I realized that I needed to revise my goals for that year and the near future ... that the ambitions I had entered the year with were not going to be realized. The insight I had at that time was that I needed to do whatever I could to make sure that my company made it through to the other side as unscathed as possible, regardless of what my personal lifestyle (that came from salary from the business) became in the interim. I knew that my company needed to be ready for that inevitable recovery when it did come.

What I am witnessing almost daily is the dismantling of critical infrastructure of many organizations.

Interestingly, I had witnessed three competitors close their doors and I did not want that to happen my business. So, I made the changes that allowed me to survive those difficult 18 months so that I could rise with the tide that came in 2004. And rise it did and my company did. But in those dark times, I made a decision that I would take very little income (and minimize my debt) so that I did not harm its ability to compete when things began to turn around. In essence, I sacrificed current profits for future profits.

As I look at these times, I cannot help but wonder if some organizations would not be better off if the shareholders made a decision to forgo profits in 2009-2010 for the sake of maintaining as much infrastructure as possible. To be sure, some cuts most likely have to be made. But there is also a sound argument for maintaining as many people, particularly in critical customer service areas, as possible. Every business owner will have to make this call themselves as they consider goals beyond our current economic conditions.

Thanks for reading. More to come.

[Photo used under the Creative Commons License courtesy of Flickr.]

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading your post! I own a market research firm in the Chicago market and I am working hard to make sure our operational infrastructure doesn't suffer through these slow times. Small businesses need to remain strong if we are going to come out a winner on the other side of this mess.