Jumping through hoops and dodging bullets …

There is a new world order
for CEOs and business
leaders, fueled by the dramatic global economic
upheaval that has sent the
stock and credit markets into
turmoil, not to mention the
depressing effects on consumer and business spending.
Today’s executives must start
dancing to a different tune by
doing a new iteration of the
traditional two-step of jumping through hoops and dodging bullets just to survive.

Warning: Previously tried-and-true methods may not
apply to the future and could
definitely be hazardous to
your very existence.

Are these words scaring
you? They better. The time to
act is now. You must marshal
your forces to start thinking
and behaving differently.

There are dangers ahead
as well as new positive
opportunities for those
who are fleet of foot.
Wisdom is the ability to discover alternatives. Challenging
existing practices must
become SOP, or standard
operating procedure. No
longer can any executive
enjoy the luxury or indulge
in the hubris of waiting for
things to improve. Instead successful leaders will be the ones
who challenge, rechallenge and,
in some cases, force change by
taking their people kicking and
screaming over the finish line,
whether they like it or not.

No area of a business can be
exempt from this review.
Everything is subject to scrutiny, and everybody must
search for better ways.

Organizations must simultaneously start at the bottom and at the top and
meet in the middle to ensure every aspect of
their go-to-market process and
strategy is examined. The goal
is to find ways to increase revenue while reducing expenses.
This sounds almost ridiculously simple, but it’s surprising
how many companies don’t
think this way.

In this new era, businesses
must cut out fat and, at the
same time, not be afraid to add
initiatives that can produce a
satisfactory return on a new
investment of money and effort.
Inertia is the enemy. Leaders
must also ensure that everyone
in the organization knows the
promise to the customer. In
retailing, it’s called a “never out
list.” This means that if you
operate a grocery store, as an
example, you can never be out
of milk or bread. If the store
starts to run low and can’t be
replenished through normal
sources, you must go buy these
items from a competitor rather
than disappoint one customer
— which could lead to losing
that customer forever.

Begin your challenge process
by asking your team to examine everything and ask themselves the question, “Is there a
better way?” The better way
can be eliminating the redundant and the nonproductive or
simplifying the too complicated, while finding new hot buttons that will better serve your

Don’t be bashful about promoting the new “whatevers”
that will help your customers
survive in this new world order.
Don’t worry about being a fear
monger promoting concerns
and the booby traps that lie
ahead. However, when you
show the negatives, also serve
up solutions. Your customers
are desperately searching for
new ideas in these frantic times.

When you ask your team to
look at the old and find the
new, it’s guaranteed that some
will say, “We do it this way
because we’ve always done it
this way.” That will be your
cue to go ballistic and remind
the person that it is no longer
business as usual.

Ask your direct reports to
make two lists. One should
include existing things they
currently do as possible candidates to change. The second
should be a list of new initiatives that can serve the objective of boosting revenue and
producing a return. In some
cases, this type of request has
been known to cause severe
pain between the ears of
some, but refusing to do a
deep dive to engage in intense
thinking is not an option in
this environment.

Also, make sure all of your
direct reports push this same
exercise down to their people.
Most importantly, you can’t
just promulgate the need for
change without creating a formal process to vet each worthy recommendation.

Within short order, you will
have a series of initiatives to
take to the next step. If only a
few pan out, you’ll be ahead of
the game.

Taking all of these steps will
help ensure that if the music
ever stops playing, you won’t
be the last man dancing with
no chair on which to sit.

MICHAEL FEUER co-founded OfficeMax in 1988 with a friend and partner. Starting with one store during a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide, with annual
sales approximating $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in 2003 to Boise
Cascade Corp. Feuer immediately launched another start-up, Max-Ventures, a retail/consumer products
venture capital operating and consulting firm headquartered in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. Feuer serves
on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and
building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at [email protected].

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