It's wake-up time for US business. After September 11, it has been
natural that companies retrench and reevaluate their business priorities
as the economy sorts itself out.
On the economic front what appears most likely, according to many
leading economists, is that instead of a U-shaped recovery in 2002 the
US will experience a rapid V-shaped recovery. An artificially weakened
economy, spurred by massive monetary and fiscal stimuli, will spark a
steeper, faster business recovery, probably by the second quarter of
The rapid recovery may just be a make-or-break opportunity for
Those who prepare could emerge as the market leaders of tomorrow. Recall
what happened to Sears and Montgomery Ward after World War II. Sears,
spying all the potential buying power of GIs returning to work, expanded
aggressively, and as new-home and other big-ticket sales surged, the
retailer soon eclipsed its once-larger rival, which had retrenched. The
reality of V-shaped recoveries is that, like Orca the whale suddenly
catapulting from the ocean, if you miss it, it's over. So, while still
being thoughtful and cautious about spending, smart companies are
preparing now for rapid deployment when the economic roller coaster
begins to rise.
Smart companies will disregard the adage: out of sight, out of mind.
Now is the worst time to be out of mind with any of your key audiences
and communities of influence. Now is the time to build and maximize your
"mind-share" so that when the upturn arrives, they remember you
Now is not the time for scattergun messages. Identify your company's
true value proposition and focus on communicating that clearly and
Then make sure that everyone in the company - from the boardroom to the
factory floor - communicates this consistent message from the same
And spend money on research. Consider EMC, the world leader in
information-storage systems. This year, the Hopkinton, MA company has
endured declining revenues, deep price cuts by major rivals, and the
global business downturn that contributed to a (likely) 75% profit drop.
It doesn't foresee its business rebounding until sometime next year.
Yet EMC still invests heavily in R&D at levels that will in-crease its
tech lead. Why? "When the fog lifts, EMC's technological stature and
market leadership will be stronger than ever," maintains Joe Tucci, its
Maintaining market share is also crucial. Verio, the world's largest
internet services provider, has been battered this year by the global
economic softness that has curtained corporate spending on
internet-related systems and services. But Verio and its parent NTT
Communications still invest heavily in developing a global web-hosting
infrastructure so that when times improve, Verio is ready to pounce.
In the long run, it pays to retain talent and make them feel like a
valued part of your mission, rather than lay them off during these rough
Companies that recognize the importance that star talent will play in a
recovery are using alternatives to layoffs - temporary furloughs,
reduced work weeks, flexible schedules, and telecommuting.
A recent Society for Human Resource Management survey indicates that
flex time, compressed work weeks and tele-commuting have gained ground
this year, despite a deteriorating economy.
Thirty-seven percent allow employees to telecommute, up from 26% last
At Cisco Systems, 85% of its workers telecommuted from home at least one
day a week in 2000. In 2001, which brought declining sales and layoffs
to the company's Raleigh, NC facility, Cisco has only strengthened such
programs because, officials say, they enhance productivity.
The past has shown just how much more time-consuming and expensive it is
during periods of economic prosperity to land the talent you need when
everyone else is wooing that same pool.
So consider this your final warning. Start your engine, crank it up, and
prepare to propel to top speed. This time, let the "V" in "V-shaped"
stand for Victory.
Paul Rand is president/CEO of Ketchum/Corporate Technology
Communications, Chicago, and an adjunct professor at DePaul University's
Kellstadt Graduate School of Business.