Economic downturn is a stressful time. Yet, it is not something that businesses can avoid altogether. Apart from the obvious problems, it usually fosters a hidden waste - that of the human potential. While average professionals are likely to get trapped in a spiral of worries and hopes, Leaders can get into action and turn this into an opportunity.  Every cloud has a silver lining.  The silver lining here is that, now, there is time to do “important” things that got sidetracked in favor of more “urgent” things during an economic upturn.

Here are 5 things Leaders do to revitalize their organizations during an economic downturn-

1. Review Strategy
During an economic upturn, a lot of opportunities come by. Sometimes, we make choices in a hurry, that in hindsight, prove to be misaligned with the purpose of the organization. Since these choices are contributing to the revenue stream, and there are other pressing issues, we are more inclined to maintain the status quo. A lean period is the time to rethink these choices and build exit strategies, where required. It is also a time to re-assess the technological landscape and plan for business differentiators. Since there are no urgencies to augment capacities or respond to an opportunity, more reasonable decisions can be made to be executed in the future when the economy looks up again. For some, it may also include a review of their R&D portfolio.

2. Establish Measurement
Peter Drucker is often quoted as saying that “you can't manage what you can't measure.”. One key challenge faced by leadership is streamlining decision making in the organization. If the reliance is mostly on experience, employees frequently default to upward delegation of decisions. Leaders, inundated with decisions that are to be made down the line, do not have the time to understand the problem in detail or look at data and frequently decide based on gut feel. Since it is safe for both the managers and employees, the cycle continues. The first step to democratizing robust decision making is to make data visible at all levels - from the shop floor to the board room. At this time, Leaders invest in data analytics, dashboards and low cost instrumentation. This prepares the infrastructure for rapid and empowered decision making when time is at a premium.

3. Build Capabilities
Another reason for upward delegation is that, in a rush to staff up, we rapidly increase headcount. Employee capabilities may not grow at the same speed. And when there are problems, we throw more “bodies” at the problems, thereby starting a cycle of low capability staffing. With volumes not being a concern to that extent, now is the time to evaluate capabilities. It is best to start with processes. Business processes deliver business outcomes. Visionary leaders invest in business process management (BPM). Making corrections to the processes when the throughput is low, allows for deep thought and alignment to business goals. Once process design is ready, it is time to identify the associated technical and people capabilities. It is also time to upskill, reskill and re-structure so that the people capabilities are working to create organization success rather than only individual success.

4. Build Culture
Webster’s dictionary defines culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization”. Culture is the software that runs the organization. While data and capability are necessary constituents of empowerment, the single largest contributor to organization’s robustness and agility is the organization’s culture. Leaders are often unable to trust the decisions of employees, primarily, when the value systems are not aligned. In the rush for high volumes, a lot less time is spent to align values and behaviors. Add to it a constant influx of new employees and you get a potpourri of different cultures working in different pockets of the organization. A slowdown is a time to attend to debugging your software.

5. Lean Operations
The largest economic dividend that can be extracted from an economic downturn is an increase in productivity. Solutions that were, so far, supposed to be quick and easy can now be long term and sustainable. It is the best time to question which activities add real value to the customer, to look at how a layout or outsourcing is leading to higher inventories and what can be automated. With Industry 4.0 gaining maturity, there is a plethora of solutions available. However, before automating the current processes along with their wastes, it is most economical to apply lean principles to business processes and eliminate waste before automating.

For all those good things that we did not have time due to high volumes, now is the time. Now is the time to build an even more robust organization that can stand the test of time. Now is the time to build alignment. Now is the time to build efficiencies. When life gives us lemons, make lemonade. When business sees a downturn, make the business robust.