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From sand dunes to boardrooms: Strategies for success in challenging times

Intrinsically motivated employees find their motivation from within. (Representational pic)
  • When there is a significant decline in economic activity over a long period of time, retaining employees and attracting new talent also becomes difficult
  • In smaller or medium-sized organizations, equipping your teams with the skills and knowledge to pivot products, services, and methodologies is crucial for instilling confidence

Nathan Farrugia, Managing Director, Vistage International (UAE), entrepreneur and extreme adventurer, shares his top tips on navigating challenging times

Dubai – Inevitably, a recession leads to job losses, lower wages, and financial woes, which consequently impacts people’s morale and motivation in the workplace.

When there is a significant decline in economic activity over a long period of time, retaining employees and attracting new talent also becomes difficult, but leaders can equip themselves to navigate these choppy waters.  

Here are four things I have learned about motivation, reflecting back with some parallels between extreme adventure and entrepreneurship:

  1. Understand your ‘why’

When I was preparing for the Marathon Des Sables, the infamous 250km ultramarathon in the Morroccan desert, I really had to dig deep and be clear on my motivation. I was about to put myself through a lot of discomfort and even risk death so it was incredibly important to understand my ‘why’. For me, it was the ambition to become the first person from my country to finish the race and to raise a substantial amount for charity

This same principle applies in business. During tough times, founders and owners must recall why they embarked on their business journey and what drives them. Equally important is empowering employees to discover their own motivations, understanding that motivations vary from person to person. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

  1. Plan and prepare in advance 

My second motivator when undertaking the Marathon Des Sables challenge was that I had meticulously planned everything, ensuring I had just the right amount of food, kit and safety gear to survive, but not too much to weigh me down. I was totally prepared. 

In business, similarly meticulous planning and building contingencies in advance—such as maintaining cash reserves, implementing risk mitigation strategies, and prioritizing employee wellbeing—are crucial factors that enhance the odds of not only surviving a downturn but thriving in one.

  1. Think about the benefits of your business 

Leadership teams must recognize that the livelihoods of their employees’ families hinge on the stability of the business. Understanding that the survival of the business goes beyond mere profitability can serve as a powerful motivator to persevere through tough times.

Moreover, leaders can take comfort in the knowledge that if their company upholds strong environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards, its continued existence contributes to making the world a better place. This shared sense of purpose can help unite the entire team, keeping them focused and resilient in the face of adversity.

  1. Develop other opportunities to increase employee wellbeing 

Intrinsically motivated employees find their motivation from within. When faced with a recession a leader needs to broaden their horizons and think about finding alternative ways to give their employees a sense of pride and satisfaction. This could involve developing Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) programs or providing learning opportunities.

Times of economic uncertainty are when employees need to feel valued the most. By investing in initiatives that enhance employee well-being and growth, leaders not only bolster morale but also cultivate a resilient and engaged workforce.

When it comes to the size of your business, here are some specific considerations: 

For SMEs

In smaller or medium-sized organizations, equipping your teams with the skills and knowledge to pivot products, services, and methodologies is crucial for instilling confidence in facing an impending recession. This cultivates a sense of self-belief, enabling the team to confront challenges head-on with the agility to navigate obstacles.

For larger organizations

Larger organizations may face challenges in agility and flexibility and will need to focus on building reserves, compartmentalizing departments for easier resizing, and hedging investments to mitigate risks during economic slowdowns. However, other essential factors come into play. As highlighted by Lou Gerstner in his book ‘Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance,’ even large organizations like IBM can adeptly manage change if they have fostered a strong corporate culture and mindset.

Conclusion

Ultimately, recession has more negative emotional effects than we realize. It creates existential conversations, clarifies our raison d’être and tests our resilience. It is an opportunity to grow, as with every situation that puts us outside of our comfort zone, but we do need to ensure that we have the right people around us when going through these tough times. 

At VISTAGE, our owner and CEO peer advisory groups exemplify the importance of clarity, accountability, and resilience. These pillars serve as the bedrock of success during tough times, highlighting the invaluable role of peer support in weathering the storms of recession.