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Turbulent Climate Yields Business Identity Crisis

Economic Turbulence Yielding a Business Identity Crisis

If the world economic crisis is negatively affecting you or your business, I have some advice for you…stop worrying about it. There’s next to nothing you can do to fix it, and worrying about it certainly isn’t going to help anything.

If you really want to help yourself and your business, there’s another crisis you should be focusing on. It’s one that nobody is talking about and yet nearly everyone is suffering from. It’s also a crisis that you can actually do something about – and by doing so – you can help yourself fare better in these challenging economic times. Believe it or not, it’s called a Business Identity Crisis.

Economic Crisis, or Identity Crisis, in Business?

What does an identity crisis have to do with you, especially during turbulent economic times? Let’s start by shedding some light on the definition of an identity crisis. Erik Erikson, the ground-breaking developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst, said that people experience an identity crisis when they lose “a sense of personal sameness and historical continuity”. The only way to fully address this crisis is to find a way to see themselves differently and in a way that is more congruent with the new and different world in which they find themselves.

I think Erikson’s description of identity crisis effectively sums up what is happening in business today. American businesses and workers face an Identity Crisis brought on by lack of historical continuity and sameness that comes with economic turbulence and disruption.

Let’s start to look at what is different from the continuity and sameness of the world we knew.

  • Government is going into business, and businesses are going out of business in ways that are unprecedented since the Great Depression.
  • A bonus has gone from a perk to a pejorative.
  • The corporate jet, once a sign of success, is now viewed as a sign of excess.
  • The financial markets, which are largely based on predictions and projections, are a mess, because both are based on a sense historical continuity which has recently been rendered irrelevant.
  • American businesses find themselves in an environment that they don’t even recognize, let alone understand. How can they strategize to this chaos?

The American Worker and the Business Identity Crisis

The American worker, who is trying to face this crisis with a can-do attitude, is experiencing an identity crisis as well. Our most experienced workers, people with 20 or 30 years of on the job experience, have never operated in a business climate like this. So, which part of their “experience” still has some value, and which part is weighing them down in this vast sea change?

Today’s economic crisis is a real game changer. In fact, the game has changed so much that many of the old rules don’t apply; and, what used to put you on the scoreboard doesn’t necessarily do so now. What, if anything, can be done?

What can leaders do about the business identity crisis?

The fact is this – there is very little a single business or an individual can do to directly fix today’s worldwide economic crisis. That being said, it’s important to remind ourselves that nearly every crisis has opportunity hidden in it somewhere. But those opportunities aren’t always so obvious to us, nor are they always easy to find.

The way to find the opportunity in this economic crisis is to stop wasting our thoughts and emotions on what we can’t control and start to focus them on what we can. The key here is to focus on getting past the identity crisis our times have created for us. The critical first step when facing an identity crisis is to recognize and admit that you’re having one. To not admit this is to continue to try to bring the same perspectives, definitions and approaches to a world that will no longer respond to them like it used to respond. This is a great recipe for a heaping serving of failure and frustration. Yet it is exactly what most businesses and individuals across America are doing today. They’re “redoubling their efforts”, or adjusting budgets and costs against the same plan and approach to the market that they had when they were in a vastly different market environment. They are, in fact, “holding on” until things go back to the way they were.

Stop Seeing Yourself in the Old Context

The best hope for a business or an individual to survive, and even perhaps thrive in this new business environment, is to learn how to see themselves differently in the new context of the new environment.

Identity, whether corporate or individual, has many elements to it. For example, a business can have a brand identity. It can be said that Apple is a cool brand compared to its rival Microsoft. Or its identity could be reflected in the way it goes about doing its business differently than its competitors, like a Southwest Airlines. The same can be said for individuals. For example, identity theft refers not to someone stealing your soul or your mind, but rather to someone using the aspects or elements of you that banks and businesses identify you by—your credit cards, records, and key relevant personal information.

How we see ourselves is a foundational element of our identity. When the world has changed so drastically that it sees us differently, meaning that it responds to what we do and how we do it differently than it used to, we need to step back and find a way to see ourselves differently in that new world. It is only through this process that we can find a way for the world to respond positively to us once again. To hold on to the same view of ourselves and the world, and wait for things to get back to the way they were (which, believe it or not, is the current approach for most businesses and individuals in this country right now) will cause greater hardship and possibly even failure. This is evidenced by the increasing numbers of business closings and home foreclosures.

How Do You See Yourself (Or Your Business) In The New Context?

So how does one begin to see oneself and one’s business differently? It’s important to step back and reevaluate what is and what was, and the distinction between the two. For example, as teenagers start to become full-fledged members of adult society, some aspects of how they see themselves must change in order for them to be successful adults. The law views them differently. Their employers view them differently. The world has a different set of expectations for them, so they too must become aware of these distinctions and adapt their behavior. This requires that they learn to see themselves differently. A young adult that doesn’t do this will find themselves in a sorry state sooner or later. There’s no way around it. When businesses look at their products differently, they bring us innovations like coolers with wheels and handles, all temperature laundry detergents, and plastic squeezable ketchup bottles that stand upside down. When they look at themselves differently, they find new business models the way Apple created iTunes and car companies created their own financing arms as business units and profit centers.

When businesses have the courage and insight to look at themselves differently, salespeople can begin to see that selling doesn’t consist of giving the customer what they want, the way they want it, for the price they expected—that’s order taking. (The internet has contributed to this now common approach to sales.) Selling actually only occurs when the customer happily leaves with something more than what they came to purchase, usually (but not always) because they spent more than they had originally intended. Similarly, smart customer service doesn’t occur when a company does everything it can to make the customer happy, any more than it can come about when a company does everything it can to qualify for some national customer service award, regardless of how it affects the bottom line. Rather, the best measure of good customer service is doing the absolute least to appear outstanding in the mind of the customer. All efforts beyond that cut into profits. That’s a fact.

In my extensive work on the subject of transformational thinking, including keynoting events all over the world on the subject, counseling Admirals and CEO’s on the subject, and working with their respective commands and organizations, I have found the following to be true in every case. [While every one of my clients is unique and requires a specialized strategy to the market, I can tell you with great authority, that these next few sentences are true and applicable for anyone who will read them.]

3 Steps for Getting Closer to Winning

  1. There is close to nothing on your calendar or to-do list right now that is more urgent and more critical than to stop what you’re doing and the way you’re doing it, and identify the clear distinctions between the world you used to work in, and the world you work in today.
  2. Once you have made these distinctions, you can contemplate, strategize and plan how you need to see yourself and your business in a way that can set you up to succeed in this new economic world. This creates congruency between how you see yourself and your business, and how the new economic world sees you and your business.
  3. With that congruency established, your next step is to compellingly convince yourself, and your fellow workers, that there is much to be gained by letting go of who they were and grabbing on to who they need to be. If this acceptance occurs among the leadership and again throughout the organization, then any subsequent plans and processes will work to the new definition, and therefore work more successfully than hanging on to any unexamined process or plan that plays to old definitions that worked in the old world.

Crisis indeed has opportunity in it. Though it may seem difficult to believe for some of us, today’s economic crisis, while unprecedented, definitely has opportunity in it. This is not positive thinking or some form of optimism. We know that some people and businesses will profit from these times. Those who have the courage to see the world as it is now, versus how it used to be, and those who understand the distinctions and the implications of the distinctions, and who are able to let go of past versions of their world to adjust their thoughts and behaviors to the present economic environment, will find their opportunity.

Reminder: We Enter Each Age of Life as a Novice

It is said that we enter each age of life as a novice. If you, or your company, have the courage to admit that this is true, you have just begun to take the first necessary step to positively dealing with your current identity crisis and to finding a way through this current economic crisis, rather than be a victim to it. It’s the best you can do – and perhaps, it’s all that you’ll need. And, if I may be so bold, if a critical mass of workers and companies did just that, it could just become the ultimate solution to the larger economic crisis.

(c) Joe Caruso and Caruso Leadership. Reprints available with permission.

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