Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

The Past is Prologue

Posted by debrahelwig on April 23, 2009

grandmahandsIn my family, we’re lucky to have a matriarch – an honest-to-God “wise old woman” named Ruby. She’s 92 this year, with a razor sharp wit and a perspective on life few can match.

One year ago today, Ruby gripped my hand, looked me in the eyes, and said, “You mark my words. Start planting your victory garden now. There’s rough times coming. Just like back when. I can feel it.”

That startled me. What? Bad times? Not really! Really?

After all, in April of 2008, the perfect storm in the financial markets was months away from its apex. The Dow was still trading high. Job losses weren’t dominating the news. Gas prices were painful, but most of us were blissfully unaware that the problems in our economy were systemic or far-reaching.

Except Ruby, who had seen it all before.

She didn’t just warn us that day, either. She told us what to do about it. After all, she’d been through the Great Depression and knew exactly what to do to make the best of bad times. Step-by-step on that sunny Florida afternoon, she gave us a road map of how our family could manage if the worst did happen.

Of course, five months later, we saw just how right Ruby was. And because we’d benefited from her perspective, we were far more prepared for the downturn than we might have been.

Today, in April 2009, we’re all continuing to find our way through the “new economic reality,” and many professional services firms are struggling to figure out what to do next. Cut staff? Reduce benefits? Change service offerings? Cut niches? The tension across industries is palpable. Maybe it’s that way at your firm too.

But what if you had a “Ruby” in your corner? Someone who could tell you what steps to take, ideas to try, things that might work, things you might not have thought of on your own?

Here’s the great news: You probably already do.

As you and your firm plan a path through the current economic downturn, your first questions should be:

Who in our circle remembers what has gone before – who has their fingers on the pulse of history?

After all, this is not the world’s first economic downturn. In the USA alone, there have been eight recessions of varying magnitude in the past 80 years, four of them in the last 40.

Translate: Our country’s last four recessions happened during the working lifetime of people you know. And that period includes a major crisis in 1973 that lambasted every sector of the economy.

During those times, firms had to cut back, make changes in salaries and staff, and “get lean” to make it through, just like we’re doing now. How did they do it then? What mistakes did they make? What can you learn and adapt and apply that will make your firm’s journey through the crisis that much easier?

Someone you know may have the answers to those questions.

The help you need to be successful in the face of hard times literally may be sitting at the desk right next to yours. Or it may be just a phone call or email away. That voice of experience might be among your coworkers. Your firm’s retired partners. Clients. Family members. Friends. The possibilities are endless.

Rethink your connections. A valuable new (old) perspective may be easily within reach.

Photo by Jamelah (license)

One Response to “The Past is Prologue”

  1. Stephanie Hill said

    Another insightful post, Debra.

    A lot of people right now seem to be acting as if our current economic situation is the end of the world. But the truth is that hard times come and go, and with a little perspective and hard work, we’ll all make it through just fine.

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