Christopher Romani

OPINION

6 strategies for thriving in uncertain times

Uncertainty is the new normal in the federal market.  The government shutdown (and threat of others), continuing resolutions, debt ceiling debates, and partisan politics are sending shockwaves through the entire government contracting community.

Nowhere is this uncertainty felt more directly than in the small business community. The government’s shifts in priorities, communication challenges, award delays, and pricing pressures can have a devastating impact on the small business community.

With their narrower customer base, often smaller cash reserves, and difficulty maintaining bench staff for potential contracts, small businesses often feel a bigger blow than larger firms.

Still, even in the most challenging market there is opportunity. Recognizing this opportunity takes looking at the market in a somewhat different prism.

Capitalizing on that opportunity however, takes a thoughtful, proactive approach and belief in your vision.

Below are some takeaways that we have developed to survive, and thrive in this uncertain environment.

Share your vision

Show the vision of what you believe is possible for your company. Use that vision to attract, motivate, and retain employees.

And whenever you take action – ensure it is consistent with that vision.

Recognize that morale may suffer as employees worry about 2014 and beyond. Try to mitigate that by sharing with employees your plan for dealing with uncertainty and your long-term vision for the firm.

At Integrity, we use quarterly all hands meetings, a monthly newsletter, emails from senior leadership and updates from managers to provide a continuous flow of real-time information.

Invest in your people

Demonstrate confidence in your vision by continually investing in the company, even when competitors are pulling back.

When you have limited resources, it may seem difficult to invest in employees. But think beyond paychecks to fostering a company culture that empowers employees to make decisions, promotes professional growth and development, and provides recognition and feedback (in both traditional and creative ways).

Help staff envision a successful career beyond today’s uncertainty. Talking to the team about opportunities that lie ahead lessens uncertainty and helps maintain employee retention.

Use recruiting strategically

Realize that your people are your number one asset. Identify and interview potential new hires in advance so that you can ramp up quickly if/when you are awarded a contract.

Consistently scan for top talent as you would good athletes. At Integrity, we incentivize the whole team to work on this effort through referral bonuses and reminders that they can help influence the company roster by referring high caliber colleagues.

Adjust your pricing strategies

Agency budgets are severely constrained, which puts pricing pressure on the contractors. Be prepared to sharpen your pencil and develop creative pricing strategies.

Also think about how you can demonstrate to the government that you can help them do more with less.

Strategically Adapt

Analyze the market conditions when looking for opportunity. Continually assess and re-assess the competitive landscape.

Larger companies may be moving into your space to get a piece of the pie. Known competitors may be pulling back and creating opportunity for you.

Re-think your strategic plan and look for opportunities to diversify to agencies where spending is not being reduced.

Play to your strengths

Already have a satisfied government customer? Make it easy for them to solve other agency challenges by being creative in offering new solutions that can be provided on existing contract vehicles.

While playing to your strengths, also capitalize on your differentiators. Don’t be everything to everybody – that is a slippery slope that will ultimately erode the quality of your service delivery and thus your reputation.

At Integrity, these strategies are not just trite advice - we practice them and live them and very recently, we had the opportunity to test them.

During the government shutdown, Integrity had almost half of its operations shut down for 16 long days. When other companies were furloughing their employees or mandating they use PTO, we made a commitment to ours – to keep everyone employed at full pay, and repositioned on internal projects, training and support to local charitable partners.

This was a $300,000 decision.
 
We shared our vision for a successful company that believes in turning challenge into opportunity. We experienced increased engagement, armed employees with new training and certifications, and sharpened our business development saw.

We hired two employees furloughed by other companies, and we firmly believe that Integrity will experience increased retention. 
 
Uncertainty in the federal arena is here for the foreseeable future. Those small businesses that demonstrate how they’re different, invest in their employees, and look for opportunities when it seems there are none, will be in the best position to survive and thrive.

Reader Comments

Thu, Nov 7, 2013 Bill Breighner United States

Kudo's to Chris for his actions during the government furlough. Very few small bisiness firms have the bandwidth or reserve capital (w/o borrowing) to sustain full employment on overhead accounts. Well done Chris!

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