Leaning Up

June, 2011

Today I was inspired by my friend and fellow entrepreneur in business Rick Walker, owner and CEO of Rick's Barber Shops and Salons in Atlanta, Georgia, where I stopped in this weekend to get my regular hair cut. While waiting for my barber Vince to get around to me (smile), Rick and I engaged in our normal give and take about the state of our community (he cares deeply and gives back regularly), as well as what's going on in the broader economy. Rick agreed with me that what we are presently experiencing is not a recession, but a reset. I have written extensively on the topic of reset over the past 18 months.

Rick went on to tell me of a local hospital that made the recent decision to cut back 5% across the board, resulting in hundreds of employee layoffs.  Rick also astutely point out that it didn't take a week for the remaining major hospitals in and around Atlanta to also announce 5% across the board cuts. In other words, when one organizational leader in a business sector signaled they were "leaning up," the others had to follow suit, be left behind, or rendered uncompetitive for the environment.

Now, what Rick was talking about was not this other thing that some profit obsessed companies do in order to "juice" their financial returns, which is to make average workers pay the price by cutting and slashing. That is simply greed. Rick, a fellow entrepreneur who has more than 150 stylist chairs in his chain of salons, understands what I do --- these are strange economic times, and everyone who wants to not only survive, but thrive, will have to "lean up." No place, time or space for waste or anyone or anything that is not carrying their respective weight in an organization. In these times, everyone and everything must "contribute." That is simply the reality, and the pain of layoffs aside, it is a healthy process for an organization to go through from time to time. Now that we are actually looking for it, we are finding signs of unnecessary waste all around us. Rainbows, after storms.

Rick and I understand something else about these times; we have been on the other side. We both have been "employees" early in our careers, and we both have either failed at something or gotten fired (the not so nice version of being laid off). And Rick and I both agree on this too -- thank God we did. That pain created an opportunity, freeing us up to go and find that "thing" we were both passionate about. Well, we did, and as a result of it being our respective passions, we don't fret or complain when we occasionally find ourselves literally working around the clock. As I often say, "an entrepreneur works 18 hours a day to keep from getting a job," and it simply doesn't feel like work. We may get worn out, worn down and even exhausted, but because we are passionate, we are never tired.

In this reset economic world, everyone (countries, companies, organizations and individuals) will have to become "leaned up" to compete.

That starts with running toward your problems and not away from them, and then doing what it takes for the enterprise to survive, thrive and sustain over the test of time.

Lean up.

John Hope Bryant is a thought leader, the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc., author of Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business book LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), and a Member of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability.

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