By Tom Wadelton

Business survival is on everyone’s minds these days. The 2020s have so far been marked by unexpected events, twists and difficult turns. For many businesses, the financial whiplash has likely felt like enough to consider contacting a chiropractor. But not all businesses have been heavily burdened over the past few years. In fact, businesses that contacted their chiropractor and got their spine alignments in advance didn’t need a back brace later. They not only survived the tough times but thrived in them. It all comes down to preparation.

While we’ve talked often about financial strategies that are important to consider when planning for a recession, there are also several business best practices that should be considered. We sat down with Tom Barrett from Navigate the Journey recently to discuss these key best practices. We’ve found these 5 critical business strategies incredibly important for our clients during a recession:

  1. It starts at the top with a healthy and aligned leadership team
  2. Identify and secure your “A” players or high performers
  3. Create and sustain a culture of success
  4. Optimize existing processes
  5. Store up cash


These may sound like fairly straightforward strategies, but we’ve added some additional context to each point below.

Create a Strong Leadership Team Aligned with Your Goals

Preparing for a difficult event or economic downturn starts at the top. Whether you’re the CEO or a key leader in your business, you’ll want to make sure that the entire leadership team is aligned on what needs to happen to manage a thriving business once things start taking a turn for the worse. There will be tough conversations, similar to the ones you may have had at the start of the pandemic. The right leaders are those that are willing to have those conversations and ultimately come to an agreement and support that with their own actions.

Additionally, take into account scenario planning. The time to get into the room and start considering potential scenarios is before those events occur, not after. You and your leadership team should be talking about different reactions to different potential economic challenges and the impact each will have will have on your business, such as, “What happens if revenue drops 30% or 40%?”

Albert Einstein famously explained that to get a good idea of where you are, you need to consider not just where you are physically in three dimensions, but where you are in time — the 4th dimension. Successful companies are those that play 4D chess and consider where to move their pieces several months ahead.

Identify and Support Your High Performers

If you can maintain a high degree of productivity during an economic downturn, you’re far more likely to thrive. Your high performers are going to be your golden ticket to success. Ideally, you should already know who these people are. If not, you may need to plan on evaluating your HR data to find which team members are invaluable to your success.

Once you do know who your “A” players are, do everything you can to incentivize them to stay with you. As you’ll likely note from worker trends in the past few years, opportunities abound for high performers. A litany of retention strategies, like financial incentives, career development, skill development, and other engagement opportunities should be top-of-mind.

The flip side to this is going to be in determining which individuals may need to be cut if it comes to layoffs. These are never fun conversations to have, but they’ll need to happen, even if it’s for the sake of just scenario planning. Hopefully, you’ll never have to pull that lever, but if you get these conversations out of the way, you’re going to have a much easier time making the decision when the time comes.

Create a Culture of Success

The companies that thrive the best even during a recession are those that already created a culture of success. Take note: it is almost impossible to create a winning culture during a difficult economy. By then, you’re already going to be playing catch-up and will be applying many of the negative consequences associated with being poorly prepared.

A culture of success needs to be created and maintained long before the tough times come. It also needs to be highly specific and exceptionally visual.

When we meet with our clients every month and tell them, “These are the KPIs that show you’re winning. Are we doing it or not? And if we’re not, how can we get there? How can we win? What are the steps we need to take?” That kind of practice can be applied to your teams, as well.

Of course, a culture of success comes on the heels of making sure you support the growth of your teams. Skill development and knowledge sharing are key to this. If your team members actively support each other’s growth and make sure that the institutional knowledge and tricks of the trade are being represented across the team, you’ve created a winning culture that’s more prepared for a bad economy.

Optimize Your Processes

Eliminate those single points of failure when it comes to key processes. If key processes are all dependent on one person, and that person gets sick or leaves, will that key process come screeching to a halt? If so, that’s a single point of failure. And it’s a dangerous place to be when tough times rear their ugly head.

Automation is often a solution to those single points of failure. Technology and automation are becoming cheaper and more prevalent, with far more tools available than ever before. Reimagine how you can make your business more efficient and effective through your processes.

Just don’t forget that implementing new tools into your processes will be a cost saver in the long term but may not be so upfront. And you may struggle more to get that process in place if you wait until you need it. Get those tools in place ahead of time so that when you need it, your process doesn’t stall out waiting for an upgrade or replacement.

Store Up Cash

There’s no getting around the fact that cash is king. Running out of cash is probably the single worst issue of all business challenges you may face when trying to thrive in a recession. Consider this great quote from Verne Harnish, the founder and writer of Scaling Up:

“You can get by with decent People, Strategy, and Execution, but not a day without Cash.”

Cash is critical for moving forward. If you’re not paying your people or your vendors, your business is done right then and there. Managing your receivables makes a big difference with cash.

Try to get those receivables as fast as possible. Negotiate discounts with your vendors. Cut costs where you can that won’t hurt the culture of your team or reduce productivity and shift those savings to cash reserves.

If you have cash in the bank, it just makes a recession so much easier. Having cash creates more opportunities for other business strategies, so it’s just a good idea to find ways to save cash when you can.

But Wait, There’s More!

There are certainly more than 5 business survival strategies you might want to consider. These 5 are some of the most important, and you’ll find they offer a good starting point. For a deeper dive, we recommend you check out our free webinar, Thriving Through a Downturn, featuring Tom Barrett, Leadership Team Coach & Co-Founder of Navigate the Journey.