I was at a trade show last week where if I heard this mantra once, I heard it from different people ten times: “We’re doing everything we can to take costs out of our business.”
There were variations on the theme:
“It’s all about cost reduction, baby.”
“We’re helping our customers drain costs out of their system.”
“We’re squeezing our pennies just like everybody else is.”
I asked one vendor: “Do you think this big emphasis on cost reduction, cut, cut, cut costs wherever you can, is due to this very sluggish so-called economic recovery since 2009? If you can’t sell more, you cut more?”
The man gave me a quizzical look, like the question was too heavy, too deep.
“All I know is we’re helping our customers be profitable by taking costs out of their operations.”
In sports there is the saying, Defense wins championships, offense sells tickets. This was most definitely proven so in the past Super Bowl, with Seattle’s snarling defense destroying Denver’s high-flying offense.
In business, you can adapt the saying this way: Defense (cost-reductions, layoffs, use of temps and contractors, outsourcing, acquisitions to consolidate a market, no raises, cuts in benefits) protects the bottom line, offense (hiring new talent, investing in research and development, launching new products, creating new businesses) is something they only do in Silicon Valley these days.
Or if you’re in the FR clothing or fall protection business selling to the global oil and gas industry and the global power generation industry.
I’m sure a lot of folks are getting second-hand stress from businesses playing defense for five or so years now.
If you’re out of work and in your 40s or 50s, it’s tough to get back in the game, often times very tough.
If you’re a soon-to-be college grad, breaking into the game with a full-time job is tough, sometimes real tough.
If you’re holding down two or three part-time minimum wage jobs to try to make ends meet, it is tough, real tough.
If you’ve got a job but haven’t received a raise in four or five years, since the recession, and maybe you took a pay cut back in the bad old black days, it’s tough; if you’re raising a family, it’s tougher.
If you’re in a safety and health department with more work on your desk than ever, with no budget increase for the second or third or fourth year, with no increase in staff, it’s tough to pull it off in a 40-hour week.
Here’s the thing: If you’re lucky enough to be in the game, have a full-time job, have experience and skills, you can’t sit back and play defense.
Your job is not about containment and keeping the competition off the score board. Of course everyone has to watch their costs; and if you can figure out ways to “contain” your expanding workload, good for you.
You need to play offense. Be proactive, creative, call it what you want. You need to thinking about and executing new initiatives in your little corner of the biz. You need be thinking positive, thinking growth, thinking and seeing and exploiting opportunities in your market, or in your competition’s defense. It’s how you stay relevant, valuable, and in the game.
I admit, I’m tired of this era of cost-cutting defense. But out shoveling snow this morning I was talking with a neighbor. He said, “You know, every generation has its tests. Every generation is going to be tested.”
I thought about that for a second. “Yeah,” I said. “This might be bad, but it’s better than fighting the Battle of the Bulge.”
Those guys were not playing a game about profit and loss. It was life or death.
It helps to have some perspective.