This week, Europe’s Central Bank not only raised interest rates by 75 basis points, but signaled that additional hikes are likely in the coming months. The Fed raised rates by 0.75 percentage points as home prices continue to fall, along with stocks and bonds. As signs of economic turmoil continue to mount, it’s essential that leaders make moves now to survive this uncertain market.
As a futurist who’s helped organizations like Google, HBO and Pfizer plan a few decades out, I recommend a technique called Kill the Company for times like these. It’s an offensive strategy (and leadership book) used by forward-thinking companies to prepare for downturns, market volatility and other disruptions.
A Texan city council has used it to prepare for worst-case scenarios. An American mining company has utilized it to identify market threats and bullet-proof its competitive strategy. When a premium cable company introduced it, leaders generated three pages of weaknesses — and six pages of counter measures.
In your own company, invite people from all levels to a remote, in-person or hybrid session. Present this challenge to the group: “In the event of a recession, what scenarios could put us out of business in 12 months?” By reversing the usual question — “how can we beat the competition?” — you’re giving your employees, the people with insider knowledge of your business, permission to identify its weak spots.
Urge everyone to imagine how a recession (and its ripple effects) could run your company into the ground — and direct them to write each threat on a sticky note. Sample threats could be anything from “50% drop in consumer demand” and “railroad strike delays materials by 60+ days” to “our competitors launch value-centered offerings.”
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When you empower employees to get honest about your company’s flaws, they really commit. I’ve seen teams of six generate more than 30 weaknesses in 30 minutes — which is exactly what you need. Your competition doesn’t care about protocol or egos; they just want to render you obsolete.
One by one, ask each participant to reveal their sticky notes and categorize them as either a big or small threat, and whether they think the threat will be easy or hard to address. As a group, discuss what people perceive to be the company’s biggest threats and take a vote on the top three.
A few pro tips: if most of your threats are clustered in one area, that’s a sign of a weakness in need of immediate attention. Conversely, you may actually be able to turn a few tactics generated in this exercise against your competitors. So if you’ve clearly got a lock on manufacturing or technology, determine how to leverage that strength to grow your market share and edge out others.
Now, ask employees for ideas on how to prevent your top three threats from occurring. Could a smart acquisition expand your current customer base? Which logistical change would reduce your dependency on rail transport? What about committing resources to develop your own value-centric product line?
In my experience, this phase of the exercise is truly electric: it’s when your company’s biggest threats are transformed into creative and innovative solutions. Additionally, collaboration on futuring exercises like this can boost employee morale and motivation in the face of uncertainty. Kill the Company also provides a productive framework for dispirited employees to vent about shortcomings — all while helping you address internal weaknesses and future-proof your business for 2023 and beyond.