Book Review: The Upside of the Downturn by Geoff Colvin

After reading Colvin’s book, Talent is Overrated, I became an instant fan of this author (I never read “How the Mighty Fall”). The talent issue resonated so much with me due to the work I do. When the publisher offered send a copy of The Upside of the Downturn without asking me to review it, I jumped at the chance to read it without strings attached, even though I knew it would be a different type of book than the one I’d read previously.

For an incurable glass-half-full optimist, the title was full of hope. The book is not quite so, but yet, I found it an easy, if not engaging (at times), read. Subtitled “Ten Management Strategies to Prevail in the Recession and Thrive in the Aftermath”, that is exactly how Colvin has laid out the chapters. I like that. Simple to follow.

You can see what the ten strategies are going to Amazon.com and looking inside at the Table of Contents or by reading one the book reviews on that site.
I’d rather write about the strategies I found most interesting, and that fit the intent of this blog (its all about the relationships, after all):

Strategy #2: “Protect Your Most Valuable Asset: It’s your people-yet they’re often valued the least.” Usually the first expense to get slashed, Colvin is an advocate of training and development even in these tough times. He also suggests (my almost-favorite part of the book), candid conversations between the boss and the employee and more rigorous attention to performance evaluations (ugh). Admittedly, both may help a company when the recession swings upward. Other tips provided include “paying smart” and avoiding layoffs.

It’s worth noting that fellow blogger and online friend Wally Bock is quoted in this section, stating that during a time of layoffs, survivors “will certainly experience some grief. They may also still fear the loss of their own job.” As someone who went through several rounds of layoffs in a previous life, this is true, and a good reason to avoid layoffs if you can.

Strategy #10: “Don’t Forget to Grow Yourself: Why this downturn is a unique opportunity to develop yourself.” Crisis is a great teacher and provides an opportunity to become a better leader. For every leader who thrives in tough times, at least one blows it. He names five actions that will contribute to a leader’s growth in these tough times:
  1. Stand up and be seen. People want to be led. And in a crisis, they are looking for someone to ease fear. They want to know that someone is working on the problems.
  2. Be calm and in control. This helps to ease fear and keep everyone else calm and on track.
  3. Be decisive. Often, decisions that weren’t made when things were good can be made in a crisis because people understand better how important they are.
  4. Show fearlessness. Show others that you are not afraid. Several CEO’s have bought their company stock in this recession.
  5. Explain the crisis in a larger context. How people are affected by stress is related to how they see it. This helps people to respond in a more productive way.

Hmmm…..take the word “crisis” out of the elements in the list above, and you have a pretty good partial list of things a leader should be doing all the time.

Since this is not the last recession we’ll experience, read the book and keep it on your shelf for the next time around. If you are a seasoned leader looking for innovative and new strategies, you won’t find them here. Overall, I found this a good read with a sound (if not new) backbone of advice that can be used in good times, too.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.