In December 2008, I attended a talk by Niel Nickolaisen about his Purpose Alignment Model, or PAM. I found it compelling and useful, and I’ve applied it with many clients since then.
I might describe it crudely as a typical consultant-style “quadrant diagram” showing mission criticality or alignment with business purpose on the X axis, and market differentiation on the Y axis. There’s a walkthrough of a hypothetical bank business in my book, Technical Coaching for IT Organizational Transformation, and similar descriptions on Todd Little’s blog, on Cory Foy’s blog, on KBP Media’s site, and many other sources you can find easily online. Some people call it the Purpose-Based Alignment Model, instead of Purpose Alignment Model; bear in mind those names refer to the same model, which was originally called the Purpose Alignment Model or the Silly Little Model, after co-creator Todd Little.
One of the ways the model can be used is to think about how to position or re-position a company during economic downturns. Companies that use downturns to prepare for the next upturn are positioned to hit the ground running when the economy ramps back up again, as it always does. Companies that react to downturns in fear, by cancelling initiatives and halting capital spending, tend to lag behind the competition when the economy emerges from the tunnel. Their behavior during downturns is a telltale that they can only prosper by following those with better leadership, feeding on the excess the successful companies produce during the good times.
In the talk, Niel had just finished saying more-or-less the same thing when a participant in the session asked him what his company was doing just then. (You may remember Q4 2008 was the start of the “financial crisis” of the early 2000s.) He replied that they were cancelling all initiatives and halting capital spending. They intended to wait and see what other companies did, as a signal to know when it would become safe to operate normally again. I was surprised at the answer.
In the year 2020, we’re in another economic downturn. Most companies are handling the situation by cancelling all initiatives and halting capital spending.
Now is the time to prepare to hit the ground running when the economy emerges from this tunnel. The companies that will succeed when the economy rebounds are already investing in building the capabilities and skills of their staff (through training and mentoring), and preparing their work environments for the post-pandemic world – physical office setups that minimize the risk of infection (changing open-plan work spaces, reducing the use of conference rooms), adjustments to work schedules to avoid forcing people to crowd together unnecessarily (such as waiting 30 minutes at a bank of elevators to go to their floor in the building, because employees must all arrive at the same time), changing some common operating procedures (such as requiring employees to crowd together to listen to executive announcements or “town hall” meetings, when they could listen just as well over the computer network), and intentional support for remote or distributed work.
Consider investing in training for your staff. Take advantage of the free training offers that have proliferated, as training companies struggle to remain visible in this slow market. But don’t expect training to remain “free” forever. There is value in good training, and value doesn’t fall from the sky like rain…at least, not usually. Even in these times, the highest-quality and most practical training for technical staff isn’t offered free of charge, with good reason. You get what you pay for.