How to Survive - and Prosper - During a Recession: Study

Written By
Julija A.
May 15,2024

Benjamin Franklin almost had it right. Everything in life is uncertain, it turns out, except for death and taxes - and recessions.

Rising widespread anticipation of an economic downturn has led consulting firm Russell Reynolds Associates to interview corporate executives about their preparations for surviving a recession.

The study - Preparing for Economic Uncertainty: Are Your Operations Teams Ready? - is based on a survey of 534 senior executives, including 148 chief human resource officers, 179 CFOs, and 79 executives responsible for operations and supply chain functions.

The findings were were nearly unanimous — 96% all of the surveyed executives believe that a recession is likely to happen sometime soon.

Despite this, only 8% say they feel prepared to navigate the economic downturn.

The study defined the key component in creating an effective recession plan: communication among CEOs, COOs, and chief supply chain officers. According to the report, 51% of COOs and supply chain officers said that their CEOs didn’t encourage them to have a contingency plan in case of economic downturn.

“The people in the C-suite now were not in the C-suite back then,” said Pascal Becotte, a coauthor of the study and consultant at Russell Reynolds. “For new executives who have not faced the storm before, it’s going to be their first high volatility environment. It’s hard for them to know exactly what they’re facing.” Cooperation is the most important part of managing risk.

Another important factor in fighting a recession is having the right people in positions of power, people who can manage the risks and hardships related to sluggish economy. Only 5% of senior operations and supply chain executives believe that their team is ready for the upcoming challenges, but 62% say that they have the right people to help the company brave a storm. Many of those who believe they have the right professionals in place say they don’t yet have an adequate strategy. According to Becotte, the planning process needs to be a priority: “The CEO needs to make this a discussion point on a regular basis.”

Proactive companies that are ready to take action have a better chance of coming out on top than companies that wait to see hard evidence of an economic slowdown before taking steps to handle the problem. Long-term consequences of recession also need to be taken into account. “All of the data shows that in 2008, companies that at the earliest possible point started making adjustments before a downturn are the ones that rebounded first,” Becotte says.

The study also points out that CEOs shouldn’t focus on the recession alone. They need to put contingencies into their plan, but they also need to prepare a strategy for a rebound after the economy stabilizes itself. If the company wants to perform well, it needs a plan for future growth. Focusing on cutting costs alone tends to be a bad strategy. The report cites Boston Consulting Group data showing that 14% of companies grew their business during a recession. “The COO needs to build in agility and flexibility in their organization. They need to quickly make decisions that may not have come naturally before,” notes Becotte.

The study suggests several steps that companies can take to prepare their team for a recession:

  • Act early: The economy is cyclical. Recessions are bound to happen sooner or later. Instead of waiting for clear signs of impending disaster, companies need to be prepared ahead of time. Making a plan that they can fall back on is the key to surviving a downturn.
  • Look at the long-term consequences: Responding to short-term problems and challenges is an important skill for operational managers, but they need to be able to look ahead and consider the future. While a recession does imply slow growth and consumer spending, it can also open doors and provide competitive opportunities. Keeping one eye on them could result in major victories once the recession is over.
  • Look at growth: Cost-cutting can be an effective strategy, but it’s not the only important strategy to handle recessions. Improving profit margins and efficiency of the team is relevant, but focusing on performance could take everything one step further. The goal isn’t just to survive, but to become stronger despite economic headwinds.
  • Work closely with the COO: Operations executives are crucial. They must understand the gaps in the supply chain and work closely with other executives to fill them. The COO will have a unique point of view and can make important predictions about the future of the company.
  • Identify the gaps in the team: Team members who can stay cool under pressure make a big difference during an economic downturn. Developing team talents and improving skills can make employees better-equipped to deal with hardship, and hiring new talent that can keep a level head when problems present themselves will make everything easier.
About author

Albert Einstein is said to have identified compound interest as mankind’s greatest invention. That story’s probably apocryphal, but it conveys a deep truth about the power of fiscal policy to change the world along with our daily lives. Civilization became possible only when Sumerians of the Bronze Age invented money. Today, economic issues influence every aspect of daily life. My job at Fortunly is an opportunity to analyze government policies and banking practices, sharing the results of my research in articles that can help you make better, smarter decisions for yourself and your family.

More from blog