Work, Rest and Play

mars-barIt’s rare to work in an industry that doesn’t have times that are quieter than others, and I’ve found myself reflecting a lot on how best to use that time. Running a small company in difficult times has the effect (on me at least) of putting us into survival mode – do we flee, or do we fight? For me there is no alternative – it’s “fight” every time.

With that in mind, we gird our loins and reach for sustenance – Chocolate. The old Mars Bar slogan of “a Mars a day helps you work rest and play” has been running through my head, and I couldn’t help but wonder how our time could be used in work, rest or play to maximise the upturn when it comes.

“Work” is perhaps the obvious one. Any downturn is a good time to re-group, look at the way your company operates, particularly if you are a small team. Are you too focused on one niche product or service? Could that product or service be applied to a different industry? Many of the products we have that are aimed at the oil and gas market are transferrable to other markets – mining, aerospace, even (dare I say it) renewable energy. Or take a step back and try to have an objective view about what you are doing in our own industry – what can you do that is different? How can you be building the foundations for a stronger business in future? Perhaps it’s time to look at your data– an obvious area is your main contact database – is it up to date? Is it worth spending time researching not only your target customers, but your competitors? What about producing a range of case studies, or even taking the time to spend “quality” time with existing customers, finding out what they really want from you, and being open to looking at new ways to serve? If you are running a successful business you will already be doing this, but there is always scope for more.

The concept of “Rest” is one that doesn’t come easily in a small business. Since I started my own business I haven’t had a holiday – and I’m not complaining, it just is. My apparent jet-setting is little more than doing the same thing in a different place, and while I’m usually able to factor in one day off to explore somewhere new, the old adage that “a change is as good as a rest” is simply not true. We need to take time out to recharge our batteries – to rest body, mind and spirit, and concentrate on being able to get back to work refreshed and ready to do battle. It doesn’t need to be an expensive cruise in the Caribbean – we’re in a downturn after all – but I’ve discovered that setting aside an hour or two a week, for the sole purpose of concentrating on “me” has become invaluable. “Mindfulness” is the current buzz word, and at the risk of sounding a bit “new age”, I have found that an hour of Pilates, or re-discovering an old hobby you haven’t had time for in years, or indeed anything that makes you focus on your own wellbeing, has the effect of sharpening and focusing your thoughts such that you are better able to focus on work.  

I would suggest that “Play” is the opportunity to spend time with your team, either informally, or to use the opportunity to really look closely at the way in which you interact and work together. Many companies have benefitted from psychometric testing – looking at the personality traits of individuals, and mapping that onto a template of your company. Many of these tests include team-building activities that explore how each person reacts to different situations, highlighting the different strengths and challenges that a team member has.

I’ve been involved in several of these, and without fail, they have made teams stronger, more understanding and created a new basis for working relationships, even with those you felt you knew well. I restructured my business to maximise the skills of the people that work for me as a result of using e-colors – I have several account managers, with overall responsibility for client accounts, but with a directive to make use of the skills and talents we now recognise in each other, to ensure our clients received the best possible service from us. I don’t run accounts – I’m too disorganised – but I know that I can rely on members of my team with better skills in that area to provide that organisation for me, leaving me to concentrate on what I do best. They no longer complain about my lack of organisation – they understand it, and we come together as a team to ensure that I am freed to develop business relationships or spend time writing, while they do what they are good at, in ensuring continuity and good service. Activities like these are fun, they can be humbling and very challenging, but they encourage your team to work better together, and vitally, they give you new insight that, if explored and accepted, can have a significant impact on your business.

So sit back, have a Mars bar (or an apple or whatever floats your boat!) and think about how you can “Work, Rest and Play” your way forward.