Put aside the myth of the ‘tamed’ business cycle. In the wake of the current economic downturn, managers must learn how to use the business cycle for competitive advantage.
Until the 1980s, many economists, finance professionals and strategists believed the business cycle, like the stock market, was a “random walk” that couldn’t be predicted—and couldn’t be managed. In recent years, however, numerous studies have demonstrated the power of such forecasting variables as the Economic Cycle Research Institute’s Weekly Leading Index, stock prices and the bond market’s “yield curve.”1 If the business cycle can indeed be forecast in an accurate and timely enough manner, then shouldn’t managers who cultivate economic and financial market literacy and learn how to apply forecasting models manage the business cycle better than their competitors?
THE DOWNTURN MANIFESTO
A manager’s guide to surviving—and thriving—in recessionary times
My 2004 article “Principles of the Master Cyclist”2 made the case for why companies need to learn how to integrate strategic business-cycle management into their tool kits. It presented a set of principles that savvy managers can use in making tactical decisions (involving, say, inventory management, marketing and pricing) and strategic decisions (involving such things as capital expansion and mergers and acquisitions), and it offered case studies supporting the argument.
2004 was not a particularly good time to be promoting business-cycle awareness to management. The global economy had recently recovered from the relatively mild 2001 recession. The expansion, in turn, had fueled a widespread perception that the business cycle had largely been “tamed” by the sophisticated application of discretionary fiscal and monetary policies. For many business executives, the future seemed bright. Thoughts of managing the business cycle for strategic advantage were on the back burner.
The leading question
What can managers and organizations do to anticipate downturns and mitigate the worst effects of a recession?
- Managers can forecast the business cycle using data culled from a daily reading of the financial press.
- Executive teams must learn to implement a set of business-cycle management strategies in response to the forecasting data.
- Organizations that “master the cycle” can outperform their rivals and become recession-proof.
Today, the myth that business cycles don’t matter has been completely shattered—not just by the current recession but also by the U.S. Federal Reserve System’s role in formulating the economic policies that helped trigger the crash.