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Q: I'm in my thirties and a senior manager in a large corporation. I've never led people in a downturn before and I'm finding it a bit of a challenge. The loss of morale, the impending redundancies and the increased direction that my staff require is testing me to my limits. I'm reluctant to ask my line manager for advice, lest I seem incompetent.

by Miranda Kennett

A: 'It's hard, unrelenting,' said a client of mine recently. The boss of a sales organisation, he's used to having his order book 75% sold at the start of each month. He now has twice as much inventory to shift in a competitive marketplace, with all his best customers feeling the squeeze. He's old enough to have been affected by the bursting bubble and the downturn of 1991-92, yet these experiences didn't seem much help in managing the current situation better.

Managing when business is booming is easy: many a weak manager has been carried forward by the momentum of the market. But it's different when the chips are down; achieving high performance becomes a real test of your capabilities. So you're wise to recognise that more is required of you - not necessarily different skills, but a greater fluency in using the basics.

The starting place is morale. Low morale and a fear of making mistakes can put a real brake on productivity, just when you need extra effort. You can improve this by word and deed: communication needs to be regular, clear and upbeat.

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