How Nigerian Executives can be Strategic During Recession

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By Omotola Akerele -Senior
Project Manager, TEXEM
It is no longer news that our great country Nigeria is currently going through economic challenges. Economists have established the fact that Nigeria has officially entered a recession for the first time in more than two decades. Going by the figures released by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Africa’s biggest economy has contracted for a second consecutive quarter in 2016. Companies are downsizing their workforce; staff morale is low and there is a lot of uncertainty within its political and economic landscape. This brings us to the question – Where do we go from here?
Following the 2008 global financial meltdown, Rahm Emmanuel, an American politician who served as President Barack Obama’s Chief of staff after the 2008 presidential election told a conference of chief executive, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste”. He said “This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things we could not do before”. As it is often said, History always repeats itself. This economic recession is not any different. The crisis itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nigeria is presented with a “wonderful” opportunity to reinvent itself during this downswing.  In fact, the country has been given an opportunity that few ever receive. There is a long list of countries in recession trying to attack the problems by trading blames and failing at it. Sometimes, companies and business leaders need a jolt, and low commodity prices- which led the recession – was a serious jolt. It gives us a chance to reexamine everything we know and do. However, there is a paradox in this logic. We know as stated earlier, during turmoil, great leaders seize crisis to remake organization – but how is this possible? How can an organization seize the possibilities created by economic crisis?
TEXEM (These Executive Minds) – one of the worlds’s learning platforms for African executive and organisation – put together training with its central theme “Strategic Leadership, Risk Management and Effective Governance in a recession”.  The training was held on Thursday, October 27th 2016 at the British Deputy High Commissioner’s residence in Lagos. The program had top CEOs and senior executives of organisations from different works of life in attendance. It was an exclusive master class that involved a lot of interaction, brain storming and networking. Welcome address and Certificates were presented by His Excellency, Ahmed Bashir- the British Deputy High Commissioner and were handed over to the participants at the end of the master class.
The impact of development programs like this cannot be overemphasized. A critical look at most organisations today shows that its success does not depend only on implementing the right policies or employing skilled labour but on participating in continuous development programs that provide such organisations with methodology, advice, research knowledge and skills to drive better decision making and meet the challenges of the modern-day business. However, the scope of this training was necessarily enlarged into the examination of the Nigeria’s economic system, the challenges organisations face and the necessary leadership, risk management tools and corporate governance required for business leaders to weather the storm of a recession.
The program exposed the participants to new insights on how to be a strategic leader while navigating the present economic recession. Strategic Leadership requires organisation to be malleable enough to create real fundamental changes. Professor Nigel Nicholson from London Business School was one of the facilitators at the executive master class. He says that he found the mood was mixed.  “I was surprised” he said, “about the depth of anxiety about the current recession; and yet as always on visiting your country tremendous talent and determination to pull through”. His theme was: “what’s good about a recession”.  It is easy to think of what is bad, but instructive to turn that on its head and think about what unique and special opportunities do you have.  There are several, and all of them are around the opportunity it gives a business to declare its values, assert its priorities, reinforce its culture, and look after its people.
Nicholson noted: “Never waste a crisis.  Instead of sharing out the pain evenly, this is the time to make major choices about priorities – promoting the people with vision; removing the negative fold from critical areas; choosing your priority customers, suppliers, business involvements and the metrics we rely on and use for incentives.”  He argues that the criteria and the tools that measure people and performance against them should be changed.   Different things matter in a recession, says Nicholson. Lastly, as a business psychologist by training, Nicholson devoted a lot of time to staff’s state of mind in a recession, and the need for empowering, non-hierarchical, up-close and personal management engagement.   “It’s like being in a valley filled with fog”, says Nicholson.  “You have to hold hands, stick together and keep moving.  Leaders have to help people believe that they will find higher, safer ground, even if we don’t know when”.  It is important for leaders to look after themselves and their state of mind.   What’s needed is a positive mind-set – not deluded, but based on a firm belief in the resilience, capability and will to succeed of everyone.
The training also helped the participants broaden horizons and challenge assumptions with case studies from other companies and organisations. Hence, delegates could compare their companies’ governance structure and leadership policies with those of others and make change where necessary. At the end of the program, the delegates could also network with other top level executives, brain storm and share ideas with one another. The organisers of the event (TEXEM) received a lot of positive feedbacks from the delegates after the class concluded. Here are sampling feedbacks received from actual master class participants.
“The program is educative, it reveals a lot of things we oversee, it creates another dimension of innovative thinking. As a CEO, it gives you the opportunity to create solutions regardless of the environment. Felix Amieye-Ofori, CEO Energia.
“The program has been very impactful for me, one of the things I like so much about the program is that it is very practical. It has given me the tools to be able to be hands-on. One of the take back for me is to create a culture within my organisation that makes people know that we can be resilient and that we can go through this recession successfully” Alice Bernice, Financial Advisor Energia.
“I am very glad I came; we are learning and we will continue to learn. I have gotten some take home. Leadership is an embodiment of a lot of things, you know it, but after this program, you will know more about leadership”.   Mike Ezeaju, CEO Swiss Trade.
“We have been thought some key ways on how to manage a recession and get out of it, I will definitely bring it to bear in my business. I have gained some more leadership skills here as well” Bayo Ojo SAN, Former Attorney General.
“What we have learnt here is enthusiastically mind opening and I have enjoyed it very much. I will be happy to implement in the best possible way at all levels what we have learnt here”. Genco Sanli, Chief Financial Officer JOF Nigeria.
Dr Alim Abubakre, CEO, TEXEM, UK said ‘These Executive Minds (TEXEM) prides itself on her ability to customize programs for their clients and TEXEM have a deep understanding of Africa. Also, TEXEM and its world class faculty partners have a very good grasp of contextual realities of Africa vis-à-vis fragile institutions, limited infrastructure, high cost of making decisions and the huge size of government. Thus, this programme offered practical and actionable insights that could help leaders to act strategically, integrate risk with strategy and achieve effective governance during this economic recession and beyond’
TEXEM has provided executive education to thousands of senior executives both locally and internationally and has consistently received praise for the outstanding quality and value of training delivered.
The impact of training and development programs in Nigeria today cannot be overemphasized. A critical look at most organisations today shows that its success does not depend only on implementing the right policies or employing skilled labour but on participating in continuous development programs that provide such organisations with methodology, advice, research knowledge and skills to drive better decision making and meet the challenges of the modern-day business.
The program exposed the participants to new insights on how to be a strategic leader while navigating the present economic recession. It also helped them broaden horizons and challenge assumptions with case studies from other companies and organisations. This way, delegates could compare their companies’ governance structure and leadership policies with those of others and make change where necessary.
In addition, the delegates were able to network with other top level executives, brainstorm and share ideas with one another.